Nov. 8, 2012
BERKELEY, Calif. - Washington State may be in last place in the Pac-12 standings, but Thursday night provided Cal's women's volleyball team with one of its biggest challenges of the season.
Less than 24 hours after a disheartening, draining five-set loss to No. 5 Washington, the Bears were charged with taking the Haas Pavilion floor and making sure the Cougars didn't sneak away with an upset. Cal wasn't at its best but it gutted out a 25-18, 23-25, 25-18, 25-23 victory to get back to .500 in Pac-12 Conference play (8-8, 14-12 overall).
"It's emotionally tough," Cal coach Rich Feller said. "You get very keyed up to play a top-ranked opponent and you have less than 24 hours to come back. We knew Washington State was going to work hard on every point. It's emotionally tough to come back from last night in such a short time and play your best, but you have to be able to do that."
The Bears were carried by senior middle hitter Kat Brown, who had a career-high 12 blocks and matched a season-high with nine kills. Brown now is just 12 blocks shy of matching Ellen Orchard's school career record of 504.
"She was very effective hitting and did a great job blocking, obviously," Feller said. "It's great that she's getting those kinds of numbers and continuing to work hard. She has a million icepacks all over her, so she's obviously hurting a little bit. But it's great to see her do that."
For the third time in four matches, Cal's surging offense had four players in double figures in kills. Senior middle hitter Shannon Hawari led the Bears with 14 kills at a .542 hitting percentage while sophomore outside hitter Christina Higgins and junior outside hitter Adrienne Gehan had 12 apiece. Senior opposite hitter Correy Johnson had 10 kills and matched her season-high with nine blocks.
Johnson and Brown, who are roommates and close friends, teamed up consistently for blocks throughout the night.
"I think we both really trust each other on the block," Brown said. "I know that if I don't get all the way out there, Correy is going to adjust to help me out. I think we have a special bond when we are blocking."
Cal got off to a strong start. After the Cougars (12-16, 2-14) stayed within 8-7 in the first set, the Bears reeled off five points in a row, two coming when Brown and Higgins teamed up for blocks. Cal extended the advantage to 20-12 and cruised to the victory in the first set.
But the Cougars, who began the conference season with 12 straight losses but had won two of three coming in, raced out to a 16-10 lead in the second set. Washington St. still led 20-16 when the Bears scored four of the next five points, getting a block, a kill, and an ace from Brown. The Bears were still within 24-23 after a kill by Hawari, but WSU middle hitter Ver'Leea Hardaway evened the match with a kill.
The Bears led 15-14 in the third set when they started to pull away. After a service error by the Cougars' Marcelina Glab, Higgins registered back-to-back kills to make it 18-14. Johnson and Brown teamed up for a pair of blocks to help establish a 22-16 advantage, and Cal polished off the set.
The Bears led 17-15 in the fourth set when a kill by Brown and a hitting error by Washington State's Rachel Todorovich made it 19-15. Cal ultimately went in front 24-20 but then watched the Cougars score three in a row to force a timeout. Higgins closed out the match with a kill.
"I think we were all emotionally tired," Brown said. "We were all really invested in that match last night and thought we were going to win it. We may have been a little unfocused at times tonight. Washington State is a team we are supposed to beat, and it was tough at times for us to get focused against them. But we just pushed through it."
The Bears now have a week off before returning embarking on their final road trip of the season. Cal next visits No. 6 UCLA on Thursday night.