BERKELEY, Calif. - Cal is playing its best volleyball of the season. That's because there is nobody left to play volleyball.
Down to 11 healthy players, there's nobody else left to produce but themselves. Cal capitalized on that sense of urgency Friday night, dispatching upstart Oregon State, 25-14, 25-19, 25-18 at Haas Pavilion.
The Bears (9-7, 3-3 Pac-12) have won two of three, and took a set from No. 2 Oregon during a loss Wednesday night. In that match, starting outside hitter Adrienne Gehan went down with a knee injury, joining fellow starting outside hitter Michelle Neumayr and starting libero Robin Rostratter on the sidelines.
"The people that are out there have to get the job done," said middle hitter Shannon Hawari, who led the Bears with nine kills and six blocks and hit for a .643 percentage. "I think everybody realizes that. There is really no room for anybody to be tentative. We just have to go out there and be confident with who we have and make it work."
They made it work against the Beavers (12-5, 2-3), who are the only team to beat No. 1 Penn State this season and are ranked No. 27 nationally this week. Cal had a season-high 12 aces, including a career-best six by Nikki Gombar.
The Bears had seven aces during Sunday's win at Arizona.
"It's gotten better and better," Cal coach Rich Feller said of his team's serving. "We're spending more time on it and we're putting more pressure on practice serves. Hopefully that will continue to carry over."
The Bears also got three aces by freshman Lara Vukasovic, making her first career start at outside hitter. Vukasovic replaced Gehan on Wednesday night despite not having practiced at the position all season. She practiced at outside hitter for the first time Thursday and is playing both front and back row.
Vukasovic started seven matches earlier in the season at opposite in place of senior Correy Johnson, who has also missed significant playing time with a leg injury.
"She is really stepping up and we are all really impressed with how well she's playing back row and how well she is passing," Hawari said. "That's not an easy thing to do when you haven't really had any reps at it. We're all really proud that she's able to step up. We need her to step up. She's doing a really good job for us."
Added Feller: "Maybe we're seeing something now we wouldn't have seen. It could be a good thing."
The only time Cal appeared to be legitimately threatened came late in the second set when Oregon St. came back from six points down to tie it at 18-18. But after the Beavers scored to cut the Bears' advantage to 22-19, Hawari came up with a block and two kills to close it out.
"It's hard because when Shannon doesn't do something, you feel let down," Feller said. "You take for granted that she's going to do the job."
Gombar sparked Cal with tough serving to begin the first and third set. She had an ace on the third point of the match as the Bears led 3-0 and later 7-1. Cal's lead was never fewer than four points the rest of the set.
Gombar served three straight points to help the Bears take a 4-0 lead to begin the third set. Cal's 9-2 lead eventually was trimmed to 12-9, but that's when Gombar returned to the service line and befuddled the Beavers with her blistering serves. By the time Oregon St. stopped the string, Cal led 19-9 and cruised to the win.
The Bears continue their four-match homestand next Friday against No. 5 USC.