This season ArkansasRazorbacks.com will be running a weekly feature series highlighting a member of the 2012-13 team. Starting this series this week is a feature on sophomore Calli Berna.
This season's Razorback roster features a diverse group of players, representing seven different states and two countries. However, leading the team at the point guard spot is a player who did not have to travel far to find collegiate success.
Before ever donning a Razorbacks jersey, Calli Berna was no stranger to athletic achievement in Fayetteville. As a senior at Fayetteville High School, she led her squad to a state tournament title in dramatic fashion. With her Bulldogs trailing by two in the second overtime, Berna nailed a three pointer at the final buzzer to win the title. She finished her prep career winning all-state honors four times, and was named the 2011 Gatorade Arkansas Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
Based on her excellent high school career, Berna had a variety of options for her collegiate basketball career. After exploring her opportunities, Berna decided to stay in Northwest Arkansas, as becoming a Razorback truly felt like home.
"There are so many positives to being here and playing in Fayetteville," Berna said. "All my family gets to see me play. My grandparents get to come to every game, and that's exciting to me because that's what they did when I was growing up. It's about the program; this is where I wanted to be. I love the coaching staff, I love the team. I didn't want to make the decision to come here just because it was in Fayetteville - but there wasn't any competition. Overall, this is the best place for me to be."
Last season as a freshman Berna made an immediate impact. Playing over 25 minutes a game, she averaged 3.6 points and 2.6 assists, and was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team. She began the season by starting the first 14 games, and was a valuable bench player down the stretch.
A natural point guard, Berna has really taken to the role this season. She runs the Razorbacks' offense as the primary ball handler and distributor.
"I started being a point guard when I was in first grade," Berna explained. "That's a role that I like to take on. I try and make the extra pass and get someone else a shot - that's really my motive. I also know that I have to be prepared this year to step up and do some scoring. Just balancing those two is what I think the point guard role needs to be for me this year."
In addition to assuming the point guard role, Berna has also stepped up to fill a leadership role with the departures of last season's senior class. She has set the tone playing hard and gaining the respect of her teammates, especially in crunch time.
"I'm more of a quiet leader," Berna explained. "But people know that if the game is on the line I'll be able to help lead. I'm not going to be the one yelling at someone for doing something wrong, but I hope people can follow by my example, especially playing hard. You grow into that role more and more as people respect you and realize that you are here to help the team."
Berna's sound play has been key for the Razorbacks' strong start this season. Arkansas head coach Tom Collen has been very pleased with her play and believes that her talent is still underappreciated outside of Fayetteville.
"She's been solid as a rock," Collen said. "Going into the season I already felt like she was the best point guard in our conference. She just does a fantastic job. She makes shots, makes good decisions, and doesn't turn the ball over much. And the one thing that people really underestimate about Calli is that she is really a good defender. She has guarded the other team's best player almost every game this season and has done a really good job with that."
Berna's improvement as a point guard has been very evident this season. She ranks second in the SEC and seventh in the NCAA in assist to turnover ratio, the key measure of point guard efficiency, at 2.70. She is also 21st in the country in assists per game, averaging 5.9 assists. Her goal for the remainder of the season is to continue that efficient play, while also being prepared to step into any necessary role, not only offensively but also on the defensive end, where she is frequently tasked with shutting down the opponent's best scorer.
"My personal goals would be to distribute the ball, keep a good assist to turnover ratio, and score when my team needs me to," Berna said. "Some nights it might not be my job to get the scoring done, but some nights that does happen. Knowing that role, knowing when to step up, and knowing when to get my team shots are my goals for the rest of the season."
With SEC play underway, the Razorbacks are preparing to face some stiff challenges in the games ahead. They will rely on their point guard and local hero to confidently lead them towards the postseason.