2004 Cal Women's Volleyball Outlook
Aug. 17, 2004
BERKELEY, CA - As good as the California volleyball team was in 2003, the Golden Bears fully expect to be better in 2004.Seeing the talent No. 10 ranked Cal has to offer, it is easy to understand why Rich Feller's squad believes it can exceed last season's NCAA finish. The Bears could possibly return all six starters, plus their top libero, from a 2003 team that went 25-7 and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 - further than any other team in school history - before bowing out to Georgia Tech at the Hawaii Regional in Honolulu.'Looking at this 2004 team, I can comfortably say it is the best collegiate team I have ever coached,' said Feller, who guided Colorado State to eight NCAA appearances from 1983-96 before leading Cal to postseason appearances in each of the last two years. 'We are athletic and big. We have talented athletes at every position, giving us the depth to compete with the best teams in the country. We have starters returning at every position, and our incoming freshmen are as athletic as any group we have ever had. With hard work, I expect this year's team to exceed last year's accomplishments.'The Bears feature one of the premier players in the country in senior outside hitter Mia Jerkov, a 6-4 Croatian standout who is waiting on a decision from the NCAA concerning her eligibility for the 2004 season. Jerkov played for the Croatian National Team this past spring in hopes for a berth in the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece. As part of her training, she was sent by the Croatian Federation to play matches with professional volleyball players from Russia.Jerkov is a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate and arguably the greatest volleyball player in Cal history. A two-time All-America, All-Pacific Region and All-Pac-10 selection, she has recorded 30 or more kills in a match 14 times and is the school record holder for single-season kills (701) and points (785.5). Jerkov has been AVCA Division I National Player of the Week twice, Pac-10 Player of the Week six times and MVP in five-straight regular season tournaments, while leading the Pac-10 in kills the past two seasons. She was even featured in the Oct. 27, 2003 edition of Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd.Yet, Jerkov alone was not the only reason the 2003 Bears rose as high as fifth nationally after starting last season with 16 straight victories and their first win over Stanford since 1982. She was bolstered by the play of the entire Cal squad, including returning starters Samantha Carter, Camille Leffall, Gabrielle Abernathy, Alicia Powers, Jenna Brown and libero Jillian Davis.Carter was impressive as the Bears' starting freshman setter last year, establishing a new school record with 1,555 single-season assists and landing a spot on the Pac-10 All-Freshman team. She had several outstanding matches, including recording a career-high 70 assists in Cal's upset over Stanford. Carter finished second in the conference and 14th nationally with 13.41 assists per game.Senior middle hitter Leffall continued to excel last season as she led the team with a .345 hitting percentage and 124 total blocks, earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. She has been an impact player for the Bears ever since her freshman year when she was a member of the 2001 Pac-10 All-Freshman Team and established a school-record with a .381 hitting percentage. In 2003, Leffall was second on the team in points (338.0) and ninth in the conference in blocks per game (1.10). She holds the Cal school record with a .354 career hitting percentage.Abernathy was definitely one of Cal's success stories in 2003 as the senior outside hitter returned to court after sitting out the 2002 campaign to concentrate on academics. She finished second on the team with 36 service aces and third on the squad with 253 kills. Abernathy played a key role in Cal's first and second round NCAA victories, combining for 24 kills and a .400 hitting percentage versus Saint Mary's and Michigan.Powers was another stalwart for the Bears last season as the junior middle hitter followed an impressive freshman season with an even better sophomore year. She finished with a .284 hitting percentage to go along with 25 service aces, 163 digs and 119 total blocks. Powers has started every match of her college career and is one of the team's unsung heroes behind Cal's back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.Brown, a junior outside hitter, has also been a major contributor since her freshman year. Last season she was third on the team with 281 digs and 72 total blocks, and fourth with 251 kills. Brown performed well in postseason play with 15 digs versus Saint Mary's and 12 digs versus Michigan in the NCAA first and second round matches at Haas Pavilion.As a freshman walk-on, Davis provided a big spark for the team as the Bears' starting libero. She was selected honorable mention Pac-10 All-Freshman after leading Cal with 398 digs, placing fifth in the conference with 3.43 digs per game. Davis had a team-high 16 digs against Georgia Teach in the NCAA semifinals and recorded a career-high 28 digs at Stanford.Sophomore outside hitter Amanda Fox was another valuable freshman in 2003, playing in 29 matches and garnering honorable mention Pac-10 All-Freshman honors. Fox provided the Bears with some of her best performances against top competition. She had a career-high 14 kills against both Stanford and UCLA, and had 11 kills versus USC and a career-high 12 digs versus UCLA.Three additional returnees who will again contribute are junior outside hitter Natasha Nguyen, junior defensive specialist Alexis Kollias and sophomore middle hitter Natalie Smart. A powerful jump server, Nguyen recorded 13 service aces in 25 matches last year. Kollias is a steady back row player who has 112 digs in 31 career matches, while Smart saw limited action as a freshman, but should see more playing time after strong matches versus Washington State and UCLA and hitting .360 for the year.Even though Cal returns all of its starters from 2003, the Bears' impressive freshman class is sure to push for immediate playing time. Angie Pressey, a 5-8 outside hitter from Heathrow, Florida, and Ellen Orchard, a 6-2 middle hitter from Cypress Springs High School in Houston, Texas, were early signees and have the Cal coaching staff anxiously awaiting their arrival. Pressey, the daughter of former NBA player and assistant coach, Paul Pressey, is an outstanding athlete as she was a three-sport (volleyball, basketball, track) standout in high school and was the 2002 Florida 6A Volleyball Player of the Year.Orchard, a district MVP and an all-state selection in Texas, joins Pressey as one of PrepVolleyball.com's Fab 50 recruits and will bolster the Bears at middle hitter. She led her high school team to the 2003 district title while establishing school records for single-season kills (343) and blocks (124).Five additional newcomers will also provide the Bears with increased talent and depth. Sophomore Meredith Hasson and freshman Julie Fouts are two setters who will compete for playing time with Samantha Carter. Hasson is a 5-11 transfer from San Diego State who led her high school team (Westlake High School in Austin, Texas) to the 2002 Texas 5A state title, while Fouts is a three-time first team all-league performer from Carlmont High School in San Carlos, Calif.Freshmen Allie Costa, Am'ra Solomon and Vivian Cheung will vie for playing time as well. Costa is a 6-2 middle hitter from The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., who was a two-time all-league performer and led her team with 136 kills, 94 digs, 34 blocks and 22 service aces as a senior. Solomon, a 6-1 outside hitter from St. Bernard High School in Los Angeles, played both volleyball and basketball in high school and impressed the Cal coaches as a member of the Los Angeles Top Gun volleyball club team. Cheung is a 5-1 defensive specialist from San Francisco's St. Ignatius College Prep.'This is an outstanding recruiting class for us,' said Feller. 'Angie is surely one of the best all-around athletes to ever come into our program and Ellen was rated one of the top middle hitters in the state of Texas. Meredith and Julie will provide us with depth at the setter position, while Allie, Am'ra and Vivian will give us depth at the middle hitter, outside hitter and defensive specialist positions. All of these athletes have the ability to contribute to our program right away.'