Gaels Surprise Bears With Backyard Brawl

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MORAGA-Records going into last night's game: Cal 13-5, St. Mary's 5-11.

Adds up to an easy win for the Bears, right?

Well, as Chris Berman says, "That is why they play the game."

Overmatched in size, speed and athleticism, the Gaels put forth their best effort, scaring a sluggish Cal team before bowing out, 3-2 (27-30, 30-22, 34-36, 30-28, 15-13).

"The (St, Mary's) girls heard that the Cal newspaper was writing bad things about them," St. Mary's Associate Athletic Director Mark Orr, who was in the stands, said. "I think that got them a little riled up."

The Bears (14-5) went into the match missing national Player of the Week Mia Jerkov and with Camille Leffall playing severely under the weather.

This forced Coach Rich Feller to play different combinations on the floor, heightening the roles of Heather Diers, Jessica Zatica, and Astrid Gonzalez.

In the first game, the Bears seemed to be out of sync, compounding mental errors with indecisive play, losing 30-27.

"It seemed as if it was the first time the team froze," middle blocker Alicia Powers said. "Without Mia it seemed as if our chemistry was off."

That was never more evident than on successive serves by St. Mary's in the first game.

Cal defenders, due to unfamiliarity with each other, just watched as balls bounced right between them.

Photo/Anna Browne

The Bears got an earful from coach Rich Feller between games and came out on fire in game two.

Starting out with a 6-0 run the Bears led by as many as 13 in the second game, cruising to a 30-22 win. The win seemed to solidify the Bears role as the favorite going into halftime, but the Gaels had other ideas.

"There is something about playing Pac-10 schools that make us play a little harder," Rachel Avilla, who had 27 kills for St. Mary's, said.

In the third game, the Bears and Gaels both had their share of long rallies. They took turns exchanging the lead in a vicious tug of war, but in the end the St. Mary's pulled it out 36-34.

Feller had to make drastic changes in the fourth. Trailing 25-19, he benched setter and team captain Caity Noonan for seldom-used Astrid Gonzalez, a move that proved to be the difference in the game.

The move seemed to jump-start the Bears' offense, and they were able to pull out the fourth game 30-28 and took the fifth, 15-13.

"When you change your setter, it is kind of like changing your quarterback in football," Feller said. "The setter sets the tempo and we needed a tempo change."

The Bears were led by Leah Young's career-high 28 kills.

"Leah was a stud out there," Feller said. "We needed her and she came through."


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