Penn State Sweeps Cal to Capture Fourth-Straight Title

Bears end their best season in program history with appearance in NCAA championship match.

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The Cal volleyball team has had a season of defying odds.

Picked to finish fifth in the Pac-10, the Bears (30-4) captured a share of their first conference crown. Cal beat Stanford twice for the first time in 31 years. After losing both regular season matches to USC, Cal thrashed the Trojans in three sets in Thursday's final four match to advance to the NCAA title match for the first time in school history.

Some streaks, however, were not to be broken, even in a historic season for coach Rich Feller's squad.

The seventh-seeded Bears could not slow down fourth-seeded Penn State (32-5) on Saturday night in the championship match at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The Nittany Lions captured their fourth straight postseason victory over Cal and their fourth consecutive national title with their straight set victory (25-20, 27-25, 25-20).

"That's what you want to do, you want to go against the champion and if you beat them, you are the true champion," said Feller, the 2010 AVCA Division I National Coach of the Year. "We would have loved to have the outcome different, but Penn State was very, very good tonight and they deserve the championship."

Despite outblocking the Nittany Lions 11-8, the Bears struggled against a high-powered Penn State offense that saw three attackers post double-digit kills. While the Nittany Lions ran a balanced attack, senior setter Carli Lloyd sent almost half the balls to outside hitter Tarah Murrey.

Going up against a huge block at the net - often three blockers at once - Murrey was contained to a .143 attack rate. Containing Murrey essentially contained the Cal offense, which was outhit .276 to .182.

"I needed to be more patient and I think I was just sometimes not seeing the block as well," Murrey said. "They got me, they're a good team. They didn't get me every time."

Though Murrey secured the first point of the match for Cal, Penn State set the tempo early and never trailed the set after that point.

The Bears kept the second set close, with opposite side hitter Correy Johnson tooling a kill off the block to tie the score at 23. Lloyd rejected the Most Outstanding Player of the final four Deja McClendon's attempt to give Cal set point and force legendary Nittany Lions' coach Russ Rose to call a timeout.

Poised to tie the match at one set apiece, outside hitter Adrienne Gehan was blocked on the next play, but Lloyd gave the Bears set point again by tapping an overpass to the floor.

Murrey was stuffed to tie at 25. Senior Blair Brown, who posted a match-high 18 kills in her final championship victory, notched the next two kills to give Penn State a commanding two sets to none lead.

On the brink of elimination, however, Cal's captain and first AVCA National Player of the Year still thought the team could beat the odds and mount the comeback.

"It was hard going into the locker room with two losses, but I still had confidence we could come back and win," Lloyd said. "We talked about how we hadn't really shown up yet on the court ... We knew that we could turn it around if we put our mind to it."

After rallying to tie at 12, the Nittany Lions went on a 6-1 run to seize control of the third set. Cal dug deep to fight off championship point thrice, but a Katie Slay slam on a Bear overpass gave Penn State the title.

"We're not hanging our heads," Murrey said. "I know it's going to make us stronger, and I know our team is going to be so strong next year."

Added Feller: "They are the most cohesive and hard working team I've ever had and I've been coaching for about 26 years. I couldn't be more proud."


Christina Jones covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]

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