Looking For A Championship: Carli Lloyd Leads Cal

"I'm here to bring home the program's first ever national championship. If you come here, we'll do it together. I absolutely believe that."

That's what Carli Lloyd told Tarah Murrey during her official visit as recruit in 2007. Murrey, one of the most sought after volleyball recruits in the country, was deciding between Cal and UCLA, and asked Lloyd why she should become a Golden Bear.

The rest is, well, history in the making, as Lloyd, Murrey and the seventh-seeded Golden Bears are two wins away from winning the national championship. This season, Cal women's volleyball launched one of the most successful campaigns in the program's history with a cumulative record of 29-3. Two of those losses came at the hands of USC.

So it's only fitting that Thursday's semi-finals match-up is against sixth-seeded USC, but according to Lloyd, that's how her squad wants it.

"We wouldn't have it any other way," the All-American senior says. "From the beginning, we wanted our road to the championship to go through USC."

Lloyd's relationships with Murrey, her other teammates and head coach Rich Feller have had a tremendous impact on who she is on the court. But her outstanding leadership skills developed long before she stepped foot on Cal's campus.

Lloyd was only four years old when her father died. Thereafter, with the help of her uncle, who stepped in and provided balance, her family drew closer. Her mother's strength and guidance were a beacon, and her siblings and grandparents provided support and wisdom.

The principles instilled in Lloyd by her family - strength, courage and leadership - are what she brought to the women's volleyball program at Cal. Lloyd has, in effect, recreated a family with her team.

"I want to do for my teammates what my mother does: inspire and support everybody around her," says Lloyd.

She credits Feller, now in his 12th year at Cal, for much of the team's success, because he always finds new ways to support his athletes by being flexible and responsive to their needs.

"Some veteran coaches are set in their ways. Coach Feller's approach is to listen to his athletes and put them in the best possible position," says Lloyd. "He's not closed-minded and he supports the idea that different players need different things. It's a relief knowing that he's supportive of change."

Feller, wanting to optimize the speed he had, altered Cal's offensive and defensive approaches this season. The last three seasons, the Golden Bears ran a "high-low" offense and a "perimeter" defense. In other words, players would start deep on the court and make their moves forward. It's a low risk and less aggressive approach.

This year? The mantra is "speed kills."

"We stay in the middle of the court, we read the play and then we react to it," says Feller. "Our defense plays more shallow and we make big moves forward and up."

Lloyd loves the strategy.

"Tarah and I both like to think of ourselves as fast athletes. I love a fast-paced, up-tempo game with fast plays and beating blocks. Tarah is such an explosive outside hitter and is also a very good high-ball attacker. We have a fast-tempo but I also know that if I need to jack a ball high to her, she'll be there," Lloyd says.

Good is putting it mildly. The pair have formed the most dynamic duo in the Pac-10 with Murrey second in kills in the Conference (5.16/set) and Lloyd second in assists in the Conference (11.82/set). Cal is also ranked second or higher in the Pac-10 in assists, kills, blocks, hitting percentage and opponents hitting percentage.

Beyond the immediate success of 2010, Lloyd also believes the current system is grooming Murrey to become the best outside hitter in Cal history.

"Cal has a long lineage of very respectable outside hitters. Before Tarah there was Angie [Pressey] and Hana [Cutura] and Tarah is a combination of the two," says Lloyd. "Angie had a more available arm and could therefore access a variety of shots when attacking, and Hana, with more size than Angie, always had heat behind every swing. Tarah has both those qualities: size [at a height of 6'3''] and tremendous agility. The scary thing is she has so much more room to grow. She'll develop next year into an even better player.

As for after college Lloyd's plans after college? She dismisses any immediate ideas that don't include playing volleyball.

"I am going to play. My ultimate goal is to set for the Olympic team and I've wanted to do that since I started playing. I've also considered going professional in AVP, because I love beach volleyball. And if I don't play for the national team, I will go overseas and play professionally and enjoy that for a while."

Until then, USC awaits.

For the final four, Carli's cheering section will be a little bigger. Mom, who is "terrified of flying," is making the flight from California to Kansas City for the match.

"It's the longest flight she's ever been on," says Lloyd. "But she knows what it will mean to me to have her in the stands."

A boost from mother to daughter and, hopefully, onto the court for the Golden Bears.

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