Kristen Leigh Porter, NCAA.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Before it could reach the NCAA Division I title match for the first time in program history and face one familiar foe, the California women’s volleyball team had to take of another.
Cal did just that with a 25-14, 25-17, 25-20 win over fellow Pac-10 Conference member USC Thursday evening at the Sprint Center. The seventh-seeded Golden Bears (30-3) will face three-time defending champion Penn State in Saturday’s 8:30 ET championship match.
When the tournament pairings came out a couple weeks ago revealed that Penn State was on the opposite side of the bracket this year, it elicited strong reaction from the players, according to Cal senior All-American setter Carli Lloyd.
Penn State (31-5), this season’s fourth seed, knocked out Cal in the 2009 Gainesville Regional final and the 2008 University Park Regional final. The Nittany Lions also defeated the Golden Bears in the 2007 national semifinal.
“We were not relieved, but we were excited because when we did meet them, it would be in the finals,” Lloyd said. “We want revenge, obviously, because they have beaten us three years in a row and it’s been tough.”
Cal extended its streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament sweeps to five in front of 12,091 fans who witnessed a dismantling of sixth-seeded USC (29-5). Its victory was just the 11th all-time over USC in 57 meetings. USC beat Cal 3-2 on Oct. 9 in Los Angeles and 3-1 on Nov. 5 in Berkeley in Pac-10 Conference play.
“That was pretty efficient volleyball on our side of the net,” said Golden Bears head Coach Rich Feller, who was named AVCA Coach of the Year. “…I think that they were very business-like in what they did tonight and very, very focused.”
Said Lloyd: “We’ve already been beaten twice by them [USC], so we weren’t going to let it happen a third (time).”
Junior outside hitter Tarah Murray had her 11th double-double of the year with 23 kills and 14 digs. Murray, who hit .413, is averaging 5.53 kills per set in postseason play. Freshman outside hitter Adrienne Gehan added 14 kills and hit at a .393 clip. The pair combined for 15 kills in the second set.
“I think Adrienne and I did a good job of working the ball,” Murray said. “If the ball wasn’t exactly what we wanted to really get a rip on it, we were trying to be smart with it.”
USC was led by junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter’s eight kills and 12 digs.
The Trojans hit just -.027 in the first set, .083 in the second set and .229 in the third set to end at .107 overall. It was just the second time this season that USC — ranked sixth in the country in hitting percentage at .295 — fell below the .200 mark, thanks in part to 19 hitting errors.
“I could definitely tell Cal did a great job scouting us,” said USC junior middle hitter Lauren Williams, who had six kills. “It looked like a lot of our shots — our go-to shots — weren’t going down and you could tell that their defensive players were just right there. When we’re watching film, you look for the holes and the holes just weren’t there tonight.”
Part of Cal’s game plan involved serving away from USC freshman libero Natalie Hagglund, and to serve at USC’s outside hitters when they rotated into the front row.
“We were all really able to locate our serves very nicely tonight,” Feller said, noting that the Golden Bears had only one service error. “They weren’t serving lollipops. There were some pretty tough, good serves to zones that we were trying to get them to.”
With 10 freshmen and sophomores on its roster, the Trojans featured a six-member class regarded as the nation’s top recruiting class. The list includes Hagglund, who had 10 digs Thursday to finish with 497 for the year, the seventh-best single-season total ever at USC. Fellow frosh Falyn Fonoimoana, an all-Pac-10 selection, had six kills and five digs.
“We don’t have any seniors that have been out there for more than one or two rotations, so everybody gets a second chance,” said USC coach Mick Haley, who finished the season with 777 victories in his career, fifth-most among all active Division I coaches. “That’s very unusual to get a second chance. So we’ll see what we do with it.”
USC junior Kendall Bateman handed out 28 assists to finish the season with 1,567, the second-best total in school history.
Cal sophomore defensive specialist Robin Rostratter was named the recipient of the NCAA Elite 88 Award, given to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average at the event. She had 12 digs.