SAN DIEGO — To truly understand the accomplishment of Grossmont College winning the women's state volleyball title this year you'd need to look at the past.
Colleen Suwara took over an average community college volleyball program three years ago as a part-time coach. And with primarily San Diego County players--most from east county high schools--Suwara built a program that this year shook the power base of community college volleyball.
The power in high school and community college volleyball has been north of San Diego, usually centering in Los Angeles and Orange counties. But San Diego got a foot up on the ladder with Grossmont's state championship.
The title was especially pleasing for San Diego volleyball loyalists because all six starters are from local high schools. The same local high schools that have never won a girls' state title in the two large-school divisions.
Marian finished second in 1980 and third in 1979 but since then, no San Diego team has been able to get past the second round.
"We're catching up," Suwara said. "I think our high school play is improving but they (LA and Orange counties) are still ahead of us."
It did not take Suwara, whose husband Rudy coaches the San Diego State women's team, long to build a powerful community college program.
In Suwara's first year, Grossmont won the first of three straight Pacific Coast Conference titles with an 11-1 record in 1985. That same year, Grossmont lost to Orange Coast in the first round of the state tournament. Last year, Grossmont was 12-0 in the PCC, defeated Orange Coast and then lost 15-12 in the fifth game to eventual state champion Cuesta, located in San Luis Obispo.
This year, Grossmont was seeded second behind Golden West of Huntington Beach and rolled undefeated through the eight-team, double-elimination state tournament.
"Actually, I think I'm a year ahead of my schedule," said Suwara, who played at UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State.
Besides her playing experience, Suwara has brought a major college coaching attitude to a two-year school.
"I'm a perfectionist," Suwara said. "I make a commitment to what I'm doing. I certainly put in more than 10 hours a week."
Although Suwara had two players returning from last year's team, she thought Grossmont could be successful this season.
"I looked around at the personalities and the people on the team and I knew we could do this well," Suwara said. "It's tough because they have to practice 1 1/2 to 2 hours a day and they have classes and most of them have jobs.
"They knew they wanted to pay the price to reach the top. It was tough, there were a lot of days they did not want to be in that gym. There were days I didn't want to be in there, either."
Suwara has not just helped Grossmont build a reputation as a volleyball power. She is also gaining a reputation for helping develop quality players.
"I'm lucky enough to get some really fine athletes to work with," Suwara said. "I think I have the reputation to train athletes. If they have the potential to play four-year college volleyball, I have the reputation to help them secure a scholarship."
In three years, six players from Grossmont have gone on to play on scholarship at four-year schools, including Sheri Beyer (Houston), Kim Washington (San Diego State), Cecilia Hayes (Chapman) and Karen Toth (Arkansas State).
Four players from this year's Grossmont team are currently being recruited, including Leanna Hebert (SDSU, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Santa Barbara and Houston); Karen Burly (UC Irvine, Chapman and Cal Poly Pomona); Tammy McMillin (Arkansas State, Denver and George Mason), and Sheri Gusman (Chapman and Cal Poly Pomona).
Grossmont's success, however, means it will be more difficult for San Diego County players to make the team. Suwara has received numerous inquiries from players outside the area, including one from a player in Carson City, Nev. who has sent a video tape of her play.
"It's real neat," Suwara said of the recognition. "But it's going to be harder and harder for (the local) kids to make the team."
Hebert (El Cajon Valley) and freshman Karen Taeatafa (Sweetwater) were named to the all-state first team. Taeatafa has also been nominated by coaches for national freshman player of the year.
Burley (Granite Hills) was named to the all-tournament team at the state championships. Other local starters for Grossmont included McMillin (Valhalla), Gusman (Granite Hills) and Jennifer Gross (Granite Hills).
An all-star baseball team from Japan will play UC San Diego Wednesday and Thursday at 1 p.m. The 44-member team represents eight Japanese universities.
The team is visiting the United States primarily for cultural experiences and will play only the two games at UCSD. The team will also visit San Francisco.