Jan. 8, 2010
By Melissa Dudek
Team captains. Every sport has them. And while some have very public and official roles, others operate more quietly and do most their work in the privacy of the locker room or practice court.
Many times, captains are paraded out to midfield to witness the coin toss. In football, for example, this ritual takes center stage with the captains walking slowly and purposefully, their hands intertwined in a show of solidarity, and their call of `heads' or `tails' is piped over the loudspeaker to tens of thousands of fans in attendance.
In other arenas, such as in soccer, the captains' meeting is equally important, but just not as prominently displayed. In volleyball, the captain is such a crucial element that the rule book states that no point can be played without a captain on the court for each team.
Each player, whether a senior or an underclassman, handles the responsibility a little differently.
"A team captain does a lot of behind the scenes stuff like organizing meetings," said senior guard Laruen Greif, now in her third year as a team captain for the Cal women's basketball team. "For me, it is also making sure everyone is confident in what they are doing, knowing the plays, giving little pep talks before we go back onto the floor, and trying to get everyone in the same place at the same time."
As a captain for a squad that includes more freshmen (seven) than returners (five), Greif is spending a lot of her time this year trying to get everyone in the same place at the same time.
"The joke right now on the team is that I am Mama Bear, and these are my cubs, my baby cubs," Greif said with a smile. "Layshia (Clarendon) has taken off with that, so everywhere I am, I am Mama Bear. The freshmen tend to wander off sometimes, making it difficult to get to where we need to be on time. So it is very much like `Mama Bear needs to go, so let's go. Come on cubs, let's go.' "
Greif has always been the round 'em up and get 'em organized kind of leader. She learned early on that if she planned ahead and got everyone organized, there was much more time available to actually participate. Even at elementary school recess, she would sit her friends down in advance and figure out the games they were going to play during their 30-minute break from classes. Greif believed that if everyone already knew whose team they were going to be on in kickball, they could play for the entire half hour.
"The other kids were just trying to figure out how to play the game and picking teams when we were well into our games," Greif recalled. "I have just continued that into leadership here."
With limited gym time available before the official start of practice at Cal, Greif uses her pre-activity skill set, sorting out pickup game teams ahead of time to ensure they could be on the court for a full hour.
"I realized we can do better," she said. "We can make better use of our time if we had this organized."
Greif was originally voted into the role as a Cal team captain as a sophomore, a somewhat unexpected but very welcome development for the then second-year player who had started every game for the Bears her rookie season.
"I had Dev (Devanei Hampton) and Ash (Ashley Walker) and Lex (Alexis Gray-Lawson), players above me, who voted me into a leadership role," Greif said. "There was a lot of responsibility with that. I respected their choice, and so I stepped up."
Greif was a seasoned veteran at being a team captain before coming to Cal. A three-sport varsity athlete at Lincoln High in Portland, Ore., she served three years as a soccer team captain, three years for golf and four for basketball. She is pretty sure she knows what motivated her high school as well as her present teammates to bestow the title on her.
"I have always been a talker, and I think people equate talking with leadership," Greif said. "So I just continued to be talking non-stop during practices to motivate people to give their all."
Greif is very precise in how she "talks" and "motivates," especially during games. After every huddle break when she is on the floor, Greif will give a very detailed rundown to her fellow players, to make sure that everyone is 100 percent clear about what play they just talked about and review which defenses they are in.
"Sometimes, the plays and defenses will change," Greif said. "If we make the basket, we are going to go into this. If we miss it, we are going to be in this. All the variations we came up with, I go over that. I ask everyone if they are comfortable. Even if they say they know, sometimes there is hesitancy. I need to make sure that they really know what they are supposed to do."
Greif has worked with a variety of co-captains over the years. She spent two seasons with Krista Foster and two more leading alongside All-American Ashley Walker. This season, freshman Tierra Rogers is one of her co-captains, along with senior guard Natasha Vital. Rogers, who will be sitting out due to a rare heart condition discovered during the fall, earned the honor by a vote of her teammates.
"Tierra has been a fantastic teacher and a motivator in practice," Greif said. "Her role with the team and in this leadership position is still evolving, but just having her out there every day has been fantastic."
Vital compliments Greif's outgoing style with a more reserved, leading-by-example model. She takes pride in showing the freshmen how to conduct themselves on the floor, in class and in public. Vital also rounds up the newcomers and to help make certain they get to study hall on time.
"LG is very organized," Vital said of her fellow captain. "She is great about making sure everyone on the court knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing, time left on the shot clock, how many fouls everyone has, detail things like that."
When asked what really defines Greif's leadership style, Vital laughs: "Mass texts. LG is known for her mass texts. She sends a lot of mass texts. A lot!"
After all the years of the texting, cheering, organizing and motivating, Greif, who will be graduating with a degree in psychology in May, has realized that this is not something she wants to walk away from.
"No matter what job I take, I want to be a mentor to people, especially college-age people," Greif said when pressed to look ahead into the future.
However, Greif is hesitant to discuss life after Cal. Right now, she and the rest of the team only want to talk about one thing they see in the future: the Bears playing deep into the postseason after winning a Pac-10 championship ... with Lauren Greif leading the way.