BERKELEY – Cal women’s volleyball coach Rich Feller had a one-word reaction when he learned of his team’s NCAA Tournament fate Sunday night.
No, not because Feller was surprised the Bears earned a school-record 12th straight trip to the postseason, but because for the third year in a row, Cal has a first-round matchup against North Carolina.
And this is actually the fourth season in a row the Bears will face off against the Tar Heels. Cal defeated UNC in the second round on its way to the NCAA title match in 2010. The Tar Heels have knocked the Bears out in the first round of the past two tournaments.
Cal (17-12) was placed in the Illinois Regional and will play North Carolina (27-4) at the University of Wisconsin on Friday at 3 p.m. PT. Should the Bears get past the Tar Heels, they would play the winner of Friday’s other match in Madison between Wisconsin and Milwaukee on Saturday at 4 p.m. PT.
“No complaints. We’re in the tournament. I love it,” Feller said. “We’re anxious to play any opponent in front of us. UNC has become like an unofficial member of the conference for us because we have played them every year for the past four years.”
The Bears were one of nine Pac-12 teams selected to the NCAA Tournament. Cal finished in fifth place in the conference standings but was plagued by health issues during the last three weeks of the season. Senior outside hitter and leading attacker Adrienne Gehan missed three matches with an abdominal injury but returned to play in limited action in the Bears’ regular-season finale Friday at Stanford. Sophomore middle blocker Lara Vukasovic and senior outside hitter Michelle Neumayr each missed a match with ailments down the stretch as well.
With a full week off before hitting the court again, the Bears expect to be close to full strength for the weekend.
“I’m excited to compete with the team we have,” Gehan said. “It’s a clean slate. We’re getting back to 100 percent as a team. I think we can go into the tournament playing the best we have all season, which is perfect timing.”
The Tar Heels were ranked 14th in last week’s AVCA Top 25 and finished in third place in the ACC standings. UNC features two sophomore middle blockers ranked among the top-10 in the conference in hitting percentage – Paige Neuenfeldt is third at .364 and Victoria McPherson is ninth at .312.
“I think the positive thing is we’re definitely not going into it overconfident,” Feller said. “We know for sure they are a capable team that has had a great season. We’re really looking forward to this new season.”