Back In Camp: Volleyball
BERKELEY - It has been a welcomed return to normalcy for the California volleyball team as fall camp got underway this week following a year of anything but in 2020.
The Bears are set to return to a normal schedule this fall after the 2020 season was canceled, then turned into a truncated conference-only slate which took place in the spring.
Cal was one of the youngest teams in the country during the spring season with several true freshmen forced into early action after the departure of a couple graduate transfers and players opting to play with the beach volleyball program.
After the freshmen gained valuable time on the court in the spring, the Bears are set for an influx of experience and talent with the return of outside hitters Mima Mirkovic and Katie Smoot, each of whom played on the sand during the spring season.
"It's been definitely different from the spring. There is a lot of optimism on the court from our players and really everyone," Cal head coach Sam Crosson said. "It's always an awesome experience when your athletes can kind of do what we've traditionally done. The day-to-day feel is a lot more like what we're used to."
The start of fall camp has meant the return to team meetings, meeting with players individually, athletes using the locker room and even coaches/players being in the same room for the first time in 16 months - all things that weren't allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic-altered spring season.
Cal also adds four new freshmen to the team in Ellie Hamm (Merced, California/MB), Annalea Maeder (Basel, Switzerland/S), Ava Mehrten (Alamo, California/OPP) and Sarah Schrag (San Diego, California/L) along with outside hitter transfer Leah Schmidt, who spent her first two seasons with Utah. New players, along with the altered 2020 season, create an interesting team dynamic going into the fall.
"Not being together for so long and now finally being able to do that is just going to strengthen us as a group," Crosson added. "Such a large part of our roster is new - just having time together makes it seem like a start of something new, and that's always exciting. It's the unknown of what can we go accomplish."
Mirkovic returns to the court after earning AVCA All-Region and All-Pac-12 honors after the 2019 season when she led an experienced squad with 325 kills. The Bears went 20-10, coming up just short of an NCAA Tournament bid in Crosson's first year at the helm.
Mirkovic has made an impact as a veteran leader during the first week back in Haas Pavilion, especially as one who has the experience of going through a fall camp at Cal.
"I'm really working on growing as a leader on this team and working toward leaving the program in the best spot I can when I finally leave the Haas doors," Mirkovic said. "It feels brand new this year even though I've been here for so long. I'm looking forward to competing and that passion for the indoor season returning over the next few months. I think our culture will do a lot for us this season."
Mirkovic will be joined on the pins by Smoot, who recorded 307 kills with a 2.87 kills per set average, both the second-best on the team, at Arizona during the 2019 season.
After a tough spring season with a 1-21 record, the energy in the gym has been evident with one thing on the mind: proving people wrong.
"The spring was tough on a lot of people and I know we can be different this season," Mirkovic said. "After hearing stories about the spring, it inspires me and motivates me to be the best possible leader I can be for them and prove to people we're better than that."
Cal opens the 2021 season at the Tulane Tournament, Aug. 27-28, in New Orleans, Louisiana.