2011-2012 Storylines: How far can volleyball go without Carli Lloyd?

Other 2011-2012 Storylines: Baseball | M. Hoops | W. Hoops |  Tennis | Swimming | Water Polo

This past year in athletics was a wild one, to say the least.

The Bears became swimming pool royalty — and nearly pulled off a similar sweep in water polo to rule aquatics altogether. Cal squads set notable milestones, both good (see: softball) and bad (see: football).

Five athletic teams went through elimination, fundraising and reinstatement — all the while playing some games, including one squad that ended its season in Omaha, Neb.

With 2010-2011 in the books, we’re looking ahead to next season’s top stories. We start with the volleyball team, on the heels of a run to the NCAA title game.

So how far can the Bears go without superstar setter Carli Lloyd? As far as Elly Barrett takes them.

All the pieces remain from Cal’s national runner-up squad besides Lloyd (and defensive specialist Meagan Schmitt). Middle hitters Kat Brown and Shannon Hawari anchor a unit that ranked third in the country last season in blocks per set. Robin Rostratter and Erin Freeman will only get better for an underrated back row defense. The squad has one of the top incoming recruiting classes, which includes a pair of hitters ranked No. 11 and 12 in the nation, according to PrepVolleyball.com

The Bears are also loaded on the outside. Correy Johnson was an All-Pac-10 selection and Adrienne Gehan came on strong in the postseason. Cal has arguably the country’s top returning player in senior outside hitter Tarah Murrey, who was third in the nation in kills per set.

But it won’t be Lloyd, the AVCA national player of the year, setting the ball to Murrey and company.

That’s where Barrett comes in.

A junior setter, Barrett has played only sparingly behind Lloyd, arguably the greatest player in program history — not that Barrett isn’t qualified to follow in Lloyd’s footsteps. The Austin, Texas native won basically every award and accolade in high school. She was the No. 12 recruit in the country in 2009, according to PrepVolleyball.com — and the top setter. An All-American and Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 selection, Barrett was also the MVP of the Junior Olympics 17-Open in 2008.

Even though she doesn’t have extensive match experience for Cal, she still has the experience of being on a top team — and learning from an elite setter — for two years. And with a moderate, if not weak, non-conference schedule, Barrett will have plenty of time to get her feet wet before the ultra-competitive Pac-12 season.

It also helps to have Murrey, who seems to get a kill every time the ball is set her way. Barrett will be able to rely on the 6-foot-3 senior the way Lloyd did after poor passes and in crunch time.

The Bears’ depth, talent and experience should be able to carry them to the final four once again. And if they don’t have to play Penn State, a national championship is not out of the question.

Image source: NebraskaHelen under creative commons; Evan Walbridge, Senior Staff;