After moving to the head of the class, Loyola Marymount middle blocker Andy Zimmerman is trying to be the biggest kid on the block.
The 6-foot-7 Zimmerman, who completed work on an engineering degree last spring and is in his first year of graduate studies in mechanical engineering, is Loyola's career leader in block assists (207), including 65 this season. Zimmerman also ranks second on the team with 197 kills and 104 digs.
But when he first joined the Lions as a walk-on in 1990, Zimmerman played in only five matches. Untested, he has practically learned the game as a collegian.
At Bishop Montgomery High, Zimmerman played volleyball for fun because basketball and football were priorities. His younger brother, John, was a two-year starting quarterback for the Knights.
"Andy is really a student of the game," said first-year Loyola Coach Rick McLaughlin, who was a senior setter for the Lions during Zimmerman's freshman season. "That is why he is so successful. He has to have total discipline to be as good as he is at anything."
Zimmerman, the team's captain, had given up athletics after high school. But a couple of weeks into his freshman year at Loyola, he felt that something was missing.
Originally he planned to fill it by playing basketball, but he was too intimidated to try out because the Lions were nationally ranked at the time.
"Basketball is my first love," Zimmerman said. "That's what I really wanted to do. But I had to play something."
Zimmerman attended volleyball tryouts for several weeks, but quit before cuts were made because he was struggling to balance athletics and academics.
He regrouped and made the team the next year. It took a while before he got a chance to play.
"I'll never forget, when I was a senior and he was trying out for the team," McLaughlin said, "We did a blocking drill and he kind of tore the net down. He was so inexperienced. The seniors on the team said 'Oh wow. No way. He can't make it.' It's unbelievable the improvement he has made."
As a sophomore in 1991, Zimmerman played in 22 of 23 matches. He also earned Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. player-of-the-week honors. He averaged 3.46 kills, including a season-high 23, and led the team with 68 block assists.
As a junior, Zimmerman had 91 blocks and double figures in kills in 18 matches.
"He's one of the better players to have played at LMU," said Pepperdine Coach Marv Dunphy, who has led the Waves to three NCAA titles. "To me he's really made an impact on the program. He has a lot of ability and he competes real well."
Zimmerman, 22, has prospered despite being the player that opponents target.
"Other teams know he's our key weapon," said McLaughlin, who has guided Loyola to a 5-16 record, including a 4-13 mark in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. "So they match up their best guys against him. It's kind of like double-teaming guys in basketball. He handles it real well."
Zimmerman, who has two older and two younger brothers, made the dean's list at Bishop Montgomery each year despite playing three sports.
He attends graduate classes at Loyola three nights a week and spends mornings doing homework. The team practices in the afternoon and matches are usually during weeknights, so Zimmerman gets lecture notes from professors.
As an undergraduate, he was one of three people in a class of eight to obtain an engineering degree in four years. He graduated with a 2.95 grade-point average.
Zimmerman, who plans to finish work on a masters degree in the next two years, wants to give the pro beach volleyball tour a try after completing his eligibility at Loyola.
"I've had a very enjoyable volleyball career," Zimmerman said.
What would he change?
"If I had to make a change I would have tried out for the basketball team. That's the only thing that I regret."