This is the time of the year when the days run together for Nina Matthies, with commutes from home in Hermosa Beach to Pepperdine University and trips to yet another professional beach volleyball tournament.
At each location people anxiously await her arrival. She is that rarity, a person who makes things happen.
This is Matthies' fourth year as Pepperdine women's volleyball coach, her fourth year as a mother--her children are Marty, 4, and Morgan, 2--and her eighth year as one of the best players on the volleyball tour.
She and partner Linda Robertson are the No. 1 team in women's professional volleyball. They dominated the Miller Lite Tournament of Champions in September--the final stop on the 1986 tour--and won seven of the circuit's eight tournaments.
Matthies balances her three lives--mother, coach and player--with the same skill that makes her a beach volleyball legend.
Coaching is her release from home, home is her release from coaching, and running and beach volleyball give her time away from coaching and home.
"I need to do something for an hour a day, run or lift. I don't care as long as it is physically active," she said. "I usually take a hour and run down the highway near Pepperdine. It makes me feel better."
Lately, it has been hard to take time because she is in the "tunnel," which, according to husband Dan, is the period from August to December when she is absorbed with Pepperdine's volleyball season.
Her days are filled with taking care her children, her home, her husband and her coaching.
"I used to go home and relax, sit down and have a beer after a tournament or a long day. Now, I have the kids, a house to clean and laundry to do. I don't have time to rest," she said. "I used to fit it all in on schedule, but when I had kids I took my schedules and threw them out the window."
Matthies and Robertson have become accustomed to knocking opponents out of tournaments. In the last three years, they have lost just three tournaments.
Matthies, 33, is a six-time U.S. Volleyball Assn. All-American. She was captain of the UCLA women's volleyball team that won National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championships in 1974 and 1975.
She always wanted to coach but didn't think she would still be a player. Sometimes that combination is an advantage, but at other times it's a burden.
"I don't try to make the kids be like me," said Matthies, whose team finished at 9-3 in the West Coast Athletic Conference and opens in the NCAA playoffs Saturday against Arizona State. "I know people can't do and act and be competitive like me. I understand that, and it frustrates me sometimes.
"I tell my players not to rely on me. If they want to make something happen they have to make it happen. In athletics you can only rely on yourself. The minute you look to someone else you are in trouble."
Matthies trains alone. She often goes to the beach by herself to practice hitting and to do jump training in the sand. She runs three miles a day and lifts weights three times a week.
"It's a lot of work but it's my outlet," said Matthies, a muscular 5-7 outside hitter and setter. "It's not a drudgery, it's play.
"I work my rear end off to be as good as I can because of the limited time I have to practice, and my age. I am in better shape today than I was 10 years ago. I know I can't play forever but would like to see the beach circuit become something. I am working hard so the young girls down the line will get something out of it."
To that end, Matthies is a promoter, a champion and a controversial, outspoken figure. She speaks out when she sees poor organization and unprofessional attitudes from the players.
"I am not afraid to speak my mind and jump off the diving board," she said. "Some people are afraid of me and some people think I am snotty. That doesn't bother me. I get annoyed when some of the players perpetuate the casual beach-party attitude instead of a professional sport.
"They don't set up in time for tournaments, the boards aren't made and the lines aren't set. As long as poor organization doesn't bother them, nothing will change. They look at me in shock as if I am out of line, but a precedence has to be set somewhere."
Matthies and Robertson have been setting the standard in beach volleyball since they teamed up three years ago.
Robertson, 26, is a three-time All-American from UCLA who is also a model. She was the 1986 Wheaties Woman and was featured on the cereal box.
"Nina tells me I have more natural talent than anyone and it makes me feel guilty, so I bust my rear to achieve what she sees in me," Robertson said. "I just watch Nina. She gives 100% in anything she does. I am guilty of giving 75% if I know I can get away with it.
"When we play in a tournament and Nina says, 'We are not losing,' I believe her. It is very clear-cut--I am in the stinking doghouse if we do lose."
Matthies said Robertson is a gifted athlete who finds it difficult to concentrate for long periods.
"I know it and she knows it, so it is not a problem. Occasionally Linda is mentally somewhere else when we play," Matthies said. "She takes little trips so I ask her, 'Are you in the Bahamas?' "
If Robertson fades, Matthies has the ability to make up the difference.
"There are some people who are able to put it into fifth gear when they need to, and I am one of those," Matthies said. "I make things happen with extra effort and I give people confidence. It is like an aura."