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LONG BEACH STATE NOTEBOOK / JASON REID : Fear Is Gone, but 49er Volleyball Still Formidable

October 04, 1994|JASON REID

No question about it, the women's volleyball team is not perfect.

Gone are the days, and there were many, when Coach Brian Gimmillaro's 49ers would just show up at opponents' gyms, spike a few balls in warm-ups and breeze through matches. What's more, visiting teams don't recoil in fear nearly as much as they used to.

Compared with past teams, the 49ers need some molding. Nothing drastic like a complete overhaul, mind you, but Gimmillaro has some tinkering to do.

"We're not as good as we were last year at this point; no doubt about that," Gimmillaro said. "This team needs to improve more than any team we've had in a long time."

However, dark days aren't on the horizon. Actually, the next sign of serious trouble will be the first.

Gimmillaro guided Long Beach to the NCAA title last season. The 49ers also won the 1989 national championship under Gimmillaro and have advanced to the last three final fours.

And they're in motion again.

Long Beach (9-3, 5-1 in the Big West Conference) is ranked ninth in the nation after splitting its last two matches.

The 49ers defeated Cal State Fullerton on Friday, 15-2, 15-2, 15-9. They lost their first conference match Saturday to fellow perennial power UC Santa Barbara, 11-15, 15-10, 15-12, 6-15, 15-7. Long Beach has lost only three of 60 conference matches the last four seasons; two to Santa Barbara.

"(Santa Barbara) plays us harder than they play any other team," Gimmillaro said. "It was very exciting because there were a lot of runs. They just played a little better."

Although the matches against Fullerton and Santa Barbara marked the first time Long Beach played consecutive road matches against different opponents this season, Gimmillaro dismissed fatigue as a factor. Continuing the theme, more work is necessary.

"I put pressure on myself and on the team for every point," Gimmillaro said. "It's pressure but it's not negative pressure.

"Are we improving at a good rate? Yes. Are we capable of doing better? Yes. We'll just have to see if we can get good enough."

Past performances indicate the work will get done.

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Top player? A 49er has been selected as national player of the year in four of the last six years, and Gimmillaro believes that number should grow by one. Long Beach is promoting senior outside hitter Nichelle Burton for this season's award.

Burton (5 feet 10), who specializes in kills, was a first-team All-American selection last season.

"The bigger the game," Gimmillaro said, "the more she wants the ball."

Burton, a native of Phoenix, is skilled in building support: She is the first 49er captain to be unanimously selected, Gimmillaro said.

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No more doctors: Nothing personal, but water polo Coach Ken Lindgren would rather not deal with people carrying penlights and medical charts for oh, say, the rest of his career.

Four of Lindgren's starters have injuries (back problems, shoulder problems, hand problems, etc.) that might keep them out for the rest of the season. Another starter is suffering from some sort of stress-related disorder that has doctors recommending he give up competitive sports.

Because of the mounting list of unavailable players, the optimism Lindgren experienced at the beginning of the season has been crushed.

The 49ers are 2-11, 0-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. They were 6-18, 1-9 last season, but believed better times were ahead because of several strong returners and a 10-player recruiting class. Lindgren redshirted the entire recruiting class.

"We were pretty confident we were going to be doggone good this year," Lindgren said. "If I'd known we'd have this many injuries I would have probably played some of these younger kids to get them experience.

"But to pull them off their redshirt seasons now isn't going to help us any."

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Running man: Cross-country Coach Andy Sythe is pleased with freshman Pat Bendzick, who at the Stanford Invitational Saturday ran one of the all-time fastest course times by a 49er.

Bendzick finished the 8,000-meter course in 26 minutes 37 seconds, good for 58th place.

"Pat did a terrific job," Sythe said. "He now knows he can run with the top people."

Notes

Long Beach will host a basketball clinic Oct. 21-22. Men's basketball Coach Seth Greenberg will direct the clinic, which is open to coaches of all levels. Registration is $30. More information: (310) 985-8185.

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