2008 Women's Volleyball Season Outlook
Aug. 18, 2008
BERKELEY - The 2008 California volleyball team looks to set new standards for a program that is one of the fastest rising programs in the nation. For some, a trip to the NCAA championship semifinal match is an accomplishment both in and of itself. But for the Golden Bears, such a trip is but a stepping-stone to an even bigger and brighter future. However, one thing Cal will not do is take its prior achievements for granted.
'Our team now knows what it takes to achieve a high level of success,' said head coach Rich Feller. 'After getting a taste of it last season, we are going to hit the court with a newly heightened sense of focus and determination. The great thing about our team is that the veterans also know not to take success for granted and that will be a key factor as the identity of this squad comes together.'
When the 2007 Bears defeated Iowa State in the NCAA regional semifinal, it advanced further in the postseason than any Cal team in program history. Not satisfied with their successes, the Bears did themselves one better by knocking off then-defending NCAA Champion Nebraska, in the Wisconsin Regional to earn a trip to the NCAA championship semifinal match against eventual NCAA Champion Penn State, in Sacramento, Calif.
Feller believes the 2008 Bears are a unique blend of experience and youth; and of calculated precision and raw athletic talent. This year, Cal opponents will bear first-hand witness to the manifestation of a returning roster that boasts a junior outside hitter who received AVCA All-America honors, a senior class poised in leadership, a sophomore setter who came within six assists of breaking a single-season school record and a freshman class that brings with it two Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 Selections.
Leading the charge on the court for the Bears will be junior outside hitter Hana Cutura (Zagreb, Croatia). As a sophomore, Cutura put up impressive numbers, leading the team with 485 kills (4.22 kpg) and 566.5 points (4.92 ppg). She also poured in a team-high 37 service aces while adding 214 digs to her final stat line. Cutura's postseason performance earned her recognition as the NCAA Tournament Wisconsin Regional MVP.
Joining Cutura on the outside is senior outside hitter/middle hitter Morgan Beck (Coto De Caza, Calif.) who brings an abundance of experience to the court, having appeared in 94 matches over her three years with the Bears. As a junior, Beck posted 265 kills and 114 total blocks. Beck has earned honorable mention status on the All-Pac-10 team the last two years and enters her final season as Cal's ninth all-time leader in career blocks.
Although Beck's senior leadership will be invaluable to a young squad of Bears, she is not alone at the top. Senior middle hitter Kat Reilly (Plano, Texas) returns after posting strong numbers as a part-time starter in 2007. Reilly's 116 total blocks (1.36 bpg) and .325 hitting percentage (147k, 44e, 317att) each ranked second only to since-departed Ellen Orchard. Rounding out the senior class is outside hitter Am'ra Solomon (Los Angeles, Calif.). Although Solomon is limited in court experience, she is loaded with leadership ability and will have much to offer to her teammates after a successful stint this summer with the USA A2 Team.
Feller believes the leadership from his senior class will be critical to the success of the 2008 Bears. 'Our seniors are three very different individuals,' said Feller. 'Hopefully, that allows for the underclassmen to have a variety of personalities and styles to draw from as this team builds its identity. I believe the diversity of this senior class is one of the major strengths to the make-up of our roster.'
Setting the pace on the court for these Bears will be sophomore setter Carli Lloyd (Bonsall, Calif.). Thrust into the starting role early in her freshman campaign, Lloyd proved her mettle by completing her first season with 1,550 assists, six away from breaking the Cal single-season record held by Samantha Carter. In addition to setting her teammates up, Lloyd also notched 93 kills, 234 digs and 111 total blocks. Lloyd was named to the NCAA Wisconsin Regional All-Tournament team and also received honors as the Outstanding Setter in two preseason tournaments. Lloyd's phenomenal freshman season earned her a spot on the Pac-10 All-Freshmen team, and she is ready to take on an even larger role as the on-court leader.
'Even though she is just a sophomore, Carli has already taken on such a big leadership role as the setter' said Feller. 'She is out there in the trenches and she commands the attention of her teammates. She is truly one of the best communicators you will find on the collegiate volleyball court.'
On the defensive side of the ball, Cal will look to junior libero Kristen Kathan (Moraga, Calif.) for guidance and consistency. Kathan's quickness helped her post Cal's ninth-best single-season mark for digs with 414 in 2007. Away from the court, Kathan's academic prowess was rewarded with an honorable mention to the Pac-10 All-Academic Team. Sophomore defensive specialist/libero Meagan Schmitt (Kentfield, Calif.) will also compete for playing time. Last but not least amongst returning players is junior middle hitter Mindi Wiley (Sonoma, Calif.). Wiley came on strong towards the end of the season, sharing time with fellow middle hitter, Reilly. Wiley's .307 hitting percentage (85k, 30e, 179att) ranked third on the team as she set new career high's in nearly every statistical category.
This season, the Bears welcome five newcomers to the team. Topping the list of fresh faces is phenom outside hitter Tarah Murrey (El Cerrito, Calif.). Murrey comes to Cal as one of 2007's most highly sought-after high school recruits in the country. Her impressive resume includes selection to the Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 and recognition as the 2008 Gatorade California Player of the Year. Also a Fab 50 selection, freshman middle hitter Shannon Hawari (Plano, Texas) looks to step in and battle for immediate playing time.
Joining Murrey and Hawari in the freshman class are setter/defensive specialist Ashley Roe (Campbell, Calif.), setter Kristin Obermeyer (Campbell, Calif.) and defensive specialist/libero Katherine Gorman (Los Altos, Calif.).
'I think we have one of the best recruiting classes in the country' said Feller. 'Murrey and Hawari have resumes that speak for themselves and we are looking for them to compete for playing time right from the outset of camp. Roe, Obermeyer and Gorman are three extremely hard-working and athletic players and we couldn't be happier that they each chose to come to Cal. They are each going to bring something special to our team.'
This season, Feller looks to guide the Bears to a school-record seventh straight postseason appearance in 2008. In just his 10th year at Cal, Feller has solidified his name in the record books as the most successful coach in Cal volleyball history and hopes to improve on a phenomenal year in which his team produced two All-Americans and finished with a 26-8 record (12-6 Pac-10, fourth place). The squad's success garnered him recognition as the ASICS/Volleyball Magazine National Coach of the Year. He knows maintaining a high level of production won't be easy however.
'It's more difficult to repeat success than it is to achieve it the first time' said Feller, 'We want to make sure that our team stays focused and remembers how hard they had to work in order to achieve their successes. The Pac-10 will be a great test for our team. The conference schedule truly prepares our team for all the NCAA Tournament can throw at us.'
Cal will open the season by hosting two tournaments at Haas Pavilion. The Bears welcome St. John's to Haas Pavilion on Aug. 29 to kick off the Cal Molten Classic before they entertain DePaul, James Madison and UC Riverside in the Golden Bear Invitational on Sept. 5-6.
Taking to the road for the first time in 2008, the Bears will face Notre Dame, Cal Poly and host Minnesota at the Diet Coke Classic Invitational in Minneapolis, Minn. Next, the Bears will make the drive down Interstate-5 for the Fullerton Invitational (Sept. 19-20).
Cal opens the Pac-10 slate by hosting Oregon and Oregon State on Sept. 26 and 27. The Bears will face all three California schools on consecutive weekends, first traveling to Stanford for the Big Spike on Oct. 19 before going to Los Angeles to take on UCLA and USC on Oct. 24 and 25. The Big Spike comes to Haas Pavilion on Nov. 14 before Cal completes the season with a Thanksgiving sandwich in Oregon for a Nov. 26 date with the Beavers and a Nov. 28 meeting with the Ducks.