The Daily Californian Online

Cal Climbs Atop Pac-10 After Capturing Big Spike

By Christina Jones
Contributing Writer
Monday, November 22, 2010
Category: Sports > Fall > Volleyball

Outside hitter Tarah Murrey soars for the ball in a four-set win over No. 2 Stanford in Friday's Big Spike. The junior had 24 kills and nine digs for No. 4 Cal at Haas Pavilion.

The Cal volleyball team coughed up a 6-1 lead in the first set on Friday night to find itself trailing No. 2 Stanford one set to none in the 72nd Big Spike. But Cal coach Rich Feller was already certain of the match's outcome.

"After the first set, I knew we were going to win," Feller said. "I felt like we were kind of in control. They were doing everything they could, pulling out all their stops. And I thought we were going to make the right adjustments as the match wore on."

History gave the Cardinal (22-3, 13-3 in the Pac-10) more of a chance - the No. 4 Bears (24-2, 14-2) hadn't swept their season series since 1979. After dropping the initial set, the Bears never trailed a point en route to a 3-1 upset win (26-28, 25-17, 25-17, 25-20). The national poll indicated Stanford was the superior team, as did the Pac-10 rankings in all offensive categories. Even Cal senior setter Carli Lloyd expected Stanford to go on a five- or six-point run that would test Cal's ability to rebound.

But the Cardinal never strung together more than three consecutive points. And they only did that three times in the four-set match. Cal, on the other hand, posted eight such runs.

Just as in the first set, Cal stormed out to quick lead in the second. But this time, Feller's squad maintained it. Cal now stands alone atop the Pac-10, and is in position to claim its first conference crown in school history.

The second set adjustments had more to do with the Bears' energy than acclimating to Stanford's play. Junior outside hitter Tarah Murrey fired up the record-setting 4,376 fans at Haas Pavilion with a violent swing that literally knocked over Cardinal libero Gabi Ailes to give Cal an 8-4 lead in the second set.

"I just don't think we really gave them a chance," senior setter Carli Lloyd said.

Between the first two sets, Stanford's hitting percentage dwindled from .450 to .274, with Cal managing five blocks. None were bigger than back-to-back stops by sophomores Correy Johnson and Shannon Hawari to bring the Bears' lead to 19-10. Cal was able to close out the set this time, and rattled off the final two to seize the momentous victory.

"We had middle blockers making pancakes, defensive specialists and outside hitters," Feller said. "Everyone took a turn to make some plays defensively and that really wears a team down."

With 13 blocks, Cal held the country's leading attack to a meager .205 rate on the evening - .116 below the Cardinal's average. The Bears notched deflections to set up cleaner digs, which enabled Lloyd to run a more balanced attack that hit for .359.

Murrey, with 24 kills, was the most powerful hitter. She may not have taken out a defender on her last swing of the night, but it secured the upset and delivered a dagger to Stanford's heart.

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