What difference a week make! If this post was written a week ago, when Cal Volleyball (7-2) had returned to being a top 25 squad and had not drop even a set, I might have wrote about how Cal Volleyball might surprise everyone and make a run at the Pac-12 title.
Alas, the expectation is now more tempered. Cal Volleyball should still be quite good this season and make a return to the NCAA tournament, but this year might ultimately be more about the maturation of Cal's youngsters. Given the length and the toughness of the Pac-12 conference, it is quite plausible for different players to emerge and take over before the season is over.
What is very positive from the team's 22 straight set victories to open the season is the supposed variety of offense and team style that they faced in their opponents. Bears were able to make adjustment and beat each of their opponents fairly handily.
Nevertheless, here are the current Cal rotation and the current depth chart. Disclaimer, I was only able to watch the videos of about 2.5 Cal matches where the Bears looked quite good. I did also listen to parts of a few matches, now that Jonathan Okanes is doing the calls.
The "QB" of the Cal offense is second year starter and senior, Joan Caloiaro, who transferred to Cal from San Francisco in the spring of 2012. Caloiaro is now more experienced with the Cal system and has a respectable 11.31 assists per set. She is also one of the rare Cal players to do a jump serve which allows her to lead the team in service aces (10) but also amongst the service errors leaders (10).
Waiting in the wings as the setter of the future is freshman Alyssa Jensen, a highly touted setter recruit from Missouri. Jensen got to play with a Pac-12 traveling all-star team to China during the summer and Coach Feller has tried to put Jensen in at times to get some game experiences. In fact, during the second set of the surprising loss to UC Davis yesterday, Jensen was the setter for the entire set. Although the Bears did lose that set, setting was not the main issue there.
While some volleyball program do run a 6-2 offense where they employ 2 setters at the same time, I don't really see the Bears switching to such a system mid-season. While it would probably not be the biggest shock in the world if the Bears make a setter switch at some point (especially if Jensen continues to improve during practices and shine during limited game action), Jensen's time is probably next year.
Senior Adrienne Gehan has been carrying the Cal offense currently. Her team leading 129 kills are 50+ more than the next highest on the team. Gehan is hitting 0.327 for the season and is demonstrating her all around game with 96 digs (second on the team) and 19 blocks. While her season last year saw her getting hurt and then returned to floor later but not quite as effective, Gehan appears to be fully healthy now and willing to carry the team to make a Pac-12 conference run.
Junior Christina Higgins is another Cal offensive weapon, who has 70 kills in 8 matches. Higgins missed the Kansas State match with an achilles injury, which ended up being a Cal loss. Her passing/back row skill has been very limited in the past, so it would be interesting to see if she can ever pass enough to be a full rotation player.
Michelle Neumayr's return to the volleyball floor has been an inspirational story. After missing the last two season due to ACL injuries just prior to the start of the season, the former top recruit has finally made an impact for the Cal team on the floor. Neumayr occupies another outside hitting spot and she has looked quite good in the first few matches. In the recent losses, however, Neumayr's effective has been neutralized with her season long hitting average only being 0.148. Michelle's ability to become a consistent weapon for the Bears is pivotal to the success of the team.
Waiting in the wings for the Bears is former setter, Lindsey Parrott. Parrott got the start in lieu of the injured Higgins against Kansas State. Behind Parrott is the freshman Jenelle Jordan, another top recruit. Typically, freshman doesn't get on the floor not because of their ability to play offense but rather for them to be quite a liability defensively. It would be very interesting to see if Jordan's role on the team grows as the season continues.
Blocking was a huge weapon for the Bears last year with then seniors Kat Brown and Shannon Hawari around. Replacing them this year are Lara Vukasovic and Lillian Schonewise.
Sophomore Lara Vukasovic is the latest Croatian import for Cal Volleyball (after Mia Jerkov and Hana Cutura). She got some key runs last season due to all the Cal injuries. Lara is currently second on the team in kills with 72 (in 9 matches) and hitting an impressive 0.441. She is second on the team with 28 blocks.
Lillian Schonewise also suffered injuries last year, but now is finally ready to show her skills. Schonewise lead the team with 34 blocks. She also has 65 kills while hitting 0.367.
The backrow players are the one who "pass" the ball to the setter. While some of the front court players do also play the backrow, other are substituted out for defensive specialist who would come in to serve and return the ball. Players in the backrow are not allow to attack (spike the ball) in front of a line separating the front and the back court.
Freshman Maddy Kerr is the new libero (see video below for what is a libero) for the Bears. The daughter of former NBA sharpshooter Steve Kerr is a rare defensive recruit for the Bears (Coach Feller used to just pluck fine defensive specialists out of nowhere in the past) and an obvious need for the team given all their defensive woes last year. Kerr has lead the team with 103 digs. That number is not more impressive given the number of easy wins that the Bears had.
In the UC Davis loss, it did sound like Kerr was having an off game. More importantly, the Bears apparently had a few miscommunication in the backrow on many extended points where Davis kept the ball alive. As she gain more experience, Kerr would have to be more vocal about the defensive positioning of the team.
Helping out in the backrow is the libero last year, Mary McKennon and newcomer Sarah Cole, who transferred from UC Davis but did not play volleyball for Davis). Also in the mix, is an experienced defensive specialist, Marlee Davis.
Pac-12 in the Rankings:
Cal's Pac-12 Conference Schedule
In the no longer a true round robin Pac-12 Volleyball schedule (I guess it was too hard to schedule 22 conference games when the rivalry game was thrown into a tough 3 game week), the Bears only face the Arizona schools once each. Once again, plenty of Cal Volleyball matches will be broadcasted on the Pac-12 Networks.
The Pac-12 Conference start with a very tough match for the Bears, the Big Spike with Stanfurd (check back here for the gamethread next Wednesday). As much as I would love for the Bears to beat Furd, I don't think I can predict that. Here are my predictions for the conference play:
vs. Furd - L in 4
vs. Arizona - W in 4 (snap 3 match losing streak)
at UCLA - L in 3
at USC - L in 4
vs. Colorado - W in 3
vs. Utah - W in 4
at Washington - L in 3
at Wazzu - L in 5 (the young Bears will probably lose a couple more winnable matches this year)
vs. Oregon - W in 5 (got to predict an upset win somewhere)
vs. Oregon State - L in 5 (got to predict an upset loss somewhere)
vs. USC - W in 5 (that would be nice)
vs. UCLA - L in 4
at Utah - W in 5
at Colorado - L in 5
at Oregon State - L in 4
at Oregon - L in 4
vs. Washington - L in 4
vs. Wazzu - W in 4
at Arizona State - L in 4
at Furd - W in 5 (that surely would be nice)
So that's 8 wins and 12 losses. We shall see if that is close to the final tally at all.