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Turnaround Hopes : Nancy Fortner Aims to Overcome a Losing Habit for the CSDH Women's Volleyball Team--and Her Own Career Disappointments : Coaching: Ex-Olympian Nancy Fortner was never given a full-time position despite leading Dominguez Hills, in an earlier stint, and Loyola to national rankings. Since she left, both programs declined. This time she hopes her efforts will be rewarded, and not just on the court.

October 29, 1989|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brilliant sunlight burned off the overcast shrouding the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills, sending shards of light through a field house window and across Nancy Fortner's desk.

Fortner, the third women's volleyball coach here in the past five years, squinted, wrinkling her nose. It was early in the morning and the room glowed, unlike the sport she was rehired to turn around. A decade ago she coached a successful program here. But she, like the sun, found things in a fog.

"There is a certain attitude that needs to be changed," she said off the top. "You get into a mode where you get used to losing, and then you can't win. I think I can build a program here, but it will take time."

In the South Bay, where volleyball flourishes on the beaches, in public schools and private clubs, the Dominguez Hills women's program has not been a shining star. Fortner is supposed to lead women's volleyball out of its malaise, a not-so-bright prospect even for a woman who professes to like a good challenge.

The Lady Toros have had only one winning season since moving to the Division II level in 1982. This year, with few recruits available because Fortner was hired in midsummer, Dominguez Hills is 7-13 overall and once again winless in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn.

Fortner was hired as part of a master plan by Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, who wants to build Dominguez Hills into a national power on the Division II level. In just over a year Guerrero has taken a personal hand in recruiting athletes; he has hired four new coaches, a sports information director and an athletic fund-raiser.

As a member of the 1964 and 1968 U.S. Olympic volleyball teams, Fortner fits nicely into Guerrero's plans. She is internationally known, a former All-American at Pepperdine. She competes on the senior tour of the U.S. Volleyball Assn., and her coaching record is proven: a fourth-place finish nationally among small schools at Dominguez Hills in 1978 and Loyola Marymount's only conference title and appearance in the Division I playoffs in 1986.

But more important, says Guerrero, she brings a ray of hope to the university because she is a winner: "She has a reputation for being an outstanding person, and she has instilled in her the work ethic that we want here at Dominguez Hills."

Despite her successful record, Fortner has never held a full-time coaching job until now.

She was the first volleyball coach Dominguez Hills had when the program began in 1973, but was passed over for a full-time faculty position here in 1979.

She moved into another part-time role at Loyola, where the upgrading of her status to full time was promised but never delivered. She gave the school an ultimatum in 1986 after the Lions won the West Coast Athletic Conference title, then upset UCLA in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. When her request to be hired full time was rejected, she resigned to go into the private sector. Her ability to make a living at the sport she loved had temporarily come to an end.

Actually, she and her husband, Ron, the women's basketball coach at Pepperdine, hadn't been doing so well at making a living at all. Their personal debts mounted each season that Nancy did not bring home a full-time salary. Ron had to take a second job driving an airport shuttle van at night. They had to sell their San Pedro home.

"It's a very unsettling feeling to be in debt, very stressful," Fortner said.

Her bright blue eyes twinkled as she squinted against the bright sunlight. They're not out of the financial thicket yet, she said. "It's scary."

Fortner's inability to financially capitalize on a sport that had been a major part of her life left deep emotional scars because she allowed herself to get close to each of her teams.

"She is very motherly to her athletes," said Loyola Athletic Director Brian Quinn.

And dedicated, according to friends and relatives.

"She is a very loyal person, wherever she worked," explained Ron. "She never really wanted to leave Dominguez Hills the first time."

Nancy took the disappointment at Loyola very hard.

"Where I'm from, you work hard, do a good job, and they should reward you for that," Fortner said. "That's basic."

Fortner built the Lions into a Division I conference winner with virtually no financial support from the school's administration. She asked Quinn to create a full-time position for her. She felt she deserved that because of what she had done for the school's image. But her request was just too much for a tight-fisted administration to deal with.

Said Quinn: "At that point in our history we were a small school; then overnight we moved into the warfare on the Division I Level. . . . At that time the university could not provide (full-time) employment (for Fortner)."

Despite urging by Quinn, the Rev. James N. Loughran, president of Loyola, vetoed a request to create a full-time women's volleyball coaching position.

"The funds just weren't there," Quinn explained.

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