Nov. 25, 2012
Thursday, Nov. 29
But it's the way the Bears played in those matches that no doubt helped them turn nerves into cheers Sunday afternoon.
Cal was awarded an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament Sunday in the Berkeley Regional, making it a school-record 11th straight trip to the postseason. The Bears will travel to a subregional at Iowa State, where they will play North Carolina in the first round on Thursday at 3 p.m. PT.
Cal spent the weekend wondering if its 15-15 overall record would be good enough to receive an at-large bid. But the Bears' strong RPI of 39, wins over two top-10 teams and narrow five-set losses to two other opponents ranked in the top-10 undoubtedly helped their cause.
"I was thinking about the tournament all weekend," Cal senior middle hitter Kat Brown said. "I was trying to not get excited about it. I tried to set really low expectations, but that was difficult. I'm just really happy and really excited. The postseason is a new start and I think we need that."
Should the Bears get by the Tar Heels (25-5), who are ranked No. 24 in the latest AVCA Top 25 and beat Cal in the first round of last year's tournament, they would face the winner of Thursday's other match between host Iowa State (20-7) and Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (25-6).
If the Bears can advance past the second round, they would return to Berkeley for the NCAA regionals. Haas Pavilion is one of four host sites across the country for the regionals. Stanford, the Pac-12 champions and No. 2 seed nationally, is also in the Berkeley Regional. No. 7 UCLA is the other Pac-12 team that could head to Berkeley with wins in the first two rounds.
Seven Pac-12 teams qualified for this year's NCAA Tournament.
"I was very relaxed and didn't think a lot about it because I knew at this point it's completely out of my hands," Cal coach Rich Feller said. "If the committee decided that our strength of schedule was good enough, we'd get in. If they didn't, we wouldn't. I wasn't in the position to complain about anything. I'm very pleased that we're in again. It shows a lot about the strength of the Cal program and the strength of the Pac-12, and it's a credit to everybody involved in all of those things."
It has been an especially challenging season for the Bears. Two projected starters - libero Robin Rostratter and outside hitter Michelle Neumayr - suffered season-ending injuries before the season even started. Senior opposite hitter Correy Johnson missed 24 sets during the early portion of the season and has been limited in practice all year because of a stress reaction in her leg. Junior outside hitter Adrienne Gehan missed three matches and played sparingly in four others because of a knee injury.
"We all know, in our little circle, how hard we've been working to overcome the adversity we've had this year and how hard our seniors have worked their whole careers," Feller said. "To have it end with anything except the tournament would have been extremely disappointing and we would have been saddened by that, for sure. Hopefully, now we get a little chance to show that we are worthy of making the tournament and with some good fortune, advance."
The tournament will also give Brown a chance to become Cal's all-time blocks leader. She ended the regular season tied with Ellen Orchard atop the school's all-time list with 504 blocks.
Brown is one of four Cal seniors who didn't want to see their careers come to an end just yet.
"I want to play for as long as I can here," Brown said. "Making the tournament means so much right now. Everyone is really excited. I definitely think how that we've made it, we have the potential to upset some big teams."
Tickets for the NCAA regionals at Haas Pavilion can be purchased at Calbears.com, by calling (800) GO-BEARS or in person at the Haas Pavilion Athletic Ticket Office.