All Set for the Long Haul

Sept. 24, 2004

BERKELEY, CA - by Scott Ball

Samantha Carter has definitely found a home in Berkeley.

To venture across the entire United States from her hometown of Apopka, Fla., a community of 30,000 just outside Orlando, to the San Francisco Bay Area took a lot of confidence and a certain amount of bravado.

But confidence in her athletic and academic abilities is not something Carter lacks, and she has more than lived up to the challenge. In fact, the Golden Bears' dynamic sophomore setter has thrived in her new environment, regardless of being miles away from family and friends.

'I was really relieved when I finally decided on Cal,' explained Carter. 'To me, it didn't make sense to get my school paid for and to stay in Florida. I was ready to get out. I really fell in love with the Cal coaching staff, and I immediately bonded with players like Mia (Jerkov) and Camille (Leffall).

'I also knew Caity Noonan had been the setter the year before and was a big reason Cal had become successful. She made it easy for me to step in. The coaches had told me I was going to be a huge part of the team, and I knew I could compete for a starting position.'

'Huge' is almost an understatement when mentioning Carter's value to the 2003 Cal volleyball club. As a freshman, the 6-0 standout led the Bears to their greatest season in school history - a 25-7 overall record, a 12-6 mark in the Pacific-10 Conference and a first-ever appearance in the NCAA Round of 16.

Carter's ability to immediately find a comfort zone as Cal's premier setterpropelled the Bears to a school-record 16-0 start, including the first victory over arch-rival Stanford since 1982 and a No. 5 national ranking. Cal was also the only team to take undefeated and two-time NCAA champion USC to five games.

'Even though Samantha was a freshman, you didn't notice any bumps onthe road,' said junior outside hitter Alicia Powers. 'I think she really got a rush playing her first year in the Pac-10. Her attitude is so warm, people just love her. She is such a friendly person you just can't help but like her. But she is also competitive and is always raising the bar.'

'On the court, Samantha was one of the team leaders, even though she was a freshman,' added sophomore Jillian Davis. 'It was a big accomplishment for her to do so well, but she has an amazing work ethic and is always putting in the extra effort. It took a lot of guts for her to come all the way out here from Florida, not knowing what school or volleyball would be like.'

As a result of her fine play in her first year in Berkeley, Carter was selected as a member of the Pac-10 All-Freshman team, and she established a new school record with 1,555 single-season assists. Now, as the Bears approach the 2004 season with six returning starters, the prospects for a third straight NCAA appearance and an even higher national finish loom big.

'Samantha is truly a coaches' player,' said head coach Rich Feller. 'She comes into the gym everyday with a great attitude towards practice. Sam knows how to train and recognizes the importance of her being a role model for other players on the team. She is always positive with the coaching staff and her teammates. She wants to win for the team as much as anyone I have ever coached.'

Strangely enough, for someone who is so coachable, Carter has only had two head coaches during her volleyball career - her mother, Sandy, and now Feller.

'My mom had been my coach my whole life until I came to Cal,' said Carter, who was the Orlando Sentinel and the Central Florida Player of the Year as a high school senior. 'But now the Cal coaches provide a great balance. They really care about us. Cal takes care of its athletes, and that was a big thing for my parents. They knew that Cal would be taking care of me for the next four years and that the volleyball coaches would be like my parents away from home.'

It almost seemed predisposed Samantha Carter would become an athlete, and more specifically, a volleyball player. Carter's mother, Sandy, played volleyball at the University of Kentucky in the early 1980s, and that is where she met Samantha's father, Larry, who played football for the Wildcats before going on to be a defensive back for the Denver Broncos and the Buffalo Bills. Samantha's sister, Lindsey, is a senior volleyball player at Rice this fall.

Even though Carter was a big-time recruit, having been rated one of the top 50 players in the country out of Bishop Moore High School, the Bears didn't immediately offer her a scholarship.

'Sam originally came out here on an unofficial visit and I didn't make her a flat-out offer,' said Feller. 'She came back to me, called me on the phone and told me she should be my setter for next year. I agreed with her and made an offer. Sam 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. It was really pretty right.'

By any definition, the 2003 season was pretty 'right' for Carter, Feller and the rest of the Bears. The Florida native started every match for Cal and was second in the Pac-10 with 13.41 assists per game. Carter was also named to the Golden Bear Invitational All-Tournament team during one of the few weekends her folks were able to come to Berkeley and watch her play.

'I had coached Samantha in volleyball from the fourth through the 12th grade, as well as at the Orlando Volleyball Academy,' said Sandy Carter. 'So now when I am by myself, I sometimes think about how far away she is. My husband said to me, `What are you doing taking our baby so far away?' But when she saw Cal, she knew this was the place she wanted to be. She liked everything about it - the coaches, the pavilion, the uniforms, everything. The Cal coaches compliment each other. They are professional all the way. That is important when you are sending your daughter all the way across the country.'

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