At some schools, UCLA All-American volleyball player Trevor Schirman might be able to loaf through his senior season and remain a starter.
But not at UCLA, where Coach Al Scates has won 13 national championships and where practices are apparently tougher than some matches.
Schirman, selected as the 1989 College Player of the Year by Volleyball Monthly after the Bruins won another NCAA title, says he has to stay on his toes if he wants to keep up with his teammates.
He says that Scates' practices "are just like games. He gets the best recruits, and practices are very competitive. You have to be aggressive or you could get lost in the shuffle.
"You can play miraculous matches, but at the end of the season you could be out of there because some guy is playing better than you and has worked harder."
Schirman, a 6-foot, 5-inch, 210-pound middle blocker, said that he has to fight to keep his job because that's the way Scates wants things on his team. "After (a recent) practice, he told us that he doesn't care who plays or who starts because he plays to win."
So, it seems, does Schirman, one of the best athletes to come out of Hawaii's Punahou High School, where the boys volleyball teams seem to win a state championship with some regularity. He didn't play volleyball until he was a sophomore at Punahou, but, under Coach Alan Rosehill, he played on teams that didn't lose a match in three years.
He seems to be the kind of athlete who could have excelled at any sport.
He played basketball for only two years at Punahou but was an all-state forward-center as a senior. In track and field, he was a high jumper, shot-putter, discus thrower and ran the 110-yard hurdles and on the mile relay team.
He never played high school football, primarily because the season overlapped with volleyball, but he was recruited by the University of Hawaii, which wanted to make him a tight end.
So why did he settle on volleyball, a sport that doesn't have as much prestige as football or basketball? Until a few years ago, volleyball players couldn't make much money as professionals, but beach tournaments in the United States have become lucrative and European indoor leagues have become a magnet for American players.
As a sophomore in high school, Schirman, who had never played volleyball, tried it one day at the beach, and it became his sport of choice.
Did he choose it because it gives a player more chances for glory than other sports? Not at all, he said, adding:
"It was almost the opposite of individualism. A basketball game can be taken over by one guy in the fourth quarter. In volleyball, it still takes six guys to get things done. And then a lot of my friends were in volleyball, which was what prompted me to play."
But he does derive individual satisfaction from the sport. "I like the aggressiveness of the sport. People don't realize that, to be a decent player, you have to have some sort of aggressiveness. It's so much fun to stuff-block people; it's like a dunk in basketball."
He has had plenty of individual recognition.
He was considered the nation's best freshman by many in 1987, was an honorable mention All-American as a sophomore and an All-American last year.
Last year he was second in the nation in hitting with a .444 average and third in blocking with an average of 1.87.
He doesn't seem to have lost anything, if his performance in three matches last week is an indication. He had 16 kills and five blocks as the Bruins came from one game down to defeat Hawaii in four games. He had 10 kills and eight blocks in a four-game victory over Cal State Northridge. In a four-game loss to the Israeli national team in the championship match of the Sweats & Surf Tournament, he had 21 kills and six blocks.
He said that he has sometimes had second thoughts about choosing volleyball over other sports. "But every year I regret it less as the money gets better in volleyball. Now you can make a living in it."
Playing volleyball is how he plans to make a living. But first he hopes to be selected to the U.S. national team and play at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
He also hopes to rendezvous with his fiancee, Ann Boyer, in Barcelona. Boyer, a former UCLA All-American setter, plans to try out for the U.S. women's national team and play in the Olympics. She played her last college season in 1988 and is completing work on her degree at UCLA.
Meanwhile, Schirman is concentrating on trying to help the Bruins win another NCAA title, but it won't be easy.
UCLA, ranked second in the nation, has only one other starter from last year's champions: junior quick hitter Mike Whitcomb, who received honorable mention as an All-American last year.
Hawaii, Cal State Long Beach and top-ranked Stanford are among the teams that stand in UCLA's way.
The Cardinal will be especially tough to beat. Five of six starters return from a team that split two regular-season matches with the Bruins last year and tied UCLA for first place in the Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. The Cardinal also took the Bruins to four games before losing in the NCAA final.
Schirman is undaunted, however. He said that Stanford may have better athletes than the Bruins but he thinks he and his teammates are "a little more well-rounded."