2003 California Volleyball Outlook

June 19, 2003

BERKELEY, CA - The 2003 California volleyball team is looking to make a good thing even better.

The Golden Bears had a breakthrough season in 2002, finishing 20-12 and qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1989. Cal upset No. 14-ranked Santa Clara in the first round of the NCAA Regional and captured three consecutive tournaments during the regular season, winning nine straight matches and a school-record 27 consecutive games in the process. The Bears also defeated six teams ranked in the AVCA Top 25 and took the No. 1 (USC) and No. 2 (Stanford) ranked teams in the nation to five games.

And to add to that, Cal returns four starters, five seniors and a total of 11 players from the last year's squad, including 6-3 outside hitter Mia Jerkov, the Bears' first All-American volleyball player since Sylvie Monnet in 1983.

'We will have four returning starters on the court this season, and we also have five seniors who have three years of college volleyball behind them, so we have a lot of experience,' explained Bear coach Rich Feller. 'We accomplished several of our goals and achieved some impressive milestones last year. Now, we are looking to continue to improve and surpass last season's accomplishments.'

An obvious key to Cal topping 2002's accolades will be Jerkov, who was not only the Bears' first All-American volleyball player in nearly 20 years, but also first team All-Pacific Region and first team All-Pac-10. She was the MVP in all three of the Bears' 2002 tournament titles and was twice Pac-10 Player of the Week, including becoming the school's first-ever AVCA National Player of the Week on Oct. 21. Jerkov recorded 30 or more kills in six matches, was the Pac-10 leader in points (635.0, combining kills, blocks and service aces) and kills (578), and established school records for single-season kills (578), single-match kills (39) and kill attempts (91).

'We return one of the most complete outside hitters in the nation in Mia Jerkov,' said Feller. 'She excels in all aspects of the game and is equally adept in the front and back court.'

Along with Jerkov, Cal features 6-0 junior middle hitter Camille Leffall and 5-11 sophomore outside hitter Jenna Brown. Leffall, a member of the 2001 Pac-10 All-Freshman Team and the school-record holder with a .360 career hitting percentage, is a talented player who led the Bears with a .347 hitting percentage, 108 total blocks and was twice an all-tournament selection last season. Brown, a powerful left-handed hitter, was selected to the 2002 Pac-10 All-Freshman Team and was a member of USA Volleyball's National A2 squad this past summer. Last fall, she played in every match for Cal as a first-year player, recording 340 kills and leading the team with 365 digs.

A fourth returning starter for the Bears is sophomore middle hitter Alicia Powers, who along with Brown started every match as a true freshman. Powers was a steady player and a huge reason behind Cal advancing to the postseason, finishing the year with 113 kills. She was third on the team with 323 digs, 28 service aces and 82 total blocks.

Another strength for the Bears in 2003 should be their senior class of Lisa Collette, Heather Diers, Jenna Grigsby, Ashleigh Turner and Jessica Zatica. All five seniors offer various skills that should help Cal again reach the postseason. Collette, a 6-2 outside hitter, continues to improve and had a career-high 10 kills last year at UCLA. The 6-2 Diers is a strong blocker who tied a school record with 11 total blocks last season at Saint Mary's. Grigsby and Turner both are experienced defensive specialists. Grigsby is a steady player and the squad's top student-athlete, while Turner is one of the team's top servers and has 61 career service aces. Zatica is an athletic 6-0 outside hitter who played well towards the end of last year and had a stellar match with 14 kills in a regular season victory at Santa Clara.

Three more returnees who are sure to contribute to the Bears' 2003 success are 5-10 junior outside hitter Gabrielle Abernathy, 5-9 junior setter Astrid Gonzalez and 5-7 sophomore defensive specialist Alexis Kollias. Abernathy redshirted last season after leading Cal with 288 kills and 3.16 kills per game as a sophomore in 2001. An explosive jumper with a powerful arm swing, she adds another talented outside hitter to the Bears' offensive arsenal. Gonzalez is an experienced setter who performed well in a back-up role last year and has registered 212 career assists, while Kollias will again help Cal in the back row after playing in 29 matches and tallying 108 digs as a freshman.

Despite losing outside hitter Leah Young, a 2002 Pac-10 Honorable Mention pick who finished her career with 1,008 kills, and setter Caity Noonan, who set a single-season school record with 1,442 assists last year, to graduation, the Bear coaches believe the 2003 Cal freshman class will help fill the void.

Vying for the Bears' starting setter position will be 5-11 freshman Samantha Carter, who hails from Apopka, Fla. Carter, a six-time AAU All-American, was selected as the nation's 28th top recruit by Student Sports magazine and was a two-time all-state selection, leading Bishop Moore High School to two state titles.

Two more incoming Cal freshmen listed among Student Sports Top 100 recruits are 6-2 middle hitter Natalie Smart from Durango High School in Las Vegas, Nev., and 6-3 outside hitter Amanda Fox from El Molino High School in Forestville, Calif.

Smart, selected the nation's 50th best recruit, was all-conference and Sunset Region MVP, leading Durango High School to the 2002 Nevada state title. She was also a member of the USA Junior National Team. Ranked No. 53 by Student Sports, Fox was a four-time all-league selection, 2001 league MVP and a member of the 2000 USA Youth National Team.

Natasha Nguyen, Jillian Davis and Ashley Wagner round out the Bears' talented group of newcomers. Nguyen is a 6-0 sophomore middle hitter/outside hitter from El Segundo, Calif., who transferred from Georgetown after leading the Hoyas with 88 service aces and recording 232 kills, 233 digs and 55 total blocks as a freshman. Davis is a 5-9 defensive specialist/outside hitter from Flintridge Sacred Heart High School in La Canada, Calif., who should help Cal in either the back or front row. Wagner is a 5-11 setter from Colleyville, Tex., who will provide the Bears with additional depth at the setting position.

'This is certainly one of the best, if not the best, recruiting classes since I have been the coach at Cal,' said Feller. 'It could also be one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. These players feature size, experience and ability in all positions. They will add a great deal of depth to our program and will immediately be battling for playing time.'

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