Jerkov Fits in Perfectly With Undefeated Spikers

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Don't let the Tedfordmania fool you, the Cal football team is not the hottest team in Berkeley this fall.

The volleyball team holds that distinction, and Boller and Banta-Cain have nothing on Mia Jerkov when it comes to hot starts.

The Bears have won their first six matches and the title at both the Golden Bear Invitational and last weekend's UNLV Gameworks Classic.

More impressive than the streak is the dominant fashion in which they are winning. The Bears have left no match in doubt, with 3-0 sweeps in every contest.

"We are feeling really good right now," Cal coach Rich Feller says. "We are playing together and communicating with one another, which is much different than last year's team."

Another difference from last year is a healthy Jerkov, who is leading the Bears in kills, total attacks, service aces, digs and solo blocks.

Jerkov already has two tournament Most Valuable Player awards to her credit, one for each of the Bears' titles, and was named Pac-10 Player of the Week.

"We feel great right now," Jerkov said. "We think we have a shot to do good things this year. We're 6-0 and still improving, that is encouraging."

Jerkov missed much of last season playing for the Croatian national team and suffering from tendinitis in her left shin.

"I am sorry that I wasn't there for my teammates last year, but I am back now and I am finally healthy," Jerkov said. "I have been working on my strength and trying to stay in top shape. My body feels good-You always feel good when you are winning."

Feller said that the absence of Jerkov last year may have been a blessing in disguise.

"I don't think the ladies would have been ready for Mia last year," he said. "In her absence, it gave our young players a chance to grow."

The Bears' 10-18 record of a year ago instilled a desire to win and prove themselves to the rest of the Pac-10.

This fire, now burning, led to increased intensity in off-season workouts and more team unity.

"The team over the past year has really learned how to execute game plans," said Feller. "This is probably the smartest team I've had and that is due to the team's maturity and Mia's play."

Jerkov has been everywhere for the Bears this season, excelling in every aspect of the game.

"She is like a great closer in baseball, or a go-to player in basketball, whenever we get down or need a play, she is there to provide that spark and leadership," said Feller.

Jerkov's play has really rubbed off on the rest of the team, allowing each player to play more aggressively, without fear of making a mistake. This has resulted in the team playing a lot looser, and consequently, better.

"She really lifts a lot of pressure off of the others, by shouldering a lot of the load," said Feller.

A modest Jerkov said that she feels no pressure to be a leader.

"I don't feel pressure, each one of us is a leader in her own right. Each player has a role and all I try to do is play my role."

Jerkov, who has done more than just play a role, has been the leading lady, but she has also had a stellar supporting cast. Leah Young and Camille Leffall have both made back-to-back all-tournament teams, while Caity Noonan has continued to move up on the Bears' all-time assists list.

"Mia is playing very well for us, but it is the team as a whole that I am impressed with," Feller said. "We are getting steady play out of Jenna Brown, Alicia Powers, Caity Noonan, Camille Leffall and Leah Young."

Jerkov, a 6-foot-3 sophomore from Split, Croatia, said that her teammates have helped her more than just athletically, but socially as well.

"My teammates have been great. They have really helped me adjust, and have comforted me during my injury and during other bad times."

One can imagine the amount of difficulties that can come from a drastic change in scenery, especially one that is half way across the globe.

"It is not as bad as one thinks," Jerkov said. "I have my teammates and volleyball to comfort me."

The Bears' leading hitter has continued to thrive despite being so far away from home.

This experience coupled with her own experience playing on the Croatian national team has helped her transition to life away from home.

"Mia's experience has really helped her and us," said Feller.

Jerkov hopes that her experience will carry them to the top of the Pac-10 standings and toward an NCAA tournament bid.

But first, the Bears have to take care of business this weekend as they travel to Dallas to play in the Southern Methodist Doubletree Invitational.

The Bears will take on the Texas-San Antonio, Tulane and Southern Methodist.

"We are confident going into this tournament," said Feller. "But not overconfident."

Jerkov echoes her coach's sentiments.

"I just hope that we continue to play well and win."


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