Nov. 29, 2012
AMES, Iowa - The 2012 season came to an end Thursday night for the Cal women's volleyball team. The Bears fell to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 26-24, 25-23, 18-25, 25-16 at the Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State University.
Senior middle hitter Kat Brown had five blocks and became Cal's all-time blocks leader with 509. She entered the night tied with former Cal middle hitter Ellen Orchard, who amassed 504 blocks from 2004-07.
"From my perspective, it was not a well-played match on our side in some respects," said Cal coach Rich Feller, who completed his 14th year guiding the Bears. "We had some good moments but couldn't sustain it. It was just very difficult for us to sustain any kind of consistency. I wasn't too pleased with the outcome, as I'm sure nobody on our team is."
The Bears hit .231 as a team and had no other player with more than eight kills. The Tar Heels (26-5) were led by Kayla Berringer's 15 kills while three-time All-Coast Conference pick Emily McGee added 13.
Despite not playing their best, the Bears were in position to win each of the first two sets. The Bears then pulled away to win the third set easily before North Carolina came back to cruise to the win in the fourth set.
"There were a lot of nerves. We have a couple of freshmen back there so this was their first time in the tournament," Hawari said. "I think we came out a little shaky and struggled with passing and defense. The third set, it improved a lot. But it just dropped off again in the fourth set. UNC played really good defense, but I think a lot of the loss comes back to our side and the things we could have done better."
The Tar Heels got off to a strong start, scoring six straight points, including three aces by McGee to take a 6-1 lead in the first set. North Carolina extended its advantage to 13-6 before the Bears started cutting into the deficit.
After the Tar Heels led 18-13, Cal scored four in a row to make it 18-17. The Bears eventually tied it up but UNC went back in front, 23-21. After a Cal timeout, the Bears scored three in a row on a kill by Gehan, a hitting error by the Tar Heels and a block by Hawari and sophomore outside hitter Christina Higgins to take a 24-23 lead. But North Carolina came back with three points of her own to close out the set.
The second set was close throughout, and a kill by Gehan tied it at 21-21. But the Tar Heels scored two in a row, and the teams then traded points until UNC won the set.
After falling behind 11-8 in the third set, Cal stormed back to lead 18-14. The Tar Heels cut it to 19-16, but the Bears scored three in a row and easily won the set. It was close for the first half of the fourth set, but a three-point run gave UNC a 17-13 lead. After a Gehan kill, the Tar Heels scored three more in row to take a commanding 20-14 advantage. The Bears couldn't get any closer and North Carolina closed out the match.
"It wasn't physical mistakes. It was mental errors, lack of communication, things like that that have really been troubling us the whole season," Brown said. "It was possible for us to get back. I'm not sure exactly what specifically turned it around (in the third set). I think we did do better for a short period of time of communicating and being aggressive."
The season ended the same way as 2011 for the Bears - with a loss to UNC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This season marked Cal's first losing season since 2001, also the last time the Bears missed the tourney.
Thursday also marked the end of the careers of Hawari, Brown, opposite hitter Correy Johnson and libero Robin Rostratter. Hawari leaves Cal as the program's all-time leader in hitting percentage at .367.
"It's been a great four years with these guys," Feller said. "Every team is different. They have been part of some of our best years, but unfortunately they didn't get to finish their careers in one of those best years. But they have a lot of great memories and I have a lot of great memories from them."