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SPORTS NOTEBOOK / PAUL McLEOD : Olympian Puts Academics Ahead of 49er Volleyball This Time

February 18, 1993|PAUL McLEOD

SOUTHEAST AREA — Olympian Brent Hilliard returned to Cal State Long Beach to play volleyball in his senior year, but his mind has not been on the sport in which he was voted the nation's top college player last season.

"Volleyball is kind of in the back pocket," said Hilliard, who led the 49ers to the No. 1 regular season ranking in 1992. "In the past I always put volleyball ahead of school, but this year it's the other way around. I have a very heavy load of classes."

After playing an important role for the Olympic team that won the bronze medal in Barcelona last summer, the 6-foot-5 outside hitter was expected to play for the U.S. team in the professional World League instead of returning to Long Beach.

But Hilliard is sticking to a promise he made to his parents--that he would earn a college degree. He is four classes shy of a degree in political science and he expects to graduate in May.

There are times, though, when his mind wanders from his studies.

"I'm glad that I made the decision to come back to school," Hilliard said, but added that he would like to be "making money by playing volleyball internationally."

After the high of the Olympics, it was difficult for Hilliard to step back on the court in December for practice at Long Beach.

"It's still a little difficult for him," Coach Ray Ratelle said. "He's been getting better every match and he's getting his mind back in there, but he's not 100%."

The biggest challenge, according to Ratelle and Hilliard, is for a player of international caliber to readjust to less talented players.

"Internationally, the players are pros," Hilliard said. "They are doing this for a living. They are huge, they work out every day and they have been playing for years and years.

"In the pros, not too many guys are under 6-5. In college, there are tons of kids under 6-5 and the college-level kids are still learning the game. Internationally, the players already know the game and now they're just refining it."

This is a transition year for Long Beach, which won the NCAA title in 1991 and was eliminated last season before the final-four tournament. The 49ers, who had won 86 of 101 matches going into this season, are off to a 5-6 start.

Hilliard earlier this month became the all-time college leader in career kills. But his per-game average in that category is down from 7.5 to 5.2. He had only 13 kills in Saturday's 3-0 win at University of the Pacific. He came back with 29 Sunday against Stanford, but Long Beach lost, 3-1.

Ratelle, trying to avoid the temptation of playing Hilliard too much, held him out of two recent matches. "I had to do that or otherwise he's going to get all the sets," Ratelle said.

SUNKIST INVITATIONAL: Former Long Beach City College sprinter Bryan Bridgewater tops a large field of area participants in Saturday's 34th Sunkist Invitational indoor track and field meet at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Bridgewater, now competing for Cal State Los Angeles, is coming off the best season of his career. In 1992, he posted lifetime bests of 10.15 seconds in the 100 meters and 20.15 in the 200 meters and made it to the semifinals in both events at the Olympic trials.

He set school records at Long Beach City College in both the 100 and 200 meters and was the 1989 state champion in the 200.

"He's the finest sprinter in the history of Long Beach City College," Viking Coach Ron Allice said.

At the Sunkist Invitational, Bridgewater will compete in a 500-yard run, the longest race of his career.

The favorite in the event is Olympic 400-meter hurdles champion Kevin Young. Among the other entrants is Gerald McCladdie of Long Beach City College, the state community college champion last year in the 400 meters.

Top high school performers invited include Karen Vigilant of Wilson and Wintress Lang of Centennial in the girls triple jump and Xavier Howland of Poly in the boys triple jump; Michael Granville of Bell Gardens in the boys 500-yard run and Jo'Launa Gilford of Poly and Michelle Nelson of Wilson in the girls 500-yard run.

Julio Falcon of Montebello, Sara Lee Reyes of Lakewood and Leslie Chowan and Erica Sumi of Wilson will compete in mile runs; Chanelle Anderson of Poly and Keisha Doby of Lynwood will enter the girls long jump, and Jeffrey Ridgeway of Lynwood and Howland of Poly will be in the boys long jump.

Jorge Perea of Huntington Park will compete in the two-mile run; Christine Lewis of Wilson in the girls 880-yard run; Amikia Hazel of Gahr and Damarionz Knight of Lynwood in the boys 50-yard dash; and Anderson of Poly, Aminah Haddad of Poly, Andrea Anderson of Poly, Lakeisha Backus of Wilson, Miesha McKelvy of Gahr and Lisa Key of Lynwood in the girls 50-meter dash. McKelvy also will compete in the girls 50-meter hurdles.

Cobert Sims of Lynwood will compete in the boys 50-meter hurdles; Alfonta Jackson of Wilson and Jacobi Thompson of Pius X in the high jump, and Sergio Alusha of El Rancho in the pole vault.

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