Power, poise, passion: Cal volleyball player Preslie Anderson’s commitment to perseverance

UC Berkeley Women's Volleyball
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It’s another one of the Anderson family’s quarantine paint nights. Tonight’s theme is Disney, and the five kids — three girls, two boys — and their two parents each have a petite, white canvas out in front of them. Someone is attempting to paint Buzz Lightyear, while someone else gives Mickey Mouse his big yellow shoes.

In the middle of all the flowing creativity, Preslie, the middle child, adds a bouquet of balloons to the chimney of the colorful house she’s painting. It’s the house from “Up,” the 2009 film about love, friendship and adventure. Anderson finishes off her Picasso piece by writing “Adventure is out there” across her canvas.

“It kind of embodies what her spirit is like,” said Nancy Anderson, Preslie’s mom. “She’s not going to be wanting to settle down. She’s going to chase after the adventure for sure.”

Although circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic are far from ideal, the members of the Anderson family have been making the best of what they have, which entails spending quality family time together in their home in Chandler, Arizona.

“There’s a lot of energy in the house when (Preslie’s) home, and it’s been that way since she was a baby,” Nancy Anderson said. “She’s always had a big personality and a big laugh, and she’s just always been fun.”

Her big, genuine personality and dedicated work ethic doesn’t just show through at home with family paint nights — it’s how she’s known on the volleyball court and in the community.

She’s at the net and ready. She sees the set go outside and immediately swings her arms back as she steps laterally at the net. She goes up, right next to her teammate, and presses over just as the hitter swings into her hands.

Boom. Anderson has just blocked one of the best players in the country, on the red and white hardwood of the formidable Maples Pavilion.

Her teammates and Cal fans cheer, and the reporters on air expose some excitement in their voices after watching the Bears’ middle blocker and opposite shut down the Cardinal’s top hitter with seeming ease. But Anderson is relatively unfazed as she turns back to the net for the next point. Anderson set out to do something, and she won’t rest just yet.

Although Anderson led her team to win that set, the Bears ultimately dropped their final match of the season to then-No. 3 Stanford. At that point, Cal was still expecting a shot at the NCAA tournament given its major success earlier in the season, but the program was denied the opportunity. This year, making the tournament is still at the top of Anderson and her teammates’ list.

“Going to the tournament is No. 1, and then making noise when we’re at the tournament,” Anderson said. “Having the expectation to go to the tournament is definitely up there, especially because it’s something we haven’t done in a while, but we don’t want to just go there. We want to go there and win some games.”

The season may look different this year — potentially no fans, possibly a single playing site and certainly none of the Bears’ graduated players on the court — but Anderson is staying focused.

“I just want to do whatever I can,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, I’m out on the court helping my team somehow. But again, I have such a loud voice, so if someone else needs to take my place and step up for some reason, then I’m just going to be there leading from the sidelines or wherever I am on the court.”

The Arizona local has long been recognized as dedicated to the game. Anderson’s volleyball resume includes her being named to the All-Pac-12 team, leading the conference with the highest hitting percentage (and second-best mark of all time at Cal), earning a spot on the U.S. Women’s Collegiate National Team and now serving as team captain for this season.

But her resume omits the context in which those achievements were made. All that she has done has been accomplished without consistent coaching leadership. Anderson was recruited by Rich Feller, then played under Matt McShane, and then Jennifer Dorr, before Sam Crosson was added to the mix. Dorr was one of the few consistent mentors Anderson has had throughout her collegiate career.

Ultimately, though, the players were the ones to provide one another with the stability they needed. Anderson said the roller coaster of the past few years made the team tighter, as the players were forced to adapt together to a new coaching style each season.

And Anderson, in particular, has become a leader for her teammates. The Bears’ spring offseason, which is typically critical for the team’s growth and development, was cut short in Berkeley this March. The team dispersed, but Anderson could often be found in her old Arizona club gym still putting in the work.

“I’ve played like four to six hours of volleyball a day, Monday through Friday, since I’ve been home,” Anderson said.

She has been scrimmaging against other Pac-12 players who have Aspire Volleyball Club roots and helping out with the younger kids coming through the club.

“Some of the younger kids look at her like, ‘This is pretty cool. We’ve got this Cal Berkeley girl helping out,’ ” said Sharon Vanis, who coached Anderson through her four high school seasons and three club seasons at Aspire. “Kids look up to her — her peers do, but so do the younger kids.”

Anderson’s care for others extends far beyond any volleyball court or gym. After graduating from Cal, the legal studies major seeks to support marginalized communities by working in social justice.

And she’s already started on that. Anderson has been active on the streets and on social media — protesting, sharing petitions and urging folks to educate themselves on systemic racism in the United States. As a student-athlete reconciling both her Black and white identities, Anderson is in a unique position to speak up about her experience, as well as the experiences of others affected by systemic racism.

A few weeks after George Floyd was killed, she was moved to do something new: poetry.

“She felt so enraged over what happened,” Nancy Anderson said. “I think, in those moments, she saw her brothers and her dad, and that’s kind of what pushed her to stand up and use her platform and voice.”

In her poem “Chains,” Anderson writes, “they said we would no longer be enslaved/ they said we would eventually blend into society/ they thought they did us a favor by freeing us of our duties/ they didn’t think/ that the magnitude and weight of our chains/ would stay with us forever.”

The poem confronts harsh realities but also carries tones of hope, strength and perseverance — traits Anderson holds close.

“I’m going to continue being passionate about that until the day I die,” Anderson said. “It’s the way I was raised — to be proud of who I am — and that’s what I want to exemplify at these protests.”

While she seeks to see justice on a national level, Anderson recognizes the power and importance of smaller institutions such as athletic programs.

“If programs continue to make sure the Black student-athletes know their voices are being heard and what they’re going through off the court means just as much to the coaches and the athletic department as what they do on the court, I think that’s really the big piece,” Anderson said. “It’s that they’re more than an athlete.”

Anderson could leave Cal as an NCAA champion and the best hitter in the Pac-12, and could pursue a volleyball career beyond Berkeley. But to her family, friends and the communities she has invested herself in, Preslie Anderson will always be far more than just an athlete.

Surina Khurana is a sports columnist. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @surina_k.