Hana Cutura - License to Kill

By Jeff Goodman, Daily Cal Contributing Writer
This story was originally published in the Daily Californian on Wednesday, December 5, 2007. Click here for original version.

Reprinted by permission.

The box score says it all.

In a five-game victory over Notre Dame in September, outside hitter Hana Cutura has just led the Cal volleyball team in kills.

But forget that the Bears have won. Forget the 21 kills.

One glance at her stat line, and the most telling number glares right back.

Thirteen attack errors--balls that were blocked at the net, balls that landed out of bounds because she hit them just a little too hard--13 balls she wishes she could swing at again.

'Obviously, when I make a mistake I get a little frustrated,' says Cutura. 'But then I just say to myself, `OK, next point. We gotta get this next point because if I keep thinking about it, then I'm going to keep making errors.' So I just say to myself, `OK, that's done.''

Though she's only a sophomore, Cutura has become the go-to attacker on a team that is not without offensive talent. Her 437 kills are a team high, and she paces Cal with 4.12 kills per game.

Same goes for errors.

But Cutura's 186 miscues this season also speak volumes for her responsibilities as the main weapon on a squad that drew a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament and earned a spot in Friday's round of 16 match against Iowa State--after all, the outside hitter leads the team with 1,048 attempts and is tied for the most matches played.

In Croatia, where she was born, the 6-foot-3 Cutura excelled in a more offensive-minded system. Here, against taller and more athletic defenses, she's learned to take the extra duties--and errors--in stride.

'She's kind of used to that,' says coach Rich Feller. 'She's been the player on her junior national and youth national teams ever since she was little--I don't know if she was ever little--ever since she was young. And if you're out of system, the ball goes to the outside hitter, and it's either (Angie Pressey) or Hana that usually get most of those out-of-system balls.'

Over the course of the season, Cutura has worked tirelessly to become a more efficient hitter. Teammates challenge her in practice with two or three blockers, forcing her to make quicker decisions and execute with precision.

The drills have made her smarter, too. Instead of relying only on her power, Cutura now includes softer shots in her growing arsenal.

'I just realized that if a set is bad or not as good as it should be, then I just don't go for a kill,' she says. 'I try to make a roll shot or a tip or something.'

Cutura's improvements make her less predictable as an attacker, and they undoubtedly helped the Bears in the first two rounds of their postseason campaign.

Against Liberty, she notched 21 kills, hitting .360 with only three errors. The next day, Cutura posted 24 kills with just six errors against Duke.

After all, she realizes there is a very slim margin for error on the road to the final four.

'These teams have really good blocks,' she says. 'In these matches, I know that the team with less errors is going to win. And unforced errors are a big part of the game right now.'

Cutura understands Cal has a legitimate chance at a national championship, especially if she keeps her errors to a minimum.

'We can make history this year,' she says.

And in the last match of Pac-10 competition, Cutura made her acquired skills even more evident.

She exploded for a career-high 29 kills while maintaining a .339 hitting percentage in a loss to conference powerhouse Stanford.

Granted, Cutura had 10 errors in the match, but they comprised a small portion of her 56 attempts.

'It was a pretty good feeling,' Cutura says. 'I'm sad that we didn't win, but I was happy because it was (against) Stanford.'

Looking back at her statistics, a .111 attack percentage in a match against Utah State is difficult to comprehend. Then again, Cutura has come a long way since that September outing.

'Because she's continued getting better and being more successful, we probably feel pretty good getting her more balls whether it's in or out of system,' says Feller. 'The more opportunities for success equal the more opportunities for error, but we like the balance that it's at now.'

In the third game against Washington State, the Bears held a 29-27 advantage. Cutura tried to seal the victory, but she was blocked at the net. On the next play, she committed an attack error.

After a timeout, she returned to the court, and Cal earned another game-point opportunity. And this time, Cutura capitalized. As poised as ever, she tipped the ball over the net.

Count it in the box score.

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