How do you say goodby to Tara Cross and little Sheri Sanders, a hitter and setter who in four years at Cal State Long Beach developed into one of the most dangerous combinations in collegiate women's volleyball?
To Trisonya Thompson, a middle blocker unselfishly adept anywhere on the court and skilled in all aspects of the game?
As seniors, the three played leadership roles as the 49ers swept aside all 17 opponents at home, rolled to a 32-5 overall record and dominated their NCAA final four competition as no team had before, bringing home the national championship shortly before Christmas.
"We won't say goodby. They're going to be friends of mine . . . forever," Coach Brian Gimmillaro said of the seniors.
Gimmillaro has known Thompson since she was 13. He became acquainted with Cross and Sanders early on as well.
At Long Beach, Cross and Sanders played for him as freshmen, which he said simplified his task of building a quality team. And Cross, who also played for Gimmillaro at Cerritos' Gahr High as a sophomore and junior, was as disciplined then as she was as a college senior.
"She does precisely what's instructed--exactly," Gimmillaro said of his outside hitter. "If her left elbow is supposed to be at a 40-degree angle, it's not going to be at a 30-degree angle. It's going to be at a 40-degree angle. If her left foot is supposed to turn in at a certain angle, her left foot is turned in at that angle."
Sanders, only 5-feet-2, is from Riverside's Norte Vista High. Sanders was not offered a scholarship by any other top Division I volleyball school.
"She was by far the smallest setter in college volleyball," Gimmillaro said. "There's no way she \o7 should\f7 have been a top college setter."
But she became one.
Then there was Thompson, who along with Antoinette White was dissatisfied at USC. They transferred to Long Beach and played key roles on Gimmillaro's championship team.
Thompson was familiar with his style, having played for him at Gahr.
"I left USC because the coaching wasn't what I expected," she said.
She described Gimmillaro's game as being "more complex than USC's ever was."
With such big guns as Cross, White, Christine Romero, Vicki Pullins and Debbie Steele, Sanders had control of a team she felt was as complete as could be.
"Tara and I came in together with the idea in mind that we were going to win the national championship before we graduated," she said. "From the start, we just basically built our team together with recruits and new players. Gimmillaro, by our sophomore and junior years, had hand-picked his own team."
That team became perhaps the quickest, most complex team in collegiate volleyball history.
"One of the better teams ever in volleyball, I think," Gimmillaro said.
And few will argue.
"They play a very fast-paced game, which a lot of the other schools aren't able to do as effectively," said UCLA Coach Andy Banachowski, who recently finished his 23rd year with the Bruins.
Banachowski compared the Cross-Sanders combination to that of the Rams' Jim Everett and Flipper Anderson. Or the San Francisco 49ers' Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
"It's the same sort of thing," he said. "They're on the same wavelength. They just put it together very well."
Terry Liskevych, coach of the women's national team, described the Long Beach women as a team "that can get you from a lot of different angles. They play a real fast offense and just use their athleticism well."
That became evident when the 49ers fought their way to the NCAA final four at Honolulu. Once there, they had little trouble.
"We wanted to play and that showed in both matches," Sanders said.
Long Beach ran past Texas Arlington in four sets in advancing to the final. Top-ranked UCLA was upset in three by Nebraska in its semifinal, matching the lightning-fast 49ers against a bigger and hard-hitting Cornhusker team.
Nebraska powered to a 9-1 lead in the first set, but the 49ers took control of the match thereafter. Using their speed and versatility, they came back and won the opener, 15-12. They then became the first team ever to shut out an opponent in an NCAA championship sets, 15-0. And they won the final set, 15-6, to finish the most one-sided championship match ever.
Nebraska Coach Terry Pettit called the 49ers intense, and was quoted as saying: "They played a tempo that we could draw on the board, but it would be hard to simulate."
Volleyball Monthly magazine, which stood alone in tabbing the 49ers as the nation's No. 1 team as far back as September, described Long Beach as having "the most sophisticated offensive scheme in the country," citing its combination of plays, long bombs by Cross and White, and the jumping ability and setting accuracy of Sanders.
Rather than having their hitters stand behind the setter, as is customary, the 49ers constantly ran patterns and kept Nebraska off balance.
Cross and Sanders ran right into the record books.