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Youngs Adds Intensity to Team : Volleyball: Former UCLA and El Toro star leads young U.S. squad tonight at Bren Center.

March 22, 1994|MIKE REILLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — Elaine Youngs doesn't necessarily call it a full-on youth movement, but she's certainly part of a team in transition in her first full year with the U.S. national volleyball squad.

It has been a season of opportunity, transition and, at times, frustration, for Youngs, a former All-American at UCLA and El Toro High.

And the same could be said for the U.S. team, which has lost name after name from its roster in the last nine months.

A new version of the national team will meet China at 7 tonight at the Bren Center, the final stop on the five-city "Stars and Spikes" tour.

Gone is Irvine's Kim Oden, one of the team's leaders the past several years, who retired after the Olympics.

Gone, at least for the time being, is Oden's sister, Bev, who is studying at Stanford but expects to return to the national team once she completes school.

Gone is former UCLA star Natalie Williams, who's out for the rest of the season because of a broken leg.

And gone are Elaina Oden, who's playing in Italy with Tara Cross-Battle, and Caren Kemner, who is playing in Brazil. Elaina Oden and Kemner are expected to rejoin the national team.

But while the veterans are away, the youngsters will play.

The national team's immediate future is in the hands of newcomers such as Youngs, Louisiana State's Angie Miller, UCLA's Samantha Shaver and Jenny Evans, Stanford's Amy Cooper and Kristin Klein, and Long Beach State's Alicia Mills. Will they carry their level of play to the next level? It's a question yet to be answered.

All the young players are rich in college experience, members of teams that won or contended for national championships every year. Yet none has played more than 60 international matches. Youngs has played in 48 entering tonight's match.

"I see the 1996 Olympic team as a mix of younger players and the veterans," Youngs said. "We have a lot of young players right now, players who need experience. Natalie is injured but still in the picture, and Bev and myself. We have a lot of good, young players on this team."

But so far, the young U.S. team has struggled against a Chinese team that features four players with Olympic experience--outside hitter Sun Yue, middle blockers Lai Yawen, Su Liqun and Wang Yi.

China won the first three matches on the tour, including a sweep last Friday at San Jose. China outscored the Americans, 45-20, in the match.

But Youngs, a 6-foot outside hitter, has been one of the few bright spots during the recent stretch, averaging a team-high 18 kills in the three losses.

"If everyone had the aggressiveness of Elaine," U.S. Coach Terry Liskevych said, "we would be much better off. She brings something to the battle that a lot of people don't.

"She's an intense competitor, and when you put that with her athleticism, you have a great package."

You want intense? When Youngs played at El Toro from 1985-88, an opponent once said she felt as if "Elaine, at any moment, is going to turn around and punch me in the face."

You want competitive? Her shouting was nearly legendary during matches on the Bud Light four-player beach tour last spring.

Liskevych looks for that kind of intensity in his athletes. Youngs reminds him somewhat of Kemner, the team's fiery six-time MVP.

"The thing I've noticed about Elaine is that she's very hard on herself when she's not playing at her highest level," Liskevych said. "It's in her actions on and off the court. When she's not successful, if she hits into the block or serves into the net, you can see the disappointment on her face.

"She needs to just forget it and move on to the next play. That's the only thing you can control in that situation--the next play."

Youngs' aggressiveness first caught Liskevych's eye in 1989, when she trained temporarily with the national team. She moved on to UCLA, where she was named an All-American three times, played on two NCAA championship teams and was tournament MVP in 1991.

She played on two medal-winning teams at the World University Games, earning the bronze in 1991 at Sheffield, England, and the silver at Buffalo, N.Y., last summer.

Youngs had joined the national team in April, just before departing for the World University Games. She trained with the national team for about a week, then started a series of matches in a tournament in Switzerland.

"I never actually had a tryout," Youngs said. "I was still enrolled at UCLA when I practiced with the team for a few days, then went to Switzerland. I guess that was my tryout."

Nine months later, Youngs admits she still is adjusting to the travel demands and high level of competition the national team plays night after night.

"It's tough at this level, because you're playing against great teams and great players all the time," she said. "In college, you played three or four really tough matches a year. But at this level, it's much more physical, much tougher.

"But I'm ready for it. I've been waiting for this for a long, long time."

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