MADISON, Wisc. – Cal’s women’s volleyball team took a step back toward the top of college volleyball this season. But the Bears’ upward path was stopped Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Cal was beaten by 12th-seeded Wisconsin 25-19, 25-18, 25-21 at the UW Field House, ending the Bears’ season at 18-13. But Cal won a first-round match Friday for the first time since 2010, and with only two departing seniors, the potential for the Bears to continue their improvement looks bright.
“We made it one step further than last year,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “I’m not happy that we lost tonight, but I’m happy with how hard our players work. We’ll be better next year.”
The Bears advanced to the NCAA title match in 2010, the fifth year in a row the program advanced at least to the Sweet Sixteen. After two first-round exits in a row, Cal was on the cusp of getting back to the regional semifinals Saturday but the Badgers proved to be too much for the Bears.
“They were a really solid team,” Cal sophomore outside hitter Michelle Neumayr said. “Obviously, only having one day to prepare for a team you’ve never seen before in their home gym makes it a little more difficult. We could have made quicker adjustments, but all their players played really well. They put pressure on us.”
The Bears had an uneven ending to the season, battling a rash of injuries and losing their final five matches heading into the postseason. Senior outside hitter Adrienne Gehan missed three matches and was limited in two others because of an abdominal tear, and Neumayr and sophomore middle blocker Lara Vukasovic each missed a match with ailments.
“I have a lot of pride in this team right here,” Feller said. “They have worked through a lot of tough times with some injuries and coming back from some tough, tough matches. They’ve always worked hard. They’ve always put their hearts out there. I give them a lot of credit.”
Wisconsin (25-9) ran an explosive offense, hitting .404 for the match. The Badgers also recorded nine blocks.
Junior opposite hitter Christina Higgins led the Bears with 12 kills and sophomore middle blocker Lillian Schonewise added nine kills and three blocks. Gehan had eight kills and fellow senior Joan Caloiaro registered 38 assists in each’s final college match.
Wisconsin won the first two sets handily but the Bears turned things around to begin the third set, racing out to a 15-9 lead behind some tough serving. The Badgers then scored seven of the next eight points to come back and pulled away at the end to close out the match.
“We didn’t make the adjustments I thought we could have made a little quicker and perhaps have a little more success, but they did a great job keeping us on the defensive,” Feller said. “It’s a lot about matchups but really it’s about how your team executes on your side of the net. We didn’t execute as well as we felt we should. Some of that has to do with Wisconsin’s pressure.”
Caloiaro closed her career with 2,552 assists, sixth on Cal’s all-time list. Freshman libero Maddy Kerr had 430 digs this season, the ninth-best mark all-time at Cal.