Oct. 18, 2001
BERKELEY - The image of California's Courtney Johnson running, arms raised down the Maples Pavilion floor as time expired, won't soon be forgotten. The All-Pac-10 guard had just tallied her 33rd and 34th point of the game to seal an 82-73 victory over Stanford, which broke a 15-game losing streak to the Cardinal.
Under first year head coach Caren Horstmeyer, Cal finished the 2000-01 season with a 12-16 record (8-10 Pac-10, T6th) and was on the brink of earning the program's first postseason berth since the 1992-93 season. The Bears also won five-consecutive conference games for the first time since 1986-87. More important than any milestones, Horstmeyer instilled a competitive, winning attitude in Berkeley that had been her trademark in 12 seasons at Santa Clara.
Gone are Johnson and the other six seniors who helped lead the attitude transformation of the Cal program. The 2001-02 Bears have gone to the other extreme with seven freshmen, but the newcomers and the veterans are committed to not just bringing a winning mentality to Berkeley but also to earning a winning record and a postseason invitation.
"We want to build on the foundation that we started from the previous season," said Horstmeyer, who is the winningest coach in West Coast Conference history. "We want to build on the positive things that we've done, including a change in mentality.
"Those new players are very competitive and are going to challenge the upper-classmen, which is a healthy and good thing for where our program is headed."
The Bears return six letterwinners and one starter from last year's squad, which posted the most conference wins by a Cal team since 1992-93, including the program's first-ever road sweep of UCLA and USC.
Forward/center Ami Forney (6-2) will be looked towards for leadership as one of only two seniors on the team and the only returning starter. Last season, Forney started 25 of the 27 games she played in, paced Cal with 7.9 rebounds per game and was third on the team in scoring at 10.0 points per game. In the Pac-10, the Newark, Calif., product ranked fourth in rebounding and first in offensive rebounding (3.15 per game). In addition to being Cal's top returning scorer and rebounder, Forney also is the Bears' top returner for blocked shots (0.6 bpg) and field goal percentage (.481).
"We need Ami to be consistent day in and day out," said Horstmeyer, who boasts a 233-140 career record in 13 seasons. "No. 1 will be rebounding, but we would like to see her be consistently one of our top scorers. She has the potential to play after college. A lot of it will depend on what Ami wants to get out of this year."
White, who can play both the small and power forward positions, was Cal's top reserve last season, averaging 4.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in a starter-like 25.1 minutes per contest. She also finished second on the team with 1.9 assists per game. The Los Angeles native's production increased during Pac-10 games to 5.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
"Amber's offensive skills improved tremendously," Horstmeyer said. "She's always been a great defender. She started to be more vocal. Her confidence just grew. She became a key player for us (last season)."
O'Keith, an off-guard from Carson, Calif., emerged as one of Cal's best penetrators to the basket as a rookie, playing in all 28 games and earning one start in the final game of the season. In 13.7 minutes per outing, she contributed 3.8 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game. The honorable mention Pac-10 All-Freshman selection's best game came in Cal's 79-72 come-from-behind win at Oregon State. Down 10-0, O'Keith came off the bench to post 13 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals.
After playing two seasons as a walk-on, Franey was awarded a scholarship prior to her junior campaign for her dedication to the program. The 5-8 guard from Mesa, Calif., played in four games at guard last season and provides the Bears with a long-range scoring threat. Franey has twice received the Golden Bear Award for the highest GPA on the Cal women's basketball team.
Wald, a 5-9 guard from Sunnyvale, Calif., is a walk-on for the Cal basketball team and also plays on the Bears' field hockey team. She played in three games at shooting guard as a freshman and 10 games at the point last season.
Coloma is a walk-on guard from Cobb Mountain, Calif., who is one of the Bears' hardest workers in practice. Surprisingly, Coloma played in the post for four seasons at Middletown High School despite being only 5-6.
Williams missed the first nine games of last season with a stress fracture in her right tibia. After returning for four games, Horstmeyer opted to redshirt her to secure an additional year of eligibility. During her brief playing time, she showed she has the strength, quickness and outside touch to play both forward spots.
