New Cal coach McShane buoyed by team’s hard work, incoming class

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Matt McShane is on "a leave of absence"/Cal photo

This time around, Matt McShane knows exactly where the facilities are.

“When I took over at Air Force, I knew nothing about Air Force other than it was a military school,” McShane said. “I didn’t know the ins and outs. I didn’t know where the bathroom was at Air Force.”

McShane was named Cal’s head women’s coach in May, replacing Rich Feller, who retired after 18 seasons. McShane’s familiarity with Berkeley — and the bathrooms — comes from serving as associate head coach last year and also enjoying a run as an assistant on Feller’s staff from 2005-2009.

In addition to his two terms at Cal, McShane was the head coach at Air Force for six years and also had stints as an assistant coach at Utah, New Mexico and BYU, while also serving on the USA women’s national team staff, where he and Feller were assistant coaches.

“When you take over a position such as this, you spend the first month learning about a place,” McShane said. “I don’t have to do that here. I know the players. That made it significantly more comfortable for everybody. This spring I already knew what they were like. I have a pretty good idea what we’re going to be like in the fall. It’s a lot easier when you stay at the same place.”

To say McShane is excited about earning a head-coaching opportunity in the Pac-12 and at Cal would be the understatement of understatements.

“It’s Cal,” he said. “It on the list of universities that every high-school kid in the U.S. knows about. Cal is an amazing place. The culture here is unlike anything else on the planet. The variety of culture that comes through this campus on a daily basis is amazing. It’s an amazing place to come to school every day.”

Not that McShane has had much of an opportunity to smell the roses since he took over.

“My hair has been on fire the last six weeks,” he said. “But it’s been great.

“We had an amazingly good spring. We have a very good recruiting class coming in and we’re right in the middle of camps. When I got the job, it was at the beginning of the most time-consuming period with recruiting and camps. It’s been a heck of a ride.”

McShane admits he was taken a bit by surprise with the news Feller was retiring. The two go back long before their time at Cal.

The two did battle from opposite benches in the 1980s, McShane at New Mexico and Feller at Colorado State. They also served as assistants on the national team under current USC head coach Mick Haley.

“Being with Rich, I’ve been blessed,” McShane said. “We were fierce competitors when I was at New Mexico and he was at Colorado State. Rich is a really smart volleyball guy and enough different from me so that we both pushed each other in different ways.

“Every once in a while the door would be closed and we would argue with each other and that’s the way it should happen. The best coaching staffs are that way where everybody is a little different and everybody pushes each other. I was incredibly lucky to sit next to him as much as I did.”

McShane puts Feller in an elite class of coaches.

“There is a whole generation of coaches who have done amazing things for the sport when it was growing,” he said. “They’ve done incredibly important things for the sport. All the things going on now you can tie back to all those men and women who recently retired in the last four or five years or are about to retire. Everybody who has come after them has learned so much from that generation of coaches and Rich is in that group.”

Feller knows Cal selected the right man for the job.

“I’ve gotten to know Matt as a coach, friend and man. He’s a standup sort of person who is very driven, meticulous, thoughtful and mindful of everything,” Feller said. “He’s the perfect choice to take care of the program. He’s been at Cal and has a good sense of what being in the Pac-12 is about and what it’s like to recruit players to Berkeley, which is a unique … He will be a good fit. He’s someone who will walk in and will know what’s ahead and what challenges and opportunities there are.”

Feller says McShane’s best attribute is his ability to create.

“Matt is an innovator,” Feller said. “He’s someone who can focus on the minutia and then innovate when the time comes to create. He also can innovate to generate a plan.”

While at Cal the first time, McShane was part of Bears teams that went 114-47 that included an NCAA final-four berth and two other national quarterfinal appearances.

“We’re playing in one of the big five conferences in the country, and arguably one of the top two,” McShane said. “We’ve had a lot of success with volleyball here. It’s easy to remember all the successes and just say we’re going to be like that. It doesn’t work like that. It’s going to take work.

“At the same time, this program has shown it can have that type of success. When I wake up and look in the mirror in the morning I’m coaching a team that has been incredibly successful the vast majority of the last decade. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. There still is a process to make it happen. Nothing is going to fall in our laps.”

Cal, 9-21 last year, 3-17 in the Pac-12, is 8-52 the past three seasons in the league.

The Bears return outside hitter Christine Alftin, defensive specialists Jessica Gaffney and Amanda Kirtley and right side Bailee Huizenga and add a recruiting class that features 2017 VolleyballMag.com/Triple Crown Sports Fab 50 selections Preslie Anderson (MB-OH) and Lauren Forte (MB) from the Aspire club in Arizona.

“All our returning players worked incredibly hard in the weight room and gym this past spring, really pushing themselves to places they had no idea they could go,” McShane said. “Along with that comes the determination to be successful. When you invest that much effort and get out on the court, you are going to be willing to fight for those extra one, two or three points in each sent.

“Having players who are that motivated calms me down a little bit. If you ask every coach if they are nervous about the fall, they probably will say yes because they don’t know what it’s going to be like. When you know your players already are invested, it calms you down a little bit.”

McShane’s coaching staff features assistants Jennifer Dorr and Spencer McLachlin. Dorr, who set for Dave Shoji at Hawaii, has been with Cal for five seasons. McLachlin is a former Stanford men’s standout and VolleyballMag.com boys’ high school player of the year from his prep days in Hawaii. He had been a volunteer assistant at UCLA the previous two years. The Bears also added Cayley Thurlby as director of operations. She held the same title at UCLA.

McShane also provided an update on redshirt-sophomore outside hitter Savannah Rennie, who made her college debut last October less than five months after undergoing a liver transplant due to the effects of congenital hepatic fibrosis with portal hypertension.

McShane noted Rennie did have a recent setback but was back on campus recently.

“Every day she is getting better,” he said. “I saw Savannah the other day and she looked good.”

Cal opens the season at home Aug. 25 against UC Irvine.

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