BERKELEY – The encouraging signs were trumped by overwhelming disappointment for the No. 23 Cal women’s volleyball team on Friday night.
Still, there was a lot to build off after the Bears suffered a heartbreaking 25-19, 23-25, 25-17, 23-25, 17-15 loss to No. 3 Washington at Haas Pavilion.
Cal (17-9, 10-7 Pac-12) played without leading attacker and team captain Adrienne Gehan, who missed the match with an abdominal injury. But the Bears used multiple lineups and got production from several players to have a chance to win.
The Bears had three match points in the fifth set after taking a 14-11 lead, but the Huskies (24-2, 16-2) came back to close it out.
“I don’t think there is anyone else in the country that could make those kind of changes – take their senior leader off the court and go five with one of the best teams in the nation,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “I’m disappointed that we couldn’t pull it off when we really had a chance. But to push that team and come that close says something about where we’re at this time of year and maybe what we can accomplish once we get into the end of November and December.”
Junior Christina Higgins moved from opposite back to outside hitter, where she played last season, to replace Gehan. Junior Lindsey Parrott started at opposite, but later in the match sophomore middle blocker Lara Vukasovic moved to opposite and freshman Jenelle Jordan played middle blocker.
The Bears had their share of success with both lineups, displaying a versatility that came oh-so-close to taking down one of the country’s elite teams.
“A bunch of our players had some of their best nights of the season tonight, which really says a lot,” sophomore middle blocker Lillian Schonewise said. “Everyone stepped up to the plate when we knew Adrienne wasn’t going to be playing. Everybody stepped up their game in practice this week and it carried over to tonight. I think we played really well together as a team.”
Higgins finished with a career-high 21 kills and sophomore outside hitter Michelle Neumayr also had a career-best 17 kills on a career-high 63 attempts. Vukasovic also had 17 kills and freshman libero Maddy Kerr had 24 digs.
“I think we kind of had an idea in practice this week, so we really had a week to prepare without Adrienne,” Neumayr said. “Everyone knew they had to step up their game. I’m really proud of the way we stepped up our game without Adrienne.”
After the Huskies dominated the first set, Cal led comfortably for most of the second. The Bears had a 22-15 lead when Washington began slicing into the deficit. The Huskies narrowed the lead to 24-23 before Parrott ended the set with a kill.
The Bears had a 21-16 lead in the fourth set when the Huskies again came back. But this time Higgins held them off with a kill to force the decisive fifth set.
Cal staved off one Washington match point in the fifth set on a kill by Neumayr before the Huskies finished off the match.
“The key is we have to play like this against everybody in the conference the rest of the way and, if we get into the tournament, against every team we face in the tournament,” Feller said. “Then we have a chance to do something special this year.”
Sophomore Sarah Cole added a career-high 19 digs and Schonewise finished with eight kills and three blocks.
The Bears play their final home match of the season Sunday at 11 a.m. against Washington State. Gehan and senior setter Joan Caloiaro will be honored before the match, which will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.