Carter sets table for Bears

Oct. 27, 2003

By Dean Caparaz

BERKELEY, Calif. - While she doesn't lack for confidence, Samantha Carter would be the first to tell you that she's no Holly McPeak.

But the 5-11 freshman setter from Apopka, Fla., is already producing numbers that compare her favorably with setters of Cal's recent past, thanks in large part to having hitters such as all-American Mia Jerkov (444 kills), Gabrielle Abernathy (186 kills) and Camille Leffall (182 kills).

Carter has been impressive in her first season, starting every match and helping to propel the Golden Bears to an 18-2 record and a No. 6 ranking with 13.31 assists per game. She's also third in service aces (14) and fourth in digs (156) on the squad. One match in particular helped to boost her assist average - a 3-2 win over No. 9 Stanford in which she compiled 70 assists. Carter was nine shy of tying Cal's all-time single-match assist record held by former setter Sienna Curci (1989, 1991-93) and McPeak (1987-89), a two-time U.S. Olympian.

By the end of the season, Carter, currently with 998 assists, will come close to breaking Cal's single-season assist record. Caity Noonan (1999-2002), who averaged 12.22 assists in 32 matches last season, set the all-time mark of 1,442 assists in 2002.

That would be quite an accomplishment for an 18-year-old playing in the nation's toughest volleyball conference. Carter is actually battling another freshman setter, Washington's Courtney Thompson (13.70 assists per game), for top assist honors in the Pac-10. Thompson, who leads the conference in assists per game, won the assist battle, 68-60, in the two team's match last Friday. But Carter, No. 2 to Thompson in the Pac-10, led the Bears to a 3-2 victory (16-30, 30-26, 30-20, 31-33, 15-11).

'She's done a lot for us as a freshman setter,' Cal coach Rich Feller said. 'She's a pretty special athlete. We've put a lot on her shoulders, and she does a pretty good job of it. Seventy assists is a huge number. The two setters combined for Stanford only had 59 assists.'

Volleyball is in Carter's blood. Her mother played at Kentucky and her older sister, Lindsey, currently plays at Rice. Samantha also received some athletic genes from her father, who played football at Kentucky and for the NFL's Denver Broncos.

Carter's mother also coached her at the club level and at Bishop Moore High School.

'I definitely didn't have a choice to play other sports,' she laughed. 'Volleyball was the most appealing to me. It's just so fast, a really competitive sport. I really like being on a team. I couldn't be on a sport that's so individual like golf or tennis. I love the interaction with the other girls and I like the energy you get from the court and a team can pump you up so much or you can give so much energy to another player.'

A big-time recruit - rated one of the top 50 players in the country by Volleyball Magazine and Student Sports Magazine - Carter chose Cal over North Carolina, Santa Clara and Pacific.

'She came out here on an unofficial visit,' Feller said, 'and I didn't make her a flat-out offer. She came back to me, called me on phone and told me she should be my setter for next year. I agreed with her and made an offer. She had a pretty good head for what she wanted in college life and where she wanted to be. She made the decision as strongly as I made the decision. She came forward first. That's the kind of player we want. We don't want to be used car salesman for them to come here. It was really pretty right.'

The season has been mostly right for Feller, Carter and the Bears. They bolted out to a 14-0 start before an opponent could even push them to five games. The Broncos did it first, immediately followed by Stanford.

To Carter, being pushed was a good thing.

'I remember telling my coaches, 'That was so much fun!'' she said of the Santa Clara match. 'They were looking at me like I was crazy. They were like, 'You guys almost killed us on the bench.' But it was so much fun. It was like live or die every point. You have to get the ball up or the game's over. I love that intensity on the court, like our life is on the line. It's great playing teams that can actually compete with you. It makes you work harder.'

'I was right there with her about going to five games, though I was quieter about it,' Feller said. 'She has the right attitude. You want to test yourself by going against the best, meeting the challenge at its toughest point, which is winning a five-game match. That's one reason why I wanted her here.'

Cal lost its subsequent two matches, which were also five-game affairs, to No. 8 UCLA and No. 1 USC, before rebounding by beating Washington State last Friday night and No. 10 Washington on Sunday. Carter collected 59 assists versus the Bruins, 64 against the Trojans, 66 against the Cougars and 60 versus the Huskies.

She should soon pass McPeak's freshman mark of 1191 assists, which ties McPeak with Curci's 1992 season for No. 8 on Cal's all-time single-season assist list.

'I can't imagine being compared to Holly McPeak,' Carter said. 'She's a phenomenal, very diverse player. It's a very nice compliment, but I don't think I could fill her shoes. Who knows? I do have four years to do it.'

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