2002 Cal Volleyball Outlook
Aug. 16, 2002
BERKELEY, CA - Possessing what is probably his most talented squad since becoming the Golden Bears' head volleyball coach in 1999, Rich Feller is looking forward to California's 2002 campaign and making headway in the ultra-competitive Pacific-10 Conference.
Feller welcomes back sophomore middle blocker Camille Leffall, who was Pac-10 All-Freshman last year; sophomore Mia Jerkov, a standout on the Croatian National Team; steady senior Leah Young and experienced juniors Caity Noonan and Gabrielle Abernathy. Feller's 2002 Bears will also feature two outstanding freshmen in middle blocker Alicia Powers and outside hitter Jenna Brown.
'I'm very excited about the upcoming season because of the returning starters we have coming back,' said Feller. 'The experience they gained from last year will be extremely valuable. We will also have Mia Jerkov with us full-time and we are looking forward to the return of Caity Noonan from injury. In addition, we have two incoming freshmen, Alicia Powers and Jenna Brown, who are from top caliber club programs and have the ability to be impact players right away.'
Camille Leffall, a 6-0 middle blocker, would have to be considered one of Cal's top returnees after an impressive freshman season, earning 2001 Pac-10 All-Freshman honors and establishing a new school single-season record with a .381 hitting percentage. She is the first Bear to be named Pac-10 All-Freshman since Kelli Alva in 1996 and also led the team with 88 total blocks. Leffall tied a school-record with 11 total blocks during Cal's upset over No. 19 Santa Clara as well.
Another top sophomore for the Bears will be 6-3 outside hitter Mia Jerkov. A key member of Croatia's National Team, Jerkov missed several of Cal's early season contests while competing internationally for Croatia. She then suffered tendentious in her left shin that knocked her out of the Bear's final seven matches. Jerkov still led Cal in kills per game (3.36) and was the team leader in kills in six of the 10 matches she played, including a season-high 20 kills and 14 digs Oct. 19 versus Washington State. She will be playing for the Croatian National Team over the summer, but will be with the Bears the entire 2002 season.
Leah Young will be Cal's lone senior and the 5-10 left-handed outside hitter will again provide the Bears with consistent play. An outstanding jumper, Young has improved every season she has been with the program and should have a stellar senior year. In 2001 she was second on the team with 251 kills, including a career-high 19 kills and 12 digs in the victory over No. 19 ranked Santa Clara.
Caity Noonan joins Young as one of Cal's most experienced players, returning from a knee injury that forced her to redshirt last year. A 5-8 setter/defensive specialist, Noonan is left-handed with an impressive jump serve and is 10th on the Bears' all-time assist list with 835 career assists. She will be extremely valuable for Cal with her leadership and ability to either set or handle the libero position.
Gabrielle Abernathy, a 5-10 outside hitter, led the Bears in total kills last season with 288 and recorded 3.16 kills per game. An explosive jumper with a powerful arm swing, Abernathy continues to improve her all-around game and the more consistent she plays, the better Cal competes against top-level competition.
Two newcomers the Cal coaches feel will help the Bears compete against the nation's best are 6-1 freshman middle blocker Alicia Powers and 5-11 freshman outside hitter Jenna Brown. According to Feller, both players are equally adept in the back row as they are in the front row.
Powers attended Carondelet High School in nearby Concord where she was one of the top volleyball players in northern California. She also competed in basketball in high school and selected Cal over Duke and Pacific. Brown is a left-hander from Clear Brook High School in Friendswood, Texas, were she was one of the top players out of the Houston area. She tallied 489 kills and 482 digs as a senior, earning district Co-MVP honors, and chose the Bears over LSU and Texas A&M.
With the graduation of four-year starting setter Candace McNamee, 5-9 sophomore setter Astrid Gonzalez is the heir apparent to take over the Cal setting duties. Gonzalez had 124 assists, 151 digs and 11 service aces in 27 matches last season and this past spring performed well running the Cal offense.
Bolstering the Bears' preseason prospects is a large junior class that includes defensive specialists Ashleigh Turner and Jenna Grigsby, middle blocker Heather Diers and middle blockers/outside hitters Jessica Zatica and Lisa Collette. Each one of these Cal juniors has made contributions to the Cal program and could all play big roles this season.
Turner is a strong server who was second on the team with 222 digs last season. Grigsby is a steady player who saw considerable action toward the end of last year, recording 47 digs in the last nine matches. Diers is a 6-2 middle blocker who has shown signs of being a top collegiate player with a .264 career hitting percentage. Both Zatica and Collette continue to improve and should be fully recovered from injuries suffered last season. Zatica is an outstanding all-around athlete who had a career-high 11 kills at USC before dislocating her right shoulder and missing the final five matches. Collette is 6-2 with a lot of potential, but suffered a stress fracture in her right foot in 2001 and only saw action in eight matches.
Rounding out Cal's 2002 squad are freshmen Alexis Kollias and Allison Ara. Kollias is a scrappy 5-7 defensive specialist from Castro Valley High School who should immediately help the Bears in the back row. Ara is a 5-10 middle blocker from Palo Alto High School who also features back row skills and could contribute as an outside hitter as well.
'I think this year's team has the best combination of size, experience and talent since I have been here,' said Feller. 'Our goal, of course, is to make it to the NCAA Tournament. And we know in order to do that we have to be better than .500 overall and finish at least .500 in conference. That is our challenge.'