The Cal volleyball team enters the 2013 season without something it has had for more than a decade: expectations.
Three years ago, the Bears were in the NCAA Championships. Last year, they went 15-16, their first losing season since 2001. In the midst of that disappointing campaign, the team dropped out of the top 25 for the first time since 2002.
With 2010’s run to the title match now a fading memory, the expectations on the Cal squad for this year are much more tempered. No one is picking the Bears to make a deep run in the NCAAs or even to win the Pac-12. The pressure from the accomplishments of that 2010 squad is long gone.
But the coaches and players see those lowered expectations as a chance to come in to the season as a dark horse.
“The target is off our back a little bit,” head coach Rich Feller said. “We have nowhere to go but up and can surprise a few people along the way.”
But surprising teams will prove difficult. The squad, which only has two seniors, will have to work relatively inexperienced players into the starting lineup. The biggest question on the squad is currently at the position of middle blocker, where last year’s seniors Correy Johnson, Kat Brown and Shannon Hawari leave a space to be filled.
Jenelle Jordan, a freshman who was on the roster last spring, is likely to get playing time at that position. She will most likely be joined by sophomores Katarina Milosavljevic and Lillian Schonewise, neither of whom saw significant playing time last season.
Jordan is far from the only freshman who will see time on the court this season. Alyssa Jensen also came to Cal a semester early and was a high school All-American. She is the Bears’ starting setter of the future, as Joan Caloiaro, last year’s starter, enters her senior year.
“This group of freshmen is really impressive,” said senior Adrienne Gehan. “We have a lot of great ball control across the board with all our defensive specialists.”
Of the five defensive specialists on the roster, three are freshmen, and two are sophomores. Only one, Marlee Davis, is a junior — another reflection on how young this squad is.
Gehan, meanwhile, is the undisputed leader of the team. The outside hitter from Dallas is the only player that was on the squad during the 2010 run to the NCAA Championships. Last year she led the Bears with 3.10 kills per set.
Gehan is the only player to know what a deep NCAA run is like and is able to relay the kind of hard work that is needed to some of the younger players. But her goals for this year are more reasonable than a return to that title match.
“Competing every single game would be my goal,” Gehan said. “I want to compete for a Pac-12 championship to begin with, and we’ll see from there.”
Coach Feller’s goals are even more modest.
“We want to finish at least above where we finished last year in the Pac-12, and we want to go one step further in the tournament than last year,” he said. “Everything is at least one notch better than last year.”
Taking that literally would mean a fifth-place finish in the Pac-12 and a win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Cal was picked by Pac-12 coaches to finish seventh in the conference, so reaching Feller’s goals- — and even exceeding them — is by no means a stretch.
And Gehan thinks the team has the talent to do it.
“It’s my last season, and I’m trying to make the best of it,” she said. “And I know with this group, I’m really going to be able to, because we’re going to be good this year.”
Contact Riley McAtee at [email protected].