During Mike Puritz's first four years as women's volleyball coach, UC Irvine won 76 matches and lost 70. In the last three years, the Anteaters were 28-60.
Funny thing is, the Anteaters were getting better . The 1981 team that compiled a 21-16 record, for instance, would have trouble winning a game against last year's 7-26 squad.
Numbers can be deceiving . . . especially when you find yourself in a conference that often includes half of the top 10 teams in the nation. Last year, six of the country's top 11 teams were members of the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.
Not surprisingly, Irvine's conference record was 1-17.
"When we became part of the PCAA in 1984, our level of competition increased drastically," Puritz said. "But so did our level of talent. I realized that we couldn't compete with the walk-ons and partial-scholarship players we had. We've got a whole new team now."
With the aid of four additional scholarships--raising his total to eight--Puritz started revamping the roster after the '84 season. There are no seniors and just three juniors on the '87 team.
Last season, the new, supposedly improved Anteaters took their lumps, but they are showing signs of becoming more of a factor in the PCAA this year. Irvine is 7-7 overall and 2-5 in conference after Wednesday night's 3-0 loss to San Diego State.
"Last season, I watched them play as well as I could possibly ask and lose in three sets," Puritz said. "It was tough on me and even harder on the players. But this year, against most of the teams, if we play our hearts out, our chances of coming out on top are pretty good."
Puritz doesn't expect to unseat No. 1-ranked Hawaii or No. 2 University of the Pacific, but the Anteaters have already beaten San Diego State (then ranked 17th) and feel they have a shot at No. 16 UC Santa Barbara Saturday night in Irvine's Crawford Hall.
And he can't help but look forward to next year.
"I'm pleased with what we've done but not satisfied with where we are," Puritz said. "We've beaten all the unranked teams we've played and beaten one of the ranked ones.
"If we could finish sixth in this conference, that would be a great accomplishment. We owe a lot of people from the last few years and we hope this is just the beginning of pay-back time."
The only two upperclassmen who start on the women's volleyball team are definitely key players.
Kris Roberts, a 6-foot 4-inch middle blocker from Irvine High School, is first in the PCAA in blocks and third in hitting percentage. Ann Warmus, a 5-9 setter from Esperanza High who set a school record with 61 set assists against Hawaii Pacific, is the Anteaters' best all-around player.
"Ann is our best defensive player," Puritz said. "And she's one of our best hitters and blockers and passers. And she's definitely our best setter.
"In the past, she got a little frustrated (just setting), but I've changed our offense so that she can hit (spike) in one of our rotations. So now she gets her swings in."
Warmus, who plays with painful shin splints much of the time, was a redshirt last season. That experience, she says, was more painful than the physical discomfort this year.
"I watched in agony," she said. "Just sitting there without being able to help, it hurt."
Now, she's the designated setter/sometimes hitter/floor leader/cheerleader. "I've always had a big mouth," she said, flashing a smile.
Warmus, a physics major, maintains that she has always wanted to be a setter but concedes that it has its drawbacks.
"I love setting, but it can be frustrating if they (teammates' spikes) keep getting blocked," she said. "You're forced to set and hope. The hitters get more glory, I guess, but the girls on the team know your value."
So does the coach.
After a week's rest, UCI's men's and women's cross-country teams will return to action in the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Invitational Saturday.
The women's field includes UCLA, Stanford and California. The Irvine women are ranked 13th in the country.
"This is a very important meet to give us leverage as far as the national scene is concerned," Coach Vince O'Boyle said of the women's team. "It's a meet we have to run well in. If not, we will have to win the regional (Nov. 14 in Fresno) to get to the NCAA championships (Nov. 23 in Charlottesville, Va.)."
UCI will host the PCAA championships Oct. 31.