Oct. 19, 2012
PULLMAN, Wash. - Because of injuries and inexperience, outside hitter has been a position of inconsistency this season for Cal's women's volleyball team. Friday night at Washington State, the Bears exhibited a glimpse of the offense they can become with consistent production from the outside.
Sophomore Christina Higgins put down 14 kills at a .364 percentage and freshman Lara Vukasovic added 10 kills while hitting .333, and Cal swept the Cougars 25-21, 25-21, 25-21 in front of a raucous crowd of 1,124 at Bohler Gymnasium.
With Michelle Neumayr and Adrienne Gehan out with injuries, Higgins and Vukasovic are holding down the outside right now for the Bears. Higgins is a converted opposite hitter while Vukasovic is still adjusting to college volleyball.
But Friday, Washington State had no answer for either.
"It makes a big difference," Cal coach Rich Feller said. "It loosens up the defense. It opens things up a little bit more. It's obviously very, very good if we can get more effectiveness out of the left side."
Senior middle hitter Shannon Hawari added 11 kills and four blocks for the Bears (10-9, 4-5 Pac-12), who have beaten Washington St. 19 times in a row. The last time Cal suffered a loss to the Cougars came in 2003.
The 14 kills matched a season-high for Higgins, who also had her third-best hitting clip of the year.
"I was just being aggressive," Higgins said. "I feel like my tendency a lot of the time is to just hit cross-court. I've been working on being more of an all-around player."
The Cougars (10-11, 0-9) haven't won in conference play yet but have been able to take a set from a handful of teams, including No. 5 Washington. They were ultra-competitive Friday, staying close until the end of each set.
The first set was tied at 18-18 before the Bears got some separation. They scored back-to-back points on a hitting error by WSU leading attacker Jaicee Harris and a dump by setter Joan Caloiaro. After the Cougars' Stephanie Logan came up with a kill, Hawari scored on a slide, Harris committed another error and Hawari registered another kill for a 23-19 lead. Higgins ultimately closed out the set with a kill.
The Bears called a timeout after falling behind 20-16 in the second set and only dropped one more point the rest of the set after returning to the court. Cal immediately scored four points in a row behind tough serving from Caloiaro to tie it at 20-20. After Harris put down a kill to give the Cougars a brief lead again, freshman outside hitter Nikki Gombar then went to work behind the service line. She served the final five points of the set, as the Bears scored points on kills by Higgins, senior opposite Correy Johnson, Vukasovic and senior middle hitter Kat Brown.
"I think some of the experience on our team came through," Feller said. "We know when we are down, if we keep with it, we have a chance to come back."
Washington St. was once again able to keep it close throughout most of the third set, tying it at 20-20 on a block by Ver'Leea Hardaway. But the Cougars were called for back-to-back net violations, and after they scored a point on a kill by Hardaway, Caloiaro put down a kill and then teamed up with Hawari to block WSU outside hitter Chelsey Bettinson. Hawari then blocked Bettinson again to close out the match.
"This is one of the toughest places to play in the Pac-12, regardless of how good a record they have," Feller said. "The crowd is very close and it's very loud. We knew they were going to be spirited and play hard. They were going to be hard to defeat if we weren't on our game."
The Bears return to action Sunday afternoon at No. 5 Washington at 1 p.m. The match will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.