PULLMAN, Wash. – Before Cal’s women’s volleyball team split town after the longest road trip of the season, the Bears polished off a split of their Pac-12 matches for the week.
Junior opposite hitter Christina Higgins had a career-high 19 kills at a blistering .425 hitting percentage, and Cal registered a 15-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-16 victory over Washington State on Saturday night.
The Bears (11-6, 4-4 Pac-12), who played at Washington on Wednesday and then had to wait for three days in Pullman before hitting the court again, overcame a sluggish first set and an inspired comeback effort by the Cougars (15-6, 2-6) in the second set to pull out the victory.
“It definitely took us away from our normal routine,” said Higgins, who had a terrific week with an average of 4.86 kills per set and a .400 hitting percentage in two matches. “We’re in a hotel all week and probably not getting the right amount of sleep that we usually get when we are home. It was a weird week, but I think we handled it well.”
The Cougars, who fell to Stanford the previous night, jumped on the Bears early and cruised to the win in the first set. But after falling behind 15-12 in the second set, Cal scored 10 of the next 11 points to assume a 22-16 lead. Senior outside hitter Adrienne Gehan served eight straight points to help the Bears take command.
After the Bears reached set point at 24-19, Washington St. scored three points in a row to close the gap. But sophomore outside hitter Michelle Neumayr came up with a kill to even the match.
The third set was tied at 10-10 before Cal gradually pulled away. After it was 10-10 in the fourth set, senior setter Joan Caloiaro served six straight points and the Bears cruised the rest of the way.
“Sometimes you have to win a little ugly,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “I give our team a lot of credit for kind of dismissing Game One and playing mentally tougher in the second set, and three and four, obviously. I’m pretty pleased with the finish. Obviously, we want to be better in the beginning. But we came back in the end and did some good things.”
Higgins, who moved from outside hitter to opposite this season, is making a serious case for all-conference honors during the first half of the season. She entered the night ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in kills per set and has jacked her hitting percentage for the season up to .336.
“I feel like I’ve always been more comfortable on the right side then on the left,” said Higgins, who eclipsed her previous career-high of 18, which she previously reached three times. “That’s what I did all through club and high school. In practice, I’ve just focused on getting my elbow high when I hit and taking really high swings. That’s how I get the majority of my kills.”
Gehan added 13 kills, 12 digs, four blocks and a career-best four aces while sophomore middle blocker Lillian Schonewise had 10 kills and three blocks.
The Cougars have been one of the most improved teams in the Pac-12 this season. They upset then-No. 16 Arizona State last weekend and stretched Arizona and Utah to five sets before losing.
“Washington State had a very successful preseason and is doing well enough in the Pac-12 to be considered a real threat for anybody,” Feller said. “It’s never easy against them. Their gym is a tough place to play. It’s a good environment if you are the home team; not so much if you are the visitors.”
The Bears are now off until Friday, when they host No. 21 Oregon at Haas Pavilion. The match begins at 6 p.m. and will air on the Pac-12 Networks. It is the first of four home matches in a row for Cal.