On A Mission

Carli Lloyd Lacks One Accomplishment in Her Storied Career at Cal: a National Championship

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Carli Lloyd and Meagan Schmitt, the lone seniors on the Cal volleyball team, were taking a walk on Sunday night, only hours after the NCAA tournament bracket was released.

The cool, crisp November air seemed to hint at the end of the season, the end of the year ... but also the beginning of a new one.

Suddenly Schmitt stopped. She turned to her friend and roommate and asked her if she would be satisfied with getting to the final four, like they did as freshmen in 2007.

"Would that be enough for you?" she inquired.

Lloyd looked at her and answered with the intensity that has become her trademark quality in four years at Cal.

"Absolutely not," she said. "I can't imagine anything other than winning."

As a freshman, Carli Lloyd was six assists shy of setting the Bears' single-season record.

Now, as a senior and leader, Lloyd has Cal six wins shy of another achievement: a national championship.

"I want to be able to leave here knowing that ... It's not just, 'Oh she did this' and 'She has this career whatever,'" says Lloyd, whose 5,473 assists rank second all-time at Cal and eighth all-time in the Pac-10.

The program was still only on the rise when she chose it over powerhouses UCLA, Washington and Nebraska. She wanted to take the Bears to the promised land.

In her first team meeting freshman year, the players set goals for the season. Coming off a surprising sweet 16 appearance the previous year, the team's objective was to make it one step further: to the elite eight.

"I was like, 'set the goal higher,'" Lloyd says.

She put up 1,550 assists that season, none bigger than the one at match point in the elite eight against Nebraska. Lloyd's perfectly placed set to outside hitter Angie Pressey for the match-clinching kill sent Cal to the final four.

"That probably still goes back as one of the biggest memories," coach Rich Feller says.

Since then the Bonsall, Calif., native has been named All-Pac-10 first team twice, AVCA Second-Team All-American twice and Pac-10 Player of the Week three times.

This season she has led the Bears to their first Pac-10 Championship in program history, not to mention Cal's first season sweep of Stanford in 31 years.

That's nothing to what a national championship would mean to Lloyd.

"How do you put words to that?" she asks with complete seriousness, even pausing for emphasis. "If we won a national championship, I feel like my life would be over. I would've gotten everything I wanted."

***

Despite all her success, it hasn't always been so easy for Lloyd. When she arrived at Cal in 2007, she struggled defensively. In fact, Lloyd says she didn't even know how to play defense in high school.

"When I came to college ... we had to work on that more because I wasn't good enough," she says. "I never used to think I'd be good at defense. I was just so bad in high school."

Opposing hitters would never believe that now. After all, in her four years as a starter, Lloyd has racked up 1,028 digs. At 5-foot-11, she ranks fifth all-time in career blocks at Cal and is the only setter in the top 10.

"It makes you realize as an athlete that you can work for something and get there," Lloyd says. "It's definitely taken years to get here. It's not easy."

Nor was it easy being isolated as a freshman. Lloyd felt excluded from her upperclassman teammates when she was a newcomer - something she and Schmitt have tried to remedy this year.

Having Lloyd is like having another coach, Feller says, someone who knows what the team needs to do to win and makes sure her voice is heard. In her early years, the offense was run by a younger and much quieter Carli Lloyd.

"As the older players graduated and as she became older, there was kind of a transference from the 'I'm only going to be a physical leader' to 'I'm going to become a more vocal leader,'" Feller says. "And that's progressed each year where now she's the commander on the court."

After every point, Lloyd signals the next play, shielding her hand motions with her jersey. She talks to her teammates in the huddle, between points and during plays. She keeps her teammates' spirits high even when their score might not be.

"All the girls really look to her for guidance," Schmitt says.

***

Lloyd doesn't just lead on the court, though. She has had a comforting influence on her teammates in the locker room, and exhibits a light-hearted attitude off the court.

The players all say this is the closest team they have been on, and that chemistry has made its way onto the court and paid dividends in matches.

Lloyd also stresses. A lot.

A presentation this past Tuesday had the Pac-10 All-Academic team member "freaking out all weekend."

She's a neat freak, says Schmitt. ("Our apartment is always clean. Just like if I pass bad she saves the pass, if I have a messy kitchen, she'll definitely be there to clean it up.")

"I think my intensity - that's the stress part that comes out. I'm very tense all the time. I'm a stress machine," Lloyd says, very, very quickly. "I do have a hard time dialing it down. I think instead of the intensity that comes out on the court, I just stress and freak out."

But that stressful nature manifests itself in a positive way for volleyball.

She is always thinking about the sport. She watches extra video in her apartment before each match. Lloyd breathes volleyball; it's her life.

"Every decision she makes off the court depends on what is going on in volleyball," Schmitt says. "She won't make a decision without thinking, 'How will this affect me in practice or matches?'"

Lloyd hopes her emphasis on preparing for matches and prioritizing volleyball has rubbed off on her teammates. Her confident demeanor during matches has seemed to. After all, she says, "I don't stress on the court."

***

Lloyd is not just an assist machine on the court; she hopes to one day help others on a day-to-day basis. The social welfare major is considering going into marriage counseling or family therapy once her volleyball career has ended.

"I've been around some messed up families, but I was raised in a really good family and I know that the difference is really important," Lloyd says. "For people to succeed, I think that you have to have a good stable home life."

"And I want to help kids."

With her success as a team leader, it's no surprise that Lloyd envisions herself as a teacher - or maybe as a coach. She has coached teams before and says she loved it.

Lloyd probably won't settle into that career until her first one has ended.

She dreams of setting for the USA Olympic volleyball team. She also dreams of traveling to Italy and playing there professionally.

Lately, her dreams have centered around one theme: bringing Cal volleyball its first national championship.

"This year is the year" may be a cliche, but with Lloyd leading the squad, the Bears have all the pieces to continue destroying everything in their path, whether it be Aggies, Cornhuskers or Nittany Lions.

The Huskies have already been taken down.

The date was Oct. 16 but it could have been any day. The place was Haas Pavilion but it could have been any arena. The time was right after Cal had whipped Washington in straight sets, a beating in which Lloyd tallied 33 assists and the Bears finished with better statistics in every single category.

Lloyd was answering questions after the match - suddenly she stopped mid-sentence. A girl clad in purple and gold wandered into the hallway and asked Lloyd where the exit door was.

Lloyd turned and pointed, giving the Washington player directions.

Make that 34 assists on the night.

As her career winds down, Lloyd hopes the date she sees her own exit door is on Dec. 18, and the place is Kansas City, Mo.

The time? Right after the Bears' national championship.

Tags: RICH FELLER, CAL VOLLEYBALL, CARLI LLOYD


Jonathan Kuperberg covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]



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