BERKELEY – As Cal’s event management staff packed up the equipment for one final time at the Clark Kerr Sand Courts on Friday evening, head coach Rich Feller wished for more time – additional time to see his team’s continued improvement and more time to enjoy the tremendous atmosphere at the Bears’ home sand volleyball matches this season.
The fact that Cal lost to Santa Clara 3-2 in its final home match of the season just made that desire stronger. But really Feller and the Bears simply weren’t ready for there to be no more matches at the courts nestled in the trees at the Clark Kerr campus.
“I just love the heck out of this little funky place to play,” Feller said. “I’m sorry to see it end. I wish we could go another week or so. I’m really kind of sad. I think we’re really just kind of catching our groove right now.”
Despite a 3-6 record, the Bears have shown steady improvement as their inaugural season has progressed and have three strong teams in No. 1 Adrienne Gehan and Joan Caloiaro, No. 2 Sarah Cole and Lara Vukasovic and No. 3 Nikki Gombar and Maddy Kerr. Gehan/Caloiaro and Gombar/Kerr notched Cal’s victories Friday. For Gombar and Kerr, it was their fifth win in their past six tries.
The Bears will close out the season Saturday in a tri-meet in Sacramento against Sac State and San Jose State.
“We’re just starting to get it,” Feller said. “I’m looking forward to building on this for the future and getting better and better and better as we move on.”
Cal played five home matches this season in what turned out to be a tremendous atmosphere for fans, student-athletes and coaches. Playing in mostly spectacular weather, the Clark Kerr Sand Courts offer an intimate environment where fans can get close to the action and interact with student-athletes and coaches in a casual setting.
“It’s just so different than any other sport,” Feller said. “Being able to walk between courts and chat with people, socialize a little bit to the point where we’re building a fan base – it is a unique sport. The fans are totally interactive with the players. It’s really a cool thing and I think this sport is just going to take off. Overall, I just think it’s a wonderful experience for the athletes, the coaches and the fans.”
Gombar and Kerr began Friday’s match with a stirring straight-set win. After winning the first set, 21-16, the duo staved off five set points to win the second set 23-21 and close out the match. Gombar and Kerr have only lost once since March 21.
“I love the way Nikki and Maddy are taking care of business,” Feller said. “They’re really playing a high level of volleyball.”
For Gehan and Caloiaro, it was the seniors’ final performance in Berkeley as Cal student-athletes. Both finished off stellar indoor careers in the fall, and the sand season afforded each to continue her collegiate career for a bit longer.
“It’s been really fun. It was a whole another great semester of being an athlete,” Gehan said. “I don’t know too many people that can say they were on the first NCAA team. It just doesn’t happen very often.”