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She's Forever Living Up to Her Potential : Volleyball: The resume of Tammy Liley, Ocean View graduate, includes two Olympics with a third on the horizon.

August 22, 1993|KIM Q. BERKSHIRE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Hard to say where Tammy Liley would be today if a neophyte college coach hadn't taken a chance on her, a gamble that eventually led Liley down a twisted but lucrative path.

Safe to say, she wouldn't have made several Olympic appearances or won a bronze medal.

Liley, who was Tammy Webb when she graduated from Ocean View High in 1983, was without a care in the world when she left high school with sketchy, if not entirely lofty, plans for the future.

"I had a serious boyfriend at the time. I figured I would marry him and have babies," said Liley, who shakes her head in disbelief and a little embarrassment in retrospect. "I look back from where I am now and can't believe I ever thought that way."

It wasn't a tradition for the Webb women to go to college and have a career outside the home. Her mother didn't, and one older sister married and had children out of high school. Another married at a young age. College didn't enter Lily's mind until she was offered a full scholarship to play volleyball at Arizona State.

"I know it sounds weird, but it was a huge surprise," she said. "I wasn't on a very good team in high school. I never thought I was good enough."

Former ASU Coach Debbie Brown, now at Notre Dame, didn't see a potentially dazzling superstar when she first eyed the 5-foot-11 middle blocker. What she saw was a very quick, very explosive and very coachable athlete, certainly one good enough for a four-year stint in the college ranks.

"Maybe she wasn't the most recruited player, but she was a great athlete who was able to pick things up and improve quickly," Brown said of her first recruit.

Brown felt Liley could help ASU but never dreamed she would aid any future U.S. women's programs.

"When I was recruiting her, I never figured she'd be a national team member and three-time Olympian, which she'll probably be," Brown said.

At last count, Liley's career spans two All-American college seasons, two Olympics, countless international tournaments, and most recently, her first complete season on the Bud 4-Woman beach tour.

And all signs indicate Liley, who shares most-veteran status on the national team with Caren Kemner, isn't about to slow down. The current U.S. team captain put her college education on hold and plans to play through the 1996 Olympics, at which point she hopes to return to ASU to complete her degree and coach.

"I haven't had much of a life outside of volleyball," Liley said. "But it's been so good to me."

With no prestigious club experience to boost her credentials--"I didn't even know about club volleyball until some girls in high school told me about it," she said--Liley was a virtual unknown.

When she tried out for her first major tournament, the 1987 World University Games, Liley was in a roomful of players she considered legends of the game. In fact, the wide-eyed kid from Westminster had to tell a national team coach who she was before he could add her to the squad.

"Here I was, invited to the tryout, and they didn't even know my name," she remembered.

National team tryouts were equally humbling. On a daily basis, Liley, who was about to start her senior year at ASU, would file into workouts only to see her name at the bottom of every conceivable statistic sheet.

"I was so awful," she said. "But other girls at the bottom like me got cut. I didn't see the difference, but I guess they saw potential. That's been the word of my life."

Besides talent, what pulled her through was the respect she held for her teammates.

"That's what I think was so different for me," Liley said. "So many of these girls think they can come in and start. I was just glad to be there."

Since Liley never considered herself a big deal--and still doesn't--she finds it odd to hear young athletes talk about their future so matter-of-factly.

"It blows me away to hear people saying, 'I'm going to the '96 Olympics,' " she said. "I'm like, 'Do you even think about what you're saying? Do you know what it takes?' But that's because I never grew up dreaming about the Olympics or thinking like that."

Terry Liskevych, U.S. coach, calls Liley the best attacker in the world and "one of the most important elements of our team's success."

Liley wasn't the odds-on favorite to be named captain of the national team. The position is usually picked through a team vote, but in this instance, Liskevych appointed her after the 1992 Summer Games, where the women returned with the bronze medal.

In fact, according to Kemner and Liskevych, the women wouldn't have made it to Barcelona if it hadn't been for Liley, who has been a key reserve all along.

In the fall of 1991, the Americans were down to their last chance to qualify for the one remaining spot in the '92 Olympics. The team was in Japan, and in trouble.

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