The Loyola Marymount volleyball Ferris wheel came to a stop on Tuesday with the team about where it started, at 17-17.
The Lions' long, strange season, which began with high hopes, ended with a two-game losing streak after the team had won seven in a row. It was a hard team to figure out all season as it attempted to adapt to a new system under first-year Coach George Yamashita.
The Lions entered the season with much of their lineup intact from last year's NCAA Tournament qualifier. But the team started out 1-4 and may have hit bottom when it was ripped by UCLA in the National Invitation Volleyball Tournament and barely put up a fight. The Lions were 9-13 after that tournament and, worse, playing dispiritedly.
Part of the problem was the adjustment to a new coach, notably changes Yamashita made, shifting veterans at several positions after taking over from Nancy Fortner, whom he had previously assisted.
Yamashita also brought a different personality to the team and met with some resistance. He talked of taking the Lions up to a new level, of working harder and making more sacrifices. The players, in turn, talked about the new "boot camp" atmosphere.
Whatever the reasons, it wasn't pretty behind the scenes back in October and things approached soap opera proportions. Players sulked. Egos clashed. There was resentment. There was backlash. There were tongue-lashings by Yamashita and muttering by players. Senior Lori Rodman told a Times reporter she considered quitting, as did others.
Suddenly, the clouds parted and the Lions began beating people, winning 9 of 12 matches. They caught fire in the West Coast Athletic Conference--admittedly softer competition than their preleague schedule--and won their last seven conference matches to finish in second place at 10-4 and raise their overall record above .500.
But just as suddenly, they lost their last matches Monday and Tuesday in straight games to finish on a disappointing note.
Yamashita is still saying he would like the chance to build a consistent winner at Loyola, where volleyball is the featured women's sport. And the season produced some positive aspects.
Junior Seham Khalaf did a good job taking over the setter position, finishing with an average of 8.5 assists per game. She improved that to 9.7 in conference play. Hitters Leslie Wohlford and Tiffany Miller finished with more than 300 kills apiece and Rodman was right behind. All four figure to be in line for all-conference honors, along with back-line player Cathy Petrissans.
It ranks as a season that was about as smooth this fall as the fault line beneath Whittier. Whether there are aftershocks remains to be seen.
It's difficult to overlook a guy who's 6-foot-11 and weighs 250 pounds when he's slimmed down, but Mira Costa High graduate Eric Leckner plays in the shadow of his colorful teammate, All-American forward Fennis Dembo, at the University of Wyoming.
The scouts know Leckner is there, however.
Leckner has come a long way since he was a skinny post man with more potential than press clippings at Mira Costa. Now, the big senior is pictured in Sports Illustrated's college basketball issue as the star center in a story on Wyoming's outstanding team. Leckner is being touted as a potential NBA first-round draft choice.
Leckner was reportedly overweight when fall practice began, but that may help his image. In Sports Illustrated, he's pictured out on the wide-open spaces in front of a train.
Tickets for the Dec. 5 Pony Bowl football game pitting El Camino College and powerful Taft are available at El Camino's athletic office. Tickets are $5 for one game, or $8 for the double-header. The second game matches Cerritos and Saddleback. The games are being played at Orange Coast College.
The El Camino-Taft game has been dubbed the community college game of the year. El Camino is 10-0, Taft is 9-0. Taft is rated No. 1 in the state and nation. El Camino is ranked No. 2 in California. Their game begins at 7 p.m. The Cerritos-Saddleback game will precede it.