Aug. 21, 2000
BERKELEY, CA - There are some good reasons why the California women's volleyball program is looking forward to the 2000 season and believing it has a chance to compete in postseason play for the first time since 1991.
First of all, the Golden Bears return seven players and a coaching staff that helped establish Cal as the most improved volleyball program in the conference last season, finishing 13-15 overall and 7-11 in the Pac-10 under first-year head coach Rich Feller. The Bears 13 overall wins were the most since 1995 (also 13-15), and Cal's seven conference victories were the most since 1991. The Bears 7-11 league record assured Cal a sixth-place league finish, its highest conference placing since finishing fifth with a 9-9 record in 1991.
A top player for the Bears will be 5-9 senior outside hitter/setter Alicia Perry. Perry was spectacular at the end of last season when she had back-to-back triple-doubles against Washington State and Washington and was named Nov. 22 Pac-10 Player of the Week. It was the first time in Cal history a player has had back-to-back triple-doubles. The Bears were using a 6-2 offense and against Washington State, Perry had 21 kills, 31 assists and 19 digs. Against Washington the following night, she had 23 kills, 32 assists and 11 digs. Perry also had a .320 hitting percentage against the Cougars and a .314 hitting percentage against the Huskies.
"This could be Alicia's time," said Feller. "This past spring she showed great leadership and really stepped up her play. Utilizing her as both a hitter and a setter could be the key to unleashing her talents."
Another multi-talented athlete for Cal is 6-0 junior setter/outside hitter Candace McNamee, who like Perry was named Pac-10 Player of the Week during the '99 season. McNamee earned the honor Oct. 4 and was later featured in Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd when she broke the school record with a .917 hitting percentage (11 kills, no errors, 12 attempts) versus Oregon and recorded a triple-double (14 kills, 14 digs, 36 assists) versus Oregon State.
Both McNamee and Perry are members of the Bears all-time career Top 10 list as McNamee is third in career assists (1919) and Perry is 10th in career kills (900).
Besides Perry and McNamee, Cal only has two other upperclassmen, senior outside hitter Laurel Kokaska, who played well for the Bears both coming off the bench and starting last year as a junior college transfer, and junior defensive specialist Tala Banatao, a valuable back row player. Kokaska tallied 80 kills and 182 digs in 87 games in 1999.
A big factor in Cal's success last season was the play of this year's sophomore class: 5-10 left-handed outside hitter Leah Young and 5-8 left-handed setter Caity Noonan. As freshmen, the two players combined for 187 kills, 326 assists, 205 digs and 66 blocks. Young was fourth on the team with 172 kills and Noonan was second on the team with 296 assists and 26 service aces.
Another sophomore who played well last season was defensive specialist Alyssa Currier, who came off the bench in 27 games to provide solid serving and digging. The Bears will also see the return of 5-11 sophomore middle blocker/outside hitter Reena Pardiwala, who redshirted last year to recover from a ruptured disk in her lower back. As a freshman in 1998, Pardiwala played in 25 matches with 120 kills, 64 digs and 36 total blocks.
A second reason the Cal volleyball program is looking forward to the 2000 season is its large and talented freshman class. The Bears will be bringing in 10 freshman, highlighted by Gabrielle Abernathy, Lisa Collette, Heather Diers, Astrid Gonzalez and Jessica Zatica.
Abernathy, a 5-10 outside hitter, is from Antioch, CA where she was a three-time all-league selection and 1999 Bay Valley Athletic League MVP at Deer Valley High School. She was also a three-time All-Contra Costa Times selection and was ranked among the top 50 recruits in the nation by Student Sports magazine. Collette is a 6-2 middle blocker who was a two-time first team all-conference and all-area selection at Idaho Falls High School. She was also a second team all-state pick this past fall and was a member of the IVA All-Region 16-Under Team in 1998 and the IVA High Performance 19-Under Team in 1999.
Diers is a 6-2 middle blocker from Shingle Springs, CA, where she was a two-time SVC All-League selection and last year was named league Defensive Player of the Year at Oak Ridge High School. For her high school career, Diers recorded 215 solo blocks. Gonzalez is a 5-9 setter/outside hitter from Duarte, CA and a member of the Ichiban Volleyball Club in Long Beach. In 1999, she helped Ichiban to the USVBA Junior Olympic National Championship (18-Opens Division). Gonzalez is also a three-time Horizon All-League selection, and in 1998 was the league MVP at Alverno High School. As a senior, she was named Pasadena Star News Player of the Week after a school record 41 kills in a match. Gonzalez was also one of Student Sports top 50 high school recruits.
Zatica was a three-sport athlete at Homedale High School in Homedale, ID. She is a 6-0 middle blocker and was a three-time first team All-Western Idaho Conference selection and a participant in the USA Development Camp and USA Junior National Team tryouts. Zatica was also a two-time all-state pick in basketball and is an outstanding heptathlete, capturing four straight Class A-3 titles in the high jump and 100-meters and was the USATF Junior Olympic National Champion in the heptathlon in July of 1997. She was featured in July 3, 2000 issue of Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd for her track exploits.
The rest of the Cal freshmen class will include Simone Ortega, a 5-10 outside hitter from Oakland, CA (Bishop O'Dowd High School), Casey Warren, a 5-10 outside hitter from St. Helena, CA (St. Helena High School), Ashleigh Turner, a 5-11 middle blocker/outside hitter from Manhatten Beach, CA (Mira Costa High School), Jenna Grigsby, a 5-10 outside hitter/middle blocker from Pacific Palisades, CA (Brentwood High School) and Youssra Marjoua, a 5-11 middle blocker from Sherman Oaks, CA (J.H. Francis Poly Tech).
"We are entering the 2000 season with a lot of new players," said Feller. "But, we are now bigger and more athletic than we have been. Our challenge now will be to develop these good athletes into volleyball players who can compete with the best in the Pacific-10 Conference. I am really excited about the upcoming season."