Todd Dybas, Special to NCAA.com
SEATTLE — Two final sounds sealed California’s trip to the national semifinals: the smack of Kat Brown’s right hand followed by the whack of the ball on the pale blue tile.
The seventh-seeded Golden Bears pushed through the Division I women’s volleyball regional final at Seattle and on to the tournament’s final week with a 3-0 win over unseeded Washington on Saturday night in Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The three sets were decisive and swift, 25-21, 25-20 and 25-14.
Cal won its first Pac-10 title this season. Now the Bears (29-3) head to the final four for the first time since 2007 after being stopped in the regional final the previous two seasons. And the Golden Bears will go in hot – they’re yet to drop a set in the NCAA tournament – flaunting the Seattle Regional Most Outstanding Player, offensive maestro Carli Lloyd. Two other Cal hitters, Tarah Murrey, who led Cal with 15 kills on Saturday night, and Shannon Hawari were also named to the All-Region team.
Cal moves on to face Pac-10 foe USC, which beat Stanford in the regional final at Dayton, at the national semifinals in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 16.
“It’s really hard to get where we are,” Lloyd said. “I’ve been here for three years and this round is so tough to get to the Final Four because everyone wants it so bad.
“I believed we could do it again.”
After a bumpy run in the regional semifinals Friday night, Cal grew increasingly precise on Saturday. It passed and, in particular, defended better as the match went on.
“The whole energy, the whole vibe was completely different tonight,” Lloyd said.
The Bears were crisp to begin the third set. A 5-3 lead generated by Correy Johnson’s kill forced an early Washington timeout. A push back came from Washington thanks to Kylin Munoz and Bianca Rowland blocks. The Huskies rallied back to within 10-8. That wasn’t enough.
A kill down the middle from Brown and blocks by Lloyd and Hawari forced another Washington timeout with Cal leading 14-9. Cal’s momentum increased on the way to a 25-14 decision.
Cal built its steady approach in the second set. A 10-10 tie stretched into a 21-16 Bears lead when Lloyd stuffed Munoz. The Bears tracked down deep balls, used crafty plays like Lloyd’s quick dump, and shut down Washington’s outside hitters to build the lead.
Washington (24-9) continually set middle hitter Rowland on the wheel, but Cal eventually snuffed that out, too. Washington took a late timeout down 24-18. The Huskies’ Kindra Carlson used the Cal block for a kill and dink by Washington’s Becky Perry pulled the Huskies within four, 24-20.
Despite the mini-rally, a Washington error produced a second-set win and firm grip on the match for Cal.
Prior, the Huskies were off to a second crisp start in as many nights. A block by Washington’s Lauren Barfield upped the Huskies’ first-set lead to 13-8. But Murrey, Cal’s kill leader during the regular season, was credited with a kill off a Washington block to halt the Huskies’ 7-1 run. From there, Cal took control.
Murrey finished the set with seven kills. Carlson’s stout .571 hitting percentage kept Washington in the set, but Huskies outside hitters Perry (-.273) and Munoz (-.222) struggled.
Murrey went the gentle route to end the set. Her dink finished things 25-21 in Cal’s favor.
The win was the third of the season for Cal over Washington.
“Cal could win this thing,” Washington coach Jim McLaughlin said.
Three Washington seniors, Perry, Carlson and Jenna Hagglund, wrapped their Washington careers on Saturday night in front of the home crowd. The Bears were off to make travel plans for next week.
“All of that hard work we did in spring, in season double-days …” Murrey said. “I’m just really proud of this team. I can’t wait for the next match.”
Minnesota’s Lauren Gibbemeyer, Nebraska’s Jordan Wilberger, and Washington’s Carlson and Rowland rounded out the All-Region team.