Spikers to Showcase New Faces In Reno

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It is only appropriate that in a season filled with gambles, competition should begin in Reno, Nev.

The Cal volleyball team, which is taking a chance by starting several freshmen this year, will play its season opener tonight at 7 p.m. at the University of Nevada-Reno, as part of the Silver Legacy/Ray Wersching Invitational.

Despite the big risk, the Bears have a decent chance at winning the title this weekend, but you wouldn't know it by talking to Cal coach Rich Feller.

"We're looking at a tough weekend with Reno," Feller said. "We'll be coming out of the gates with Pac-10 -like teams."

The Pac-10, regarded by many as the toughest conference in women's volleyball, has four teams ranked in the top-10.

But none of the other teams in the tournament are Pac-10 teams. Cal opens up against the Wolf Pack tonight and then faces two other opponents tomorrow, No. 11 Minnesota and Kent State.

Led by senior outside hitter Alicia Perry, the Bears will be a strong contender for the championship. Cal finished last season with a three-game sweep against Reno, and the Wolf Pack still lacks the height at middle blocker to compete with the Bears.

This could potentially be disastrous for Reno, because Cal not only will have the offensive firepower in Perry, but also a defensive advantage in the middle.

The Golden Flashes also lack serious size at the net. The starting middle blocker for Kent State is 5-foot-10, giving Cal almost a four-inch advantage.

The only major hurdle the Bears face this weekend will be the Golden Gophers. Minnesota is coming off a 22-9 season, including an appearance in the round of 16 at the NCAA Championships. They are currently ranked No. 11 in the nation.

Minnesota's five returning starters are led by second-team All America outside hitter Nicole Branaugh. Branaugh is regarded as one of the best outside hitters to ever come out of the Big Ten, and she is currently on pace to set the conference record for career kills.

The match between Cal and the Golden Gophers will be the first real test for the Bears' underclassmen.

"I wish I knew how our team chemistry is going to be," Perry said. "But we don't even know who all the starters are, so I don't know how we're all going to play together."

Although the Bears come in as the underdogs, this would not be the first time that Cal upset a major team in recent history. Last year's team, also lead by Perry, beat Santa Clara, one of the hottest teams on the West Coast.

"For us to be really successful this season, we're going to have to do the same things we did when we beat Santa Clara," Feller said earlier in the week.

There are two weeks after this tournament until the dice roll and Pac-10 play begins, but for this weekend, Reno will be the place where Cal shows all its cards.


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