Friday, July 19

Cal’s youthful spikers might provide surprise

The UCLA women’s volleyball team will travel to the Bay Area this weekend for a pair of matches with California and Stanford. The Stanford match figures to get most of the attention. Rightly so, but in Cal, UCLA faces a young team that could give the Bruins a run for their money.

On Friday night, the third-ranked Bruins will play the Golden Bears of Cal in the cozy confines of Harmon Gym. UCLA goes into Berkeley with yet another juggernaut of a team, featuring senior outside hitter Annett Buckner and sophomore middle blocker Kim Krull.

Buckner leads the team in kills (259) and ranks third in the nation in that category, averaging 5.46 putaways a game. Krull, the 1993-94 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, is 10th in the country in blocks, with 76 roofs this year.

The Bruins (14-1 overall, 4-0 in the Pac-10) are 24-0 vs. the Golden Bears. UCLA can very well make it 25-0 against Cal, as the Bears have gotten off to a woeful start at 3-9 overall and 3-6 in the conference.

Cal was tabbed to finish ninth in the conference in the preseason Pac-10 poll. The Bears lost five starters, including setter Sienna Curci and middle blocker Cara Dane to graduation, and are trying to regroup with a roster that includes just two seniors and nine freshmen.

Devin Scruggs is in her first year as the Cal assistant coach and in an early season match in Texas, she and head coach Dave DeGroot saw six freshmen on the floor.

Introducing the California Golden Cubs?

“The youth is doing very well, but they’re still obviously young,” Scruggs said. “We weren’t expected to do well. They’re a great group of kids. They’re working hard, but they’re not getting the wins. But we are improving. I would say that in every match, we have improved.”

Indeed, the Bears are showing signs of improving. They beat Oregon, 3-0, in Eugene, Ore., and took Oregon State to the fifth game before folding to the Beavers. And, most impressively, the Bears managed to take a game from No. 1 Stanford in Palo Alto in a 15-11, 16-14, 10-15, 15-5 loss.

“To play Stanford the way we played them, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a match so much and been on the losing end,” Scruggs said.

All the freshmen and the new faces that Cal has can actually be viewed as an advantage for the Bears.

“I think that the one advantage that we do have is that the other teams don’t know what to expect from us,” Scruggs said. “We may be a little tougher to scout, even for people who saw us early in the season. We have a completely different lineup now.

“There are just so many young faces. We’re just trying all the combinations to see what works best.”

Scruggs said the Bears have yet to formulate a plan, or a combination for that matter, for the Bruins. However, she believes that Cal will give UCLA a tough one in Harmon come Friday night.

“I believe that this team definitely plays up to the competition,”Scruggs said. “We played well against Pacific, we played well against Stanford and I think we will play well against UCLA.”

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UCLA’s 7:30 p.m. match at Stanford on Saturday will be broadcast live by KIEV Radio (870 AM). Lou Riggs will handle the play-by-play and Michael Sondheimer and Heather Schoeney will provide color commentary.

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Two Pac-10 schools recently smashed a couple of impressive winning streaks.

On Sept. 24, the Washington football team defeated Miami (Fla.), 38-20, to snap the Hurricanes’ NCAA-record 58-game home field winning streak.

On Sept. 4, the Stanford women’s volleyball team knocked off Florida, 3-1, to end the Gators’ 58-match home court winning streak, also an NCAA record.

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Washington tailback Napoleon Kaufman has been named the Pac-10 football Offensive Player of the Week. Oregon cornerback Kenny Wheaton received the Defensive Player of the Week honor.

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