Oct. 26, 2012
BERKELEY, Calif. - In a season in which a plethora of injuries have resulted in some ups and downs, Cal's women's volleyball team sure seems to find the right formula against the Arizona Wildcats.
The Bears opened the second half of Pac-12 play Friday night by completing a season-sweep of the Wildcats with a 25-19, 25-22, 25-19 victory in front of 604 at Haas Pavilion. Sophomore outside hitter Christina Higgins put down a career-high 18 kills at a .405 percentage and Cal hit for a season-high .404 as a team. Two of the Bears' three best hitting nights this season have come against Arizona.
"I wish I could bottle that and use it Sunday, and next week, and the week after that," Cal coach Rich Feller said. "It's about matchups. They play a system that seems to lend itself to what our system does well, I guess. I don't think there is anything specific. I think there was the confidence that we beat them once before, and we were at home. We just seem to go for it a little bit more against them."
The Bears (11-10. 5-6 Pac-12) led comfortably throughout most of the match. The only time they were seriously threatened came late in the second set when the Wildcats erased a three-point deficit to tie it at 22-22. But a kill by Higgins, an ace by freshman outside hitter Nikki Gombar and an Arizona hitting error closed out the set.
Higgins has been especially effective against the Wildcats this season. She had 10 kills at a .714 percentage in the first meeting between the teams this season.
"We watched a lot of video of their defense and I just saw a lot of open areas on the court," Higgins said. "I was really trying to go to the open areas. I don't know what it is. Maybe they are just my team."
With nine matches remaining in the regular season, the Bears are in a battle to qualify for their 11th straight NCAA Tournament. With the finish line creeping closer, there is a renewed focus to the Bears.
"I think they know they can't dilly-dally around anymore," Feller said. "Everything is for real now. We're taking it a little more seriously. I think the younger players are finally understanding that, that every point counts. I think they are starting to get the hang of that."
Senior opposite hitter Correy Johnson added eight kills and a season-high seven blocks and senior middle hitter Shannon Hawari pitched in with seven kills and eight blocks. Freshman outside hitter Lara Vukasovic had seven kills and eight digs for the Bears.
Cal jumped out to an early lead in the first set and was never challenged. Kills by Higgins and Vukasovic helped the Bears stake a 5-1 lead, and a four-point run that featured blocks by Johnson and Hawari and two Johnson kills made it 17-11. A kill by Higgins closed out the set.
The Wildcats (12-11, 4-8) kept it closer in the second set. The Bears took a 13-9 lead after an ace by freshman libero Mary McKennon forced an Arizona timeout, but the Wildcats scored four in a row to tie it. After a hitting error by Arizona outside hitter Taylor Arizobal put Cal in front 21-18, the Wildcats fought back to tie it at 22-22. Then came Cal's three-point run to finish off the set.
Arizona had its biggest lead of the match at 5-2 in the third set, but it didn't last long. The Bears fought back to take the lead on four straight points to make it 13-9. Senior middle hitter Kat Brown had a pair of blocks and Gombar had another ace during the run. Cal gradually pulled away and polished off the match.
Cal is back in action at Noon on Sunday against Arizona State.