Twenty-one-year old sophomore center Olga Volkova (6-4) is expected to be the biggest contributor of the eight newcomers. She comes to Cal from Merritt College in Oakland where she saw limited action due to a knee injury. Before arriving in the United States two years ago, she attended Kiev Sports Boarding School and trained with the Ukrainian junior national team.
"Olga will likely have the biggest impact of our new players because of her size and work ethic," said Horstmeyer. "It's still questionable because of her knee. She moves well for her size. She's competitive, and she's disciplined. In a year where we don't have a whole lot of size, I think she can do very well."
Coakley averaged 12.0 rebounds per game as a senior at Kearny High School in San Diego and has a rebounding instinct similar to Forney's, according to Horstmeyer. A second team all-league selection, Coakley is expected to be a defensive presence as a freshman.
Gregory, who hails from nearby Pleasant Hill, Calif., will see time at both forward spots as she possesses three-point range and plays well with her back to the basket. Gregory helped lead Carondelet High School to its second-straight league title as a senior, averaging 16.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
Lewis spent her senior year at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Wash., after starring for three years at Fairfield High School in California. She will make the transition from the inside to the outside at Cal. Lewis was a three-time league scoring champion, twice in the Monticello League and once in the Greater Spokane Leauge.
Brea High School's Jackie Lord (5-8) and Archbishop Mitty High School's Kristin Iwanaga (5-6) will vie for starting point guard duties. However, Lord's availability is uncertain as she sustained an ACL injury late in her senior season. Both athletes come from a winning program.
Iwanaga helped lead Mitty to a 109-6 record in her four seasons, including starting at point guard as a sophomore on the school's state championship team. A first team All-CCS selection from Santa Clara, Calif., Iwanaga averaged 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 3.6 steals per game as a senior.
Lord, a product of Brea, Calif., can play both guard positions as she is an excellent shooter, handles the ball well and is a smart floor leader. With Lord on the team, Brea-Olinda High School posted a 120-15 record in four seasons and won three-straight Division II state championships (1998-00).
The Bears other two newcomers are walk-ons - Morgan Romine and Nicol Berry.
Romine is in her third year at Berkeley academically but enters her first season on the Cal team. She did serve as a practice player during the 2000-01 season. The 5-8 guard from San Diego is a mentally tough, well-conditioned floor general. At La Jolla High School, Romine reached the 1000-point milestone as a senior.
Berry, a 5-7 freshman guard from Oakland, Calif., is a great athlete and defender. As a senior at Oakland High School, she averaged 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks per game.
Cal faces a difficult schedule, but the Bears are fortunate to play 15 of their 27 games at home. The Bears face six 2001 NCAA Tournament teams - Arizona State, Georgia, Oregon, Saint Mary's, Stanford and Washington. They also play three 2001 WNIT qualifiers - Arizona, Oregon State and UNLV.
"We tried to play a schedule that would be a little more friendly towards having a young team," said Horstmeyer. "We have a lot of home games, more than we had last year. That is very important. We hope the schedule is a little more friendly, but at the same time, we have a good schedule that will challenge and prepare us for the Pac-10 season."
After two home exhibition games, Cal opens the regular season at home Nov. 18 against San Diego State. The Bears compete in two tournaments this season. Cal hosts the 24th-annual Oakland Tribune Classic, Dec. 1-2, at Haas Pavilion. The tournament features a competitive field - Cal, Georgia, UNLV and Central Connecticut State. The Bears spend New Year's week in the Bahamas at the Nassau Knockout, Jan. 4-5, where they face Lipscomb in the first round.
Oregon plays host to the first ever Pac-10 Women's Basketball Tournament, March 1-4, at McArthur Court. All 10 Pac-10 universities participate in the Pac-10 Tournament, with the winner receiving the conference's automatic bid to the 2002 NCAA Tournament. The team that finishes the season atop the Pac-10 standings, based on double round robin play, is the Conference Champion. The bracket of the Pac-10 women's tournament will be seeded according to the final standings, with the league champion earning the top seed.
Cal may be young this season but a winning season and a postseason berth are clearly on the horizon.