Season Analysis: Rebuilding Year Had its Moments





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As any great historian will say, Rome was not built in a day. And anyone on the Cal volleyball team admits that a program can't be rebuilt in one season.

The Bears (13-15, 6-12 in the Pac-10) finished the 2000 season two games under .500 and tied for seventh in the Pac-10, but finished with a big part of the rebuilding process behind them.

"I don't think that you can call any one year a rebuilding year, but this was part of it," senior captain Alicia Perry said. "I wouldn't say that this was the defining year."

While this may not have been the year that Cal arrived on the national scene, it certainly had its important moments.

Moments like when Perry became the fourth player in school history to tally both 1,000 digs and 1,000 kills. Moments like winning the first tournament championship since head coach Rich Feller arrived in 1998. And moments like coming back from a 2-0 deficit against San Jose State to win, 3-2.

As setter Candace McNamee simply said, "It was like a roller coaster."

The season began with two tough tournaments, the Silver Legacy/Ray Wersching Invitational and the Golden Bear Classic, both featuring nationally ranked teams. Cal took second place in each, but still had good showings against then-No. 12 Florida and No. 11 Minnesota.

"The opening tournaments gave us a positive outlook on the season," Perry said. "We gelled as a team pretty quickly."

Although Cal fell to both of the higher-ranked teams in the tournaments, the experience of what collegiate volleyball is like was invaluable for the freshman-laden squad.

Perry, McNamee, and freshman sensation Gabrielle Abernathy were named to the all-tournament teams in both tournaments.

Abernathy was one of two true freshmen to start, and did so in grand fashion, tallying 34 kills in her first three games.

When Pac-10 play began, there were high hopes for the young team. The opening road trip to Oregon involved two five-game matches and over six hours of playing over two nights.

In addition, Perry earned Pac-10 Player of the Week by tallying 44 kills and 44 digs against the Washington schools in early October.

Unfortunately, the determination of the team was not enough to finish in the top half of this year's Pac-10.

The Bears ended up dropping five Pac-10 matches in a row and lost eight of nine matches at one point. While many of the games were against teams that were in the top-25, they took their toll on team morale.

"The Pac-10 this year was so much stronger than any other year," setter Caity Noonan said. "Adjusting to that level of play is intense. It was good for the experience, but it definitely hurt our confidence."

As the losing streak wore on, some players found it more and more difficult to win.

"We were all really disappointed in our play," Perry said. "After you lose so many games in a row, you forget what it feels like to win."

Confidence was not the only problem the Bears faced during conference play, however. A string of injuries to key players destroyed much of the continuity that had been established in the early part of the season.

McNamee, defensive specialist Laurel Kokaska, middle blocker Heather Diers and Abernathy all spent time either on the sidelines or playing hurt.

"We had injuries that sporadically took out some of our starters and key players," Feller said. "A player here, a player there - we didn't have the same flow throughout the season."

By the time the whole team was back together, Pac-10 play was almost over, and the chances of going to the NCAA tournament were slim.

"We had a chance and we let it slip away," McNamee said. "I definitely want to be in (the NCAA tournament) next year. It's a real possibility."

With postseason hopes gone, there was only one tournament - the UNM-Domino's Albuturkey Classic, held over Thanksgiving weekend in New Mexico.

The Bears swept their opponents two games in a row, beating NCAA tournament-bound Northern Arizona in the process.

"It was a good way to close," Noonan said. "We came to that weekend not wanting to be there, but we took advantage of it anyway."

Perry ended up being named the Most Valuable Player in the tournament for her team-leading 28 kills and 28 digs over the weekend.

"Winning the tournament showed we have a lot of character," Perry said. "I was really proud of the way the girls played."

Sophomore Reena Pardiwala was also named to the all-tournament team for her efforts during the holiday weekend.

But in the end, there was no tournament berth, and the final goal of playing in the post-season was not met.

"It was a long season," Feller said. "We learned some pretty tough lessons. Next season, I hope those lessons carry over."

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