Volleyball Feature - Ellen Orchard

Sept. 22, 2006

BERKELEY, CALIF. - By Scott Ball

When Ellen Orchard first arrived at California in 2004 from Houston, Texas, she really didn't know what to expect.

Her long-term academic plans were not yet in focus, and she felt more than a little anticipation at the prospect of playing volleyball in the competitive Pacific-10 Conference.

Now in her third year as a Golden Bear, it would be safe to say Orchard has found a nice niche for herself in Berkeley on the court. And as Cal's only student-athlete majoring in forestry and natural resources, she has carved out a unique place in the classroom, as well.

'When I first got to Cal I wasn't sure what I wanted to do academically,' said Orchard, a 6-3 junior middle blocker for the Bears. 'I have always been interested in science and biology. My father, Dave, is a geologist, and we would spend a lot of time outdoors and go on a lot of hikes. He was a big influence in my decision to get into forestry.'

Although not yet sure what direction to take her degree after graduation - whether it be field research, land management, public policy or non-profit work - Orchard definitely has an interest in the preservation of the rain forests. One approach may be to follow her father to South America, where he is currently doing paleontology work in Venezuelan tar pits.

'My father was an inspiration for me to get involved in environmental science,' said Orchard. 'To have an opportunity to work alongside him and utilize what I have learned at Cal would be just wonderful.'

Before she puts her chosen major to full use, Orchard will have a unique opportunity to immerse herself in forestry field work. In the summer of 2008, after wrapping up her regular class work at Cal, she plans to spend eight weeks in the forest studying the biota, soils and geology of the Feather River Country (Plumas National Forest, northeast of Sacramento) as part of the UC Berkeley Forestry Field Camp.

'The field camp will be a great way to prepare me for any forestry work I do after school,' said Orchard. 'It will give me a chance to see what's out there and which direction I want to go. It should be a great experience.'

So why did a volleyball standout from Texas venture to the Bay Area?'I was looking for a great university with an outstanding coaching staff,' said Orchard. 'And after I got here, I found out my grandmother, Ruth Gordon Orchard, had gone to Cal (Class of '36). She gave me her old stuffed Oski bear that she had when she went to school. It is one of my favorite things.'

Orchard also has a handful of relatives who reside in the state, and two of her siblings have since moved to Ukiah from Houston. Her sister, Emily, 26, is a nurse, and her brother, Phillip, 23, just graduated from the University of Texas and is currently working on a book on his experiences in New Orleans after spending two months there helping clean up the city following the devastation from Hurricane Katrina.

Orchard's parents, Dave and Marie, are native Californians, as well, having met in high school in Ukiah. Her father attended Stanford, while her mother went to Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.

'It was a really big decision to go so far away for school,' said Orchard. 'This is where I feel comfortable now, and I am really happy with my decision. I didn't know what to expect, but it has been a great learning experience - challenging, but rewarding. The intensity of the college game is much greater. We work hard 24-7, but that is the part of the game I like.'

Since a slow start to Orchard's freshman season due to a leg injury, the Cal coaches have noted her steady improvement and clutch performances. In particular, she was the star for the Bears in an NCAA first-round victory over Pacific at Haas Pavilion in 2004, coming off the bench to record a career-high 14 kills and leading Cal to a five-game win over the Tigers.

Then as a sophomore in 2005, Orchard again played well in the playoffs, notching seven blocks against Valparaiso and hitting .353 against Wisconsin. For the season, she led the Bears with 129 blocks, the fourth-best single-season mark in school history, while hitting .266. One of her other top matches was against eventual national champion Washington when she had a career-high 10 blocks.

'In a way, Ellen is a quiet contributor, someone who is not necessarily flashy, but gets the job done,' said head coach Rich Feller. 'Our prior two middles, Camille Leffall and Alicia Powers, were more of the vocal types that you would notice. But Ellen has been able to steadily raise her game and make the coaches pay more attention to her. She has gained more confidence as she has gained experience.

'Ellen is also very supportive of her teammates. As a freshman, she did not play as much as last year, and it was probably the first time she had ever had to sit on the bench. But she grew a lot. She is very easy to get along with and understands everyone's, both starters and substitutes, perspective.'

Now entering her junior campaign, Orchard has fully adjusted to life at Cal and takes pleasure in her athletic and academic experiences.

'This year is going to be great,' said Orchard. 'Volleyball-wise, it is exciting because of the talented freshmen we have coming in, combined with our experienced players and coaching staff. In my classes, it has been fun meeting people from different backgrounds. I am a volleyball player, but I am also a student, and it has been enjoyable combining the two experiences.'

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