MADISON, Wisc. – Rich Feller didn’t want to have to wait until 2014 to earn his 600th career win.
But even more important, he wanted 2013 to continue.
Cal’s women’s volleyball team put together a dominant effort in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, sweeping North Carolina 25-20, 25-18, 25-20 at the UW Field House. In the process, Feller became the 29th coach in Division I history to reach the 600-win mark.
But Feller and the Bears (18-12) were much more excited about advancing past the first round of the tournament since 2010. The Tar Heels had knocked Cal out of the first round in each of the past two years.
The Bears will play a second-round match Saturday at 4 p.m. PT against 12th-seeded Wisconsin.
“It feels much better to get a win in the first round of the tournament than it does to get a milestone like 600,” said Feller, who is 301-165 in 15 years at Cal. “That’s going to come at some point. I’m glad it came in 2013. What could be more fitting than beating an opponent that has put us out of the tournament two years in a row. To win the 600th and advance to the second round – that’s fitting.”
Feller spent the first 14 years of his career at Colorado State. He is now 600-332 in 29 years of coaching overall.
Friday marked the fourth year in a row the Bears had faced the Tar Heels (27-5) in the NCAA Tournament. Cal beat North Carolina in the second round in 2010 when the Bears advanced all the way to the NCAA title match.
Senior Adrienne Gehan, the only player left from Cal’s 2010 team, played a full match for the first time since Nov. 14. Gehan had missed three matches and was limited in two others because of a torn abdominal muscle.
“My freshman year was an amazing year, and then the last two years – to say it was a disappointment would be an understatement,” said Gehan, who had seven kills against the Tar Heels. “To go from that high to losing in the first round two years in a row to a team that I think we could have beaten – it’s really exciting to see everyone come out and play really well at the same time.”
The Bears hit for an incredible .411 percentage, tying their second-highest clip of the season. Sophomore outside hitter Michelle Neumayr led Cal with 11 kills at a .391 percentage while sophomore middle blocker Lara Vukasovic added 10 kills at a .500 percentage and registered six blocks. The Bears recorded 11 blocks overall. Junior opposite hitter Christina Higgins had nine kills and four blocks while hitting .381
“I felt like we kind of came together a little bit as a team at crunch time, as we have throughout the year,” Feller said. “But this was obviously a big match and a little pressure because we hadn’t gotten past the first round the past couple years. Getting back past the first round is a big deal for all of us.”
The first set was tight throughout but the Bears scored three straight points to take a 21-18 lead behind some tough serving from sophomore Sarah Cole. The second set was tied at 15-15 but another three-point run once against gave Cal some breathing room. The Bears scored the final four points of the set to take command.
Cal opened up a 17-10 advantage in the third set, but the Tar Heels were able to shave the deficit to 22-19. The Bears scored two points in a row for set point and then exchanged sideouts to close out the match.
“I think we just did a really good job of learning as the match went on,” Neumayr said. “I think we really took control of the match and did a really good job of following our scouting report.”