Cal volleyball looks to improve on last season by going back to basics

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If there is one Cal team entering the season with something to prove, it would definitely be the women’s volleyball team. The Bears are looking to bounce back from a less-than-stellar 2014 season — a year in which they only won one-third of their matches. But there are still many positives to be excited about, despite the team’s lack of success last season. One of these is that five starters will be returning to the team, including the co-captains junior Maddy Kerr and senior Lillian Schonewise.

“We understand that fundamentals win games, so we’ve been focusing on getting back to the basics,” Kerr said.

Luckily for the Bears, Kerr and Schonewise are coming off one of the best seasons of their collegiate careers. In fact, Kerr finished her sophomore season with a total of 462 digs — the eighth-best single-season mark in Cal history. As the starting libero for the team, she is entering the season only 108 digs short of 1,000 for her career. The Bears will once again need Kerr to be a defensive magician this season in order to turn things around.

Still, in order to be successful, a team needs to be a dominant force on offense as well, which is where middle blocker Schonewise comes into play. Schonewise finished last season with a .345 hitting percentage — the seventh highest mark in the Pac-12. She also finished the year averaging 2.83 kills and 0.93 blocks per set, which led her to being awarded an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention and an AVCA All-American Honorable Mention.

The highlight of Schonewise’s season came against then-No. 21-ranked USC on Nov. 14 — a day that saw her make history with a whopping career high of 21 kills and a .471 hitting percentage. Schonewise will need to extend her dominance into this season in order for the Bears to make noise in the always-tough Pac-12. Luckily, she has already started off the year on the right foot, as she was recently named to the preseason All-Pac-12 team. Like fellow captain Kerr, Schonewise also understands that the team needs to take a step back and focus on the fundamentals of the game.

“We’ve really put a lot of emphasis on serving and passing this summer because that’s the heart of the game and where it all starts,” Schonewise said.

Head coach Rich Feller also worked hard this offseason to ensure the future success of his team, nabbing the ninth-best recruiting class in the country, according to PrepVolleyball.com. All five freshmen joining the team have a lot of potential, which is exactly what the Bears need. The highlights of this class include No. 20-ranked outside hitter Savannah Rennie from San Diego and No. 51-ranked libero Amanda Kirtley from San Bernardino. In high school, Rennie was honored as an Under Armour Third Team All-American and the 2014 San Diego Section Player of the Year. Kirtley was also awarded several honors during her senior year, including PrepVolleyball.com All-American Highest Honorable Mention and Defensive Dandies First Team.

It’s clear that the Bears have the ability to turn things around this season, especially after bringing in these talented freshmen to play around the team’s already dominant veterans.

“It sounds obvious, but this offseason, we’ve just been focusing on playing good volleyball — we want to have a team of really good players that know how to play together,” Feller said. “Hopefully if we stick to that philosophy all year long, then we’ll win some matches.”

Alex Quintana covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]