Having been snubbed by the North Coast Section for a playoff spot, the senior-filled Berkeley High boys volleyball team’s 2000 season is already a distant memory for players and coaches still involved in postseason play.
But according to BHS coach Justin Caraway, who believes the squad’s improvement over the last two years has set a strong precedent for the future of the program, it’s the lasting contributions that are most important.
“The problem at Berkeley High was that they had four coaches in four years – now they’re paying the price for having such a high turnover,” said Caraway, who coached the ’Jackets to an improved 12-9 overall record in 2000. “This year’s freshmen will talk to other kids who weren’t playing. If I can get them in the gym, I can get them playing.”
Made up almost entirely of players with two or fewer years of volleyball experience, the BHS squad built itself a reasonably strong case for the NCS selection committee this season. Besides managing a winning record in the notoriously tough East Bay Athletic League, Berkeley picked up split series with James Logan and Amador Valley – two playoff-caliber teams which at-large NCS berth also eluded. Though Caraway believed his team closed out the season playing good enough volleyball to compete with other NCS selections, he was not particularly surprised at the outcome, considering the large number of talented programs operating in the Bay Area.
“Those are the breaks – there were some very good teams that did not get in,” the BHS coach said. “I am a little disappointed, because I think we were playing better, we’d improved so much.
“We let opportunities slip away during the course of the season. There were a few matches that could have changed things – a win against Foothill or San Ramon (for example).”
Despite the playoff snub, Berkeley was able to garner some recognition out of the 2000 season, when seniors D.Q. Li and Mason Chin made the first-team and honorable mention all-EBAL teams, respectively. Li, the Yellowjackets’ statistical leader this season, was one of just five players to appear on the ballot of every coach in the league. According to Caraway, the two standouts achieved more in two years than many athletes do in four or more seasons of experience.
“Experience-wise, we’re a JV team, but talent-wise, we’re varsity,” the coach said about the least-seasoned team in the EBAL. “These guys really played hard all year, and continued to improve.”
Caraway has no illusions about the challenge that awaits the squad, which graduates virtually every starting player, including key contributors Li, Chin and setter Luis Ramirez. According to the coach, it will take at least a year for the current underclassmen to blossom into an NCS-quality team, even with promising freshmen Robin Roach and Oliver Monday returning for their second seasons. Roach, a prodigious middle blocker who got the starting job right away for the Yellowjackets, is expected by Caraway to be the physical leader next year, while setter Monday and other returners absorb the responsibility as vocal leaders.
“I think Robin Roach will be the anchor of this team,” Caraway said. “It’s very rare for a freshman to start at his position. He got invaluable experience this year, playing in the EBAL).
“Robin’s sort of the quiet type, so I don’t know if he’ll lead vocally. He’ll probably end up leading by example.”
Besides a reasonably solid freshman base, the ’Jackets should benefit from a league change in 2001. The exodus from the EBAL was a practical decision, given the geographical lopsidedness of the current setup, but could also turn out to be a blessing for BHS. The new league is a redistribution of teams in the old Alameda-Contra Costa Athletic League “super-powerhouse,” and features such East Bay squads as El Cerrito and Albany.
Though Caraway considers the new league’s top-tier to rank among the section’s best, he does not expect it to rival the competitiveness of the EBAL.
“Top to bottom, (the new league) isn’t going to be as strong,” the coach said. “The EBAL will be brutal next year. To me, it’s a little bit of a relief. From a league standpoint, it’s a great move for us.
“It will certainly be a rebuilding year, since I’m replacing 90 percent of my offense. But I think I have some younger kids who played this year who improved their skills, that’ll be able to step in.”