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Marymount Spiker Takes Aim at a Powerhouse College Team

November 05, 1987|ALAN ROBERTAZZI | Times Staff Writer

You'll have to excuse Kristin Klein for pointing.

Klein, the Sunshine League's most valuable player in volleyball last year as a junior at Marymount High School, can't avoid gesturing whenever she talks about UCLA, which is across the street from Marymount.

Klein leans forward, points her finger or rolls her eyes toward the home of the four-time national women's volleyball champions. But ask Klein what college she'll attend next year and the highly recruited player sits upright and motionless.

"I don't know how far I want to go in volleyball," Klein says vaguely. "I've worked so hard that I'm not going to go to just any college."

Klein can afford to keep her options open. She has scheduled visits to Stanford and Pacific next month but may have to postpone them. She has led Marymount to a CIF playoff berth, and the No. 3-rated Sailors figure to play well into November.

Playing under the shadow of the formidable UCLA program, the Sailors have posted impressive credentials in the last two years: a victory at last summer's prep nationals (where Klein was selected most valuable player), a league title in 1986 and wins over CIF 5-A powerhouses Mira Costa and Mater Dei.

The Sailors, who started the final week of the regular season at 13-1, 6-0 in league, are ranked fifth in the nation by Volleyball Monthly and third in the CIF 4-A behind Long Beach Wilson and Irvine, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year in the semifinals.

And Klein is a major reason for the success. The 6-0 middle blocker is the team's best athlete and inspirational leader. She was first-team All-CIF as a junior and, according to Coach Mora Kanim, is one of the top five recruits in the country.

Kanim knows about quality players, having played with All-American Liz Mazakayan at UCLA in 1984. That was the year that the Bruins won a NCAA title, and Kanim would like to see the Sailors win a championship this year.

"Wherever Kristin goes, as a freshman she's going to make an impact," Kanim said.

Klein sees herself playing in the middle of the front row but is especially strong on the left side, which may allow her to develop into an outside hitter in college. She is not hesitant to learn something new, a relief to Kanim.

"It would be easy for her to turn around and say, 'Show me, coach,' and I probably wouldn't be able to do it as well as she does it," Kanim said. "But she doesn't do that.

"It's easy to say, 'Don't worry about it.' I'm trying to focus on the little things that will allow her to succeed in college."

Kanim, in her first year at Marymount, had the luxury of taking over an established program. The nucleus of the team has been playing on clubs and at school since seventh grade. Nine players returned from last year's squad.

More important, the team feels a sense of urgency about winning, as six seniors will be making their final trip through the CIF playoffs.

Kanim especially likes the team's chances because she inherited strong passers to complement Klein's middle blocking. "You could put any six people on the court and we'd win," Kanim said. "But Kristin is definitely the focus.

"The other teams are going to focus on Kristin and it helps the other girls. She'll put 20 balls away a game."

How valuable is Klein to Marymount's game plan? The day she was forced to the bench with a slight injury to her left knee, the Sailors, who had won the first game, lost the match to St. Joseph's in four games.

"Certainly it had an impact," Kanim said of losing Klein. "It was more (because) Kristin leads by example."

The injury was diagnosed as "jumper's knee," the result of overwork. Despite the injury, Klein, who also plays club volleyball in the summer, has not missed any other matches. "I'll play even if my knee hurts," she said.

This is good news for Kanim, who brings a college volleyball background and the experience of winning a championship to Marymount.

"I do a lot of the same drills they do at UCLA," she said. "Basically, they do a UCLA workout."

Not surprisingly, there is large support for the volleyball program, especially from parents. At this school of 350 girls, 54 tried out for the team this season. And Kanim believes that some of her reserves can eventually become starters in college.

For Klein, a third-year varsity player, Kanim is her third varsity coach. Klein sees a difference this season and praised Kanim for her work. "Before this year I learned everything in club," she said.

Kanim also deals with intangibles. Growing up on the Westside, her players often have trouble making volleyball their No. 1 priority. "These guys go to Acapulco for two weeks during vacation," Kanim said.

Kanim is most impressed with Klein's ability to play defense and pass. Klein is often the most-watched player by the opposition, so it helps to have those other skills.

"She's the strongest high school player I've ever seen," Kanim said. "You can center the ball anywhere and she's going to put the ball down."

Klein also played tennis as a freshman and still plays varsity basketball. If she has a weakness, Klein and Kanim agree it is in her footwork. Once in awhile, Klein will leap a little early or mistime her steps. However, she often still makes solid contact with the ball.

Klein's skills are punctuated by her strength, which is inherited from an athletic family. Klein is the daughter of Bob Klein, a tight end for USC from 1966 to 1968 who played with the Los Angeles Rams and the San Diego Chargers. Her mother is an aerobics teacher and 16-year-old brother Jimmy plays football and basketball at Loyola High School.

Klein has a 3.95 grade-point average and is the student body president. She plays the piano and hopes to major in psychology in college.

But what is the secret to success at a private, all-girls high school?

"Boys don't distract me," she said. "Everybody's all, 'How can you do it?' I tell them, 'Roll out of bed, put your hair in a ponytail and go.' "

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