Aug. 5, 2005
BERKELEY, CA - The 2005 California women's volleyball team has every intention of continuing the program's hard-earned string of success. The Golden Bears will be gunning for their fourth consecutive postseason appearance - something never achieved in school history - and Cal has just the personnel to get back to the NCAA championships and make a run for a national title.
"This team has a chance to be very, very good," said head coach Rich Feller, who in the past three years has helped place Cal volleyball among the nation's elite, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2003. "We have the combination of experience, with an additional component of athleticism, that could make this team one of the best in the program's history. We feature two players, Alicia Powers and Jenna Brown, who are four-year starters with a wealth of experience and great work ethics. We have one of the most experienced setters in the program's history in Samantha Carter and a spectacular libero in Jillian Davis. We also have a phenomenal athlete in sophomore Angie Pressey and a freshman class that has a chance to be something special."
Seniors Powers and Brown have been instrumental in the Bears' winning ways, starting as freshmen in 2002 when Cal made its first postseason appearance since 1989. Along with senior defensive specialist/libero Alexis Kollias, who was stellar replacing an injured Davis last season (31 digs versus Saint Mary's in the NCAA second round), these three athletes have a chance to play in four consecutive NCAA tournaments. A 6-2 middle blocker, Powers was honorable mention All-Pac-10 last season and is sixth on Cal's all-time career hitting percentage list (.232), and is seventh in career blocks (310). Brown, a 5-11, left-handed outside hitter, was a member of the Pac-10 All-Freshman team in 2002, and has tallied 816 career kills and 898 career digs.
Junior setter Carter is one of the Pac-10's best, earning honorable mention all-league last season. She is second among current Pac-10 players, and fourth on the Cal all-time list, with 2,904 career assists. Carter also set the Bears' single-season assist record with 1,555 as a freshman in 2003. Davis is another key junior for Cal as one of the nation's top liberos. She recorded a school-record 33 digs against national champion Stanford last season, and despite having her 2004 campaign was cut short with a knee injury, has already tallied 724 digs in 50 career matches.
Sophomore outside hitter Pressey is the Bears' most highly decorated returnee after earning All-Pac-10 and Pac-10 All-Freshman honors in 2004. Even though only 5-8, she is a great jumper and the first Bear frosh to ever be named all-conference after recording 329 kills and leading Cal in kills in 13 matches. Pressey was the Nov. 1 Pac-10 Player of the Week last season after pacing the Bears with 25 kills in their upset of eventual national champion Stanford.
A secret weapon for Cal could be 6-3 sophomore middle hitter Ellen Orchard. Although Orchard only played in 13 matches last year, she excelled when the contests meant the most - the NCAA tournament. Orchard recorded a career-high 14 kills with four service aces in the Bears' NCAA first-round victory over Pacific, and added 13 kills versus Saint Mary's in the NCAA second round.
What might make Cal even more of a postseason threat is the arrival of the 2005 freshman class, ranked the nation's fifth-best by PrepVolleyball.com. Morgan Beck is a 6-2 outside hitter from Coto De Caza, Calif. (San Clemente HS) who is a member of the USA Junior National Team and could remind Bear fans of former All-American Mia Jerkov with her hitting ability. Left-handed setter/outside hitter Bryte Nielson (Saratoga, Calif.; Los Gatos HS) is another player who could contribute immediately with her athleticism, and 6-2 middle hitter Kathleen Reilly (Plano, Texas; Plano East Senior HS) is a talented blocker who should help ease the graduation loss of All-American Camille Leffall. Sydney Blancarte, a 6-1 middle hitter from Alamo, Calif. (Carondelet HS), is another good athlete and comes to Cal after being a member of the Golden Bear Volleyball club team.
The Bears possess four more players who will also contribute to the team's success - junior middle hitter Natalie Smart, sophomore defensive specialists Vivian Cheung, redshirt freshman Am'ra Solomon and freshman defensive specialist Catherine Go.
Smart continues to improve and will be vying for increased playing time at middle hitter. Cheung and Go are two solid defensive specialists. Solomon, a talented 6-1 athlete who sat out last year, was outstanding in spring practice and should be in the mix as one of the Bears' regular outside hitters.
"This teams' goal is to be better than last year," said Feller. "We had some great accomplishments last season, defeating national championship teams like USC and Stanford, but we are looking to get back to the NCAA Round of 16, and beyond. There is rejuvenation in the program with the change in our coaching staff (former New Mexico and Utah assistant Matt McShane joins the Bears, replacing Lee Maes), and with the new players coming in. We had a great spring, and now we are ready to take the team to new heights. This year's squad will be exciting to watch."