Oct. 19, 2011
By Anna Oleson-Wheeler
Originally published in the Oct. 13 Cal Football Game Day Program
For some high school students, the prospect of committing to a program knowing that you would be playing behind an All-American for two years would deter them from choosing that school. But luckily for California, Elly Barrett was not dissuaded.
Barrett - the 2008 Junior Olympics 17-Open MVP and the 2007 LonestarVolleyball.com's Setter of the Year - had her pick of schools. She knew that if she opted to become a Golden Bear, she had little chance of starting as a freshman and sophomore for Carli Lloyd had already established herself as Cal's No. 1 setter. Yet the overall package of what it means to be a Bear and attend the No. 1 public institution outweighed the idea of starting time.
"There were a lot of little things that helped make my decision about Cal," Barrett said. "The academics are strong, it has a great volleyball program, I have lots of relatives nearby, and the weather is awesome."
Barrett's thoughtfulness was not lost on the Cal coaching staff.
"For Elly to come to Cal knowing there was an All-American setter ahead of her, I thought was very mature of her," Cal head coach Rich Feller said. "It really showed us that she was willing to pay her dues and earn experience before she was ready to take over."
While Lloyd may have been the starting setter, Barrett was no fourth-string bench warmer by any means. The Austin, Texas, native set every day in practice for the scout team. She was ready to do whatever her team needed - in practice and during games.
"She was learning so much on the second team and was willing to make the effort if Carli ever needed any help," Feller said of Barrett's first two years at Cal. "As the setter for the scout team, she learned tendencies of other schools and other setters and had to be a very educated player out there on the court. All of that has really added to her coming in this year and being a starter and being confident and successful."
As a freshman and sophomore, Barrett took every opportunity to improve her game.
"It was great to play with Carli for two years," Barrett said. "She was a great player and leader. Now that she has graduated I see my role as being a steady and consistent teammate on and off the court."
With all the talk of Lloyd's talent - which there was a lot of, for Lloyd was the 2010 AVCA National Player of the Year, amongst her many accolades - it can be easy to forget that Barrett boasts multiple laurels of her own. She led her club team to the 2008 Junior Olympic 17-Open Championship title, was a two-time high school All-American and was a Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 selection in 2008. Barrett's play warranted all of those laudations and the attention of the Cal program.
"When we first watched Elly, she was running an offense for one of the best junior teams in the country as one of the best setters in the country," Feller said. "We loved her leadership qualities, set locations and choices and how she commanded her presence in a quiet way to run her team to championship-type matches."
Barrett has been a setter for most of her volleyball career, starting around age 11. While some volleyballers enjoy the aggressiveness of the high-swinging sport, Barrett takes a slightly more intellectual approach.
"My favorite part of volleyball would have to be tricking the blockers on the other team and opening up a hole for our hitters," Barrett said. "The best part about setting is getting to pick the plays and frustrate the other team."
Confusing the other team is something that Barrett excels at. Thanks to her leadership and the offensive power of her teammates, Barrett and the Bears earned themselves the first No. 1 ranking in school ranking this fall - a position they held for four weeks. This December, Cal will vie for its second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Championship after a grueling Pac-12 schedule.
"Elly stepped in at the beginning of the season and felt very, very comfortable," Feller said. "She had last spring to set the team, as well. From day one, she's felt very comfortable running the offense and setting the team, managing the serve/receive rotations, and really throughout this early part of the season, she's accommodated and adapted herself very, very well."
The Texan has also adapted well to her native California for Barrett is one of four Texans on the squad this year, though she has more than one tie to Northern California. Raised in Austin, Texas, Barrett was born in Walnut Creek, Calif., with both of her parents hailing from Davis, Calif., where her grandparents still live. Though the state Texas and the city Berkeley may not have a lot in common, Barrett's hometown of Austin has been called the "Berkeley of Texas."
"Moving from Austin to Berkeley has definitely been a change, but they do have some big similarities that have made me feel at home," Barrett said of the transition. "They are both big college towns, have a hippie vibe to them, and there is always something exciting going on."
One thing about Barrett that stays true to her Austin roots is what she does in the summer.
"Something that Cal fans might not know about me is that I like to wakeboard in the summers in Texas," Barrett said.
Off the court, Barrett is like most of her Cal comrades.
"When I'm not playing volleyball or studying, I am most likely catching up on `Modern Family' or trying new places to eat in Berkeley."
On the volleyball court, Barrett can be found at the net as Cal's starting setter.