UCLA volleyball star Daiva Tomkus says that her first name is the Lithuanian word for goddess. It fits her.
The 6-foot, 1-inch senior is Junoesque in stature, and she is a commanding presence on the volleyball court.
Mortals have given her countless honors, and her numerous athletic achievements verge on the miraculous.
A middle blocker's middle blocker, Daiva (pronounced DYE-vah) was the first player on any UCLA women's volleyball team to become an All-American as a sophomore and the first to be named Pacific 10 Conference Player of the Year. If she is named a National Collegiate Athletic Assn. All-American again this season (which looks like a cinch), she will be the first Bruin selected three times for that honor.
She was also named a U.S. Volleyball Assn. All-American this year. She played with the U.S. national team last summer and plans to play with the U.S. again, possibly including the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
She seems well on her way to becoming the best woman volleyball player in UCLA history. She is in the top 10 in all categories of school records: first in career hitting percentage (.335), second in service aces, third in unassisted blocks and block assists, fifth in total blocks, sixth in digs, seventh in kills and 10th in kill attempts.
She needs 14 solo blocks, seven block assists and 104 total blocks to move into the top spot in those categories.
Tomkus has never declared herself a divinity because of her achievements, but she has proceeded in that direction in stages.
At Chaminade High School in West Hills, she excelled in basketball, track and volleyball. San Fernando Valley League championship and was named to the All-CIF Southern Section first team. She was also selected as a homecoming and prom princess. As a UCLA freshman, she had to play behind Lisa Ettesvold and Sharyl Bilas. But as a sophomore, she fulfilled her promise by making All-American in her first year as a starter. She was an All-American again last year, but that achievement was overshadowed by the team's extraordinary year.
The 1988 Bruins became the first team to finish the regular season with an undefeated record. UCLA headed into the NCAA playoffs with a 31-0 record and won three more matches before losing to Texas in three games in the playoff semifinals.
UCLA had twice defeated Texas last year on the road, once in four games and another time in three games, so the loss to the Longhorns in the NCAAs was a shocking upset.
Tomkus said she thinks that Texas had "wholeheartedly prepared for us" in the NCAAs and that UCLA may have overlooked the Longhorns because it had beaten them twice during the regular season. She said she heard the Texas coach say after the match that the Longhorns had spent a great deal of time reviewing films of UCLA. She said the Bruins probably didn't spend as much time in preparation as Texas.
Although Tomkus and the Bruins have achieved many records and honors, she has missed out on the one tribute that would mean more than any: an NCAA championship.
She said the thought of adding to her records doesn't motivate her. "In that sense, the records are not a concern. But the enthusiasm and the spirit of my teammates is. It's so alive; that's something you can feel."
The goddess believes that her game still has flaws. "I have to work on my passing and digging. I also have to improve on adjusting my hitting styles to our new setters (junior Traci Broadway and sophomore Jennifer Gratteau). (Self-improvement) doesn't really ever stop; you just have to go with it."
She said that the game "is getting harder for me because there is so much more that I want. I want the team to win the NCAA championship, and volleyball is taking more of my time than it used to because I want (a national title) so much more."
Nationally top-ranked Hawaii, which handed the third-ranked Bruins their only loss of the season in a road match, and Stanford are among the teams to beat for an NCAA title. But Tomkus thinks the Bruins can do it.
"All we have to do is get together and play well," she said, "because this team is really talented. We have so much talent that (Coach Andy Banachowski) doesn't know what to do with us."
Banachowski has experimented with a variety of lineups, and Tomkus has been the one big constant. The team's biggest loss from last year was All-American setter Ann Boyer, quarterback of last year's 34-1 team. Broadway and Gratteau have been starting in place of Boyer.
Tomkus, 21, acknowledges that the team misses Boyer. "I grew up with her, and I learned how to connect with her really well. Ann would get us into the flow of things, but the setters we have now are doing really well.
"The largest problem for Coach Banachowski is getting us together to play as a team rather than as individuals."
Togetherness is something Tomkus seems to value. As she was being interviewed on campus, a group of football players walked by, and several went out of their way to say hello and to kid her about her status as a volleyball star.