BERKELEY –Caroline Olson was walking by the Clark Kerr Sand Courts one day when she saw members of the Cal volleyball team playing.
“Can I play?’ Olson asked.
When the players told her that she could, Olson thought that meant just for that day.
Little did she know she would become their teammate one day.
Olson is now a member of the Cal sand volleyball team, a development made possible after Cal added the sport this spring and needed to fill out its roster. Olson, along with fellow freshman Emily Lunt, tried out and made the team just before the 2014 season commenced.
“I played and then left and just thought, ‘That was nice’,” Olson said. “I would see Joan (Caloiaro) from time to time at the gym and one day she stopped me and told me there was going to be tryouts. I had only played that one time with them, but I tried out and made the team. It’s been great.”
Cal added sand volleyball in January in an effort to keep pace with the fastest-growing sport in Division I athletics and fully comply with Title IX obligations. According to Prong III of Title IX, institutions must fully and effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented gender on campus.
Indeed, the addition of sand volleyball is providing Olson and Lunt and opportunity to play a Division I sport they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
“We have truly given more athletes an opportunity to play collegiate sports,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “These two are perfect examples. Moving forward, there will be numerous more players that are now having an opportunity to play. What is so gratifying is that in the spirit of true competition and true college athletics, we get two young women who are at Cal on their own, who were not recruited, who got in on their own merit, and there was a very unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and they stepped up and made the team.”
Olson and Lunt each took unlikely paths to become Division I athletes. Olson, who also swam and played water polo at Xavier Prep in Palm Desert, Calif., had forgotten about volleyball after her senior season. Lunt believed she was on her way to a college career before multiple knee injuries slowed her progress at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, Calif., just north of Santa Barbara. She grew up playing on the beach and had joined the club team at Cal.
Neither player dreamt of being an intercollegiate athlete when she arrived on campus.
“Being a Cal athlete, it means so much just because it’s a D-I school and everyone is so respected,” Lunt said. “It makes you feel really good to be able to say that I am a Cal athlete.”
Olson and Lunt were one of about eight candidates who tried out for the remaining spots on the roster, which is made up mostly of student-athletes on Cal’s indoor volleyball team. The pair didn’t just make the team; they have been a fixture of the Bears’ regular playing rotation during most matches this season.
“I honestly didn’t expect those two to be playing,” Feller said. “As it turned out, we had an injury. They stepped in and were able to have an impact right away. Every time I watch them play, win or lose, I feel good that here are two young women that are getting an opportunity to perhaps fill a little bit of a dream.
The Bears are expected to begin bringing in student-athletes to play sand volleyball only, and Olson and Lunt’s status with the team is not guaranteed for next season. But no matter what happens, the pair is spending a joyous spring in a way neither could have anticipated.
“Obviously, these girls came to Berkeley to play volleyball,” Lunt said. “The fact that we’re actually playing is so much fun. It’s exciting. I didn’t really expect that.”