Vernon Tarver covers the Springdale Har-Ber beat for Northwest Arkansas Newspapers, LLC. Vernon has been a sports reporter in the local area since 1998, covering everything from Fayetteville, Springdale and Bentonville High Schools to the University of Arkansas baseball and women's basketball beats. Along with his newspaper duties, Vernon is also co-host of the morning sports talk show, Press Row. In his off time, Vernon enjoys spending time with his wife, Elyse, and his 3-year old son, Jackson.
From ‘Dogs To Hogs
BERNA MAKES QUICK IMPACT AT ARKANSAS
Calli Berna of Arkansas steals the ball from Grambling State’s Tonishea Mack Friday at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Calli Berna doesn’t appear to be big on wasting time.
Just eight months removed from her biggest and brightest moment on a basketball court — when Berna nailed the game-winning 3-pointer in double overtime to lift Fayetteville to the Class 7A championship against Fort Smith Northside — the 5-foot-10 point guard found herself inside a remote Daytona Beach, Fla., gym.
Berna knew this day, and this game — her first at the University of Arkansas — was coming for quite some time. Even before her thrilling game-winner in the Class 7A finals, she knew her next step from Bulldog to Razorback was right around the corner.
What Berna didn’t know was just how important she would be to Arkansas women’s basketball almost as soon as she stepped foot on the court.
“I can honestly say I didn’t know what to expect, coming into a team returning all five starters and their top eight players,” Berna said. “It’s really good to be surrounded by these people and just the fact that they trust me out on the court means a lot.
“I’m just ready to be out on the court and do what they want me to do, whether it’s to be the number one (point guard) or the number two (shooting guard), either is good for me as long as I can help the team.”
The trust Arkansas has in Berna was evident from the start, as the freshman from Fayetteville opened her collegiate career in fine fashion. Starting at point guard against Minnesota in the WBI Tipoff Classic, in that remote Dayton Beach gym, Berna played 32 minutes, scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists.
Not bad for a debut. But while Berna didn’t necessarily expect or ask for such a big role on the Razorbacks from day one, others weren’t the least bit surprised to see the former Lady Bulldog hit the ground running.
“I hate to say it, but I did expect it from her,” former Fayetteville girls basketball coach Bobby Smith said. “Calli has a great history of competing against great teams and she has always been able to play her best against that top competition. So I knew she was ready.
“There will always be a continued adjustment phase for her as she goes on in the next level, but the gift Calli has in basketball is the understanding of good plays and bad plays. And she always makes the good plays and avoids the bad plays.”
Arkansas coach Tom Collen recruited Berna throughout her Fayetteville high school career. Almost right away, Collen could tell Berna would be able to add a missing ingredient to the Razorbacks recipe for success.
“I felt that she was going to solidify us,” Collen said. “I feel like what our team has lacked the last couple of years is a kid who will facilitate other players to make plays rather than a player who wants to make plays. I’ve got the players who want to make plays, but I felt like she would be a facilitator, I felt like she would reverse the ball and pass the ball around. Not take bad shots, not make bad plays and she’s done that.
“That’s why she’s leading our team in minutes played. When you go back and look at the videotape and you’re watching with her trying to figure out how to make her better, you realize, wow that a good decision or wow, that was another good decision. So whenever you go back and watch the videotape, there’s not a whole lot of correction to make. Probably the average fan doesn’t recognize, but even to the defensive side we feel like she’s our most solid all-around defensive player right now.”
Berna is averaging 5.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists through Arkansas’ first six games. More than individual numbers, it’s her all-around game which appears to make the Razorbacks an improved team in 2011-12.
“I think Calli is one of the most athletic guards I’ve seen in a long time, and she’s very experienced with this offense,” Arkansas senior guard Lyndsay Harris said. “She ran this offense at her high school and she has all the confidence in the world.
“She’s a sweet girl and she comes in and works hard, so we really trust her when we put the ball in her hands.”
For Berna, the move from Fayetteville all-star to an Arkansas starting point guard has been a quick transition. And while there still could be bumps in the road, Berna is already miles ahead of many others going down the same path.
“I would say the biggest adjustment is just the fact that I’m playing against women,” Berna said. “You don’t think of it that way but some of them are four years older than me and they’ve been in the SEC for three years now. That’s something I’m going to have to get used to and adjust to, just the pace of the game and the physical aspect of it. Every single player, one through five, is more physical and that’s something you don’t see on a typical high school team.
“But if the team is surrounding me and building me up it’s going to help me have better games and that’s what they’ve been doing. They want me to shoot, they want me to do good. So it was definitely good to have that good first game, but it was better just having everyone surrounding me and wanting me to do good.”
Name: Calli Berna
School: University of Arkansas
Position: Point Guard
Notable: One of four in-state players on the 2011-12 Arkansas women’s basketball roster, Berna was named NWA Media Player of the Year last season after guiding Fayetteville to its second Class 7A championship in the past three years. ... Berna holds single-season and career records at Fayetteville in assists and steals and has already earned a starting position with the Razorbacks.