MILAN, Italy – Playing volleyball in her homeland for the first time since coming to Cal, redshirt sophomore Nikki Gombar displayed the kind of promise and potential that accompanied her arrival to Berkeley in 2012.
Gombar put on a show in front of her family and friends and against her former club coach Wednesday, registering eight kills and nine digs in just over two sets of action as the Cal Volleyball team defeated Club Italia 21-25, 26-24, 25-21, 25-23 at the Centro Pavesi Sports Center.
Cal is now 2-0 on its European Tour. It has another match Thursday against Club Italia, an Italian Volleyball Federation team made up of top youth and junior national team players.
Gombar, who is from Rome, played on the Italian Youth National Team and for Club Italia. She played primarily back row for the Bears as a freshman in 2012 before sitting out last season with a shoulder injury.
“I was definitely nervous,” Gombar said. “I was playing against my old club coach. It definitely motivated me. I was really hoping to do well. I’m happy that it played out.”
Gombar made a handful of spectacular digs and appropriately ended the match with a kill. Head Coach Rich Feller is rotating players in and out during matches on the tour to ensure playing time for all.
Gombar certainly made the most of her time.
“I think she was definitely fired up to play in front of her home crowd,” Feller said. “As good as she did hitting, I just thought her defense was something that sparked the team and got them fired up. She showed that she can play at this level.”
Gombar’s inspired play had a contagious effect on the Bears, who put forth a spirited defensive effort against the hard-hitting Club Italia. Senior Marlee Davis led Cal with 12 digs while sophomore libero Maddy Kerr added 10 in just two sets of play.
Junior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise led the Bears’ offensive effort for the second straight match, compiling 12 kills at a .400 hitting percentage. Junior outside hitter Lara Vukasovic registered 10 kills.
“The effort they are putting forth is contagious,” Feller said. “Somebody makes an incredible dig and all of the sudden everyone is making plays. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way we’re playing the game and the way we’re taking care of things.
The Bears took a four-hour bus ride from Montreux, Switzerland to Milan on Wednesday and were able to do some brief sightseeing before preparing for the match. Cal will explore Milan at length Thursday before meeting Club Italia again.
From Milan, the team will travel to Bibione, Italy on Friday, stopping off for a day trip to Venice along the way.
“They’re a spirited group and they already have bonded together as a team unit,” Feller said. “That bodes well for next year.”