Marlee Davis thought her coach at UC Berkeley, Rich Feller, was playing an April Fools' Day joke when he asked to meet with the Bears’ defensive specialist this past spring.
Davis was an invited walk-on, a nonscholarship player when she joined the Cal volleyball team in 2011. There were no promises or guarantees or assurances that Davis would get a scholarship, regardless of whether she earned a starting spot or not.
For a moment, Davis thought Feller was kidding when he informed the Vintage High School graduate that she deserved to be put on scholarship for her senior season with the Bears.
Yes, it was April 1, but this was no joke. Feller had a full-ride scholarship available and he gave it to Davis, one of Cal’s top back-row players and passers.
“We decided to award Marlee for her hard work, for her sticking to it, staying with the program, even though she wasn’t a starter and had missed significant time due to some of the injuries in the past,” Feller said last week.
“And because she was a very good defensive specialist and one of our top passers. I enjoy coaching Marlee and I enjoy having her on the team. She’s really someone that keeps things pretty bright for our team.”
Davis is also someone who has never stopped working since her freshman year in the program. She arrived at Cal fully aware that she was in an underdog position. But she was ready to take that challenge on. She has been a consistent contributor, despite dealing with injuries to her back.
As a freshman, she grew into a key reserve off the bench, seeing time in 82 sets and starting 10 matches. She was fourth on the squad, averaging 1.94 digs per set and was the Bears’ top freshman server.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” said Davis, who is from Napa. “It took a while to prove whatever I had to prove. It’s been extremely challenging. But it’s also been rewarding. We play in the best conference in the nation. Every single game, every single day at practice, you’re surrounded by the best.”
As a sophomore, she played in all 118 sets, ranked fifth on the team with 1.90 digs per set, and tied for third on the squad with 18 service aces.
As a junior, Davis played in 38 sets, averaging 1.18 digs per set. She had a career-high 22 digs at Arizona State and earned Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention honors.
“She just continued to work the way she has for four years,” said Feller. “She’s got a good, solid work ethic. I think she’s focused as a senior, knowing this is her last year. She comes to work every day and does what she can do.”
Davis (5-foot-7 1/2 ) plays on the back row and is counted on for her digging, passing and serving.
She had 11 digs on Sunday in Cal’s 3-1 Pac-12 loss to No. 17 UCLA at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley. After splitting the first two sets, the Bears (8-12 overall, 0-10 Pac-12) led 24-23 in the third set.
“She’s one of our most accurate passers as a defensive specialist,” said Feller. “She’s been a hard worker and a non-complainer and a real good team player for us. She has experience and has a voice on the team that is heard. She’s asked to do her job and to continue to do it well.”
It was Davis – who also played club ball for Golden Bear Volleyball – who first made contact with Cal, expressing a desire to join the Bears’ program.
“We thought that she would be a good addition to our squad,” said Feller.
It’s a big year for Davis, 21, who will graduate in the spring of 2015 as an American Studies major. She will be honored on “Senior Day,” which is Nov. 28 prior to the match against Stanford.
“I’m thrilled with how the last four years have gone,” she said. “I wouldn’t have done it any other way for the last four years.”
She helped her Golden Bear club team make six consecutive appearances in the Junior Olympics and led her team to a silver-medal finish in 2010.
At Vintage High, Davis was a four-time All-Monticello Empire League first-team selection and was named to the All-Napa County team in all four years as the libero for the Crushers.
She was named as the MEL’s Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman.