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UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / JOHN WEYLER : She Moves From Softball to Volleyball, With a Stopover for Track

October 18, 1994|JOHN WEYLER

Denise Dumble was pleased, but not particularly surprised, when she set a school record with seven aces in a game during her volleyball debut at UC Irvine.

If a sport requires a strong, overhand throwing motion, a Dumble can do it. Her older sister, Dawn, 22, throws the discus and shot at UCLA. Her twin brother, David, 19, throws the discus and hammer for the Bruins.

And last season at Bakersfield College--her first as a track and field athlete--Denise finished eighth in Southern California in the shot put.

"I had played softball all my life until then," she said, "but I wanted to concentrate on volleyball and I decided to play track, uh, you don't play track, you participate in track, just for something to do in the off-season."

Never one to take the easy route, Dumble decided to compete in the heptathlon. Why not learn five new events instead of only one?

"It was quite an adventure," she said. "I was pretty good at the javelin, too, but I had no technique. I just threw it. It was a lot of fun, though. I can't stand to just sit around."

Flinging iron spheres or spears or even herself around the volleyball court comes naturally for Dumble. Sitting still in the classroom does not. But Dumble, an English major, is working diligently to emphasize the student in student-athlete.

"It's been very tough adjusting to school," she said. "The classes are so much harder. Volleyball is a challenge but it's fun. The academic side is really a lot of pressure, though. A lot of pressure. Everybody in this dang school is a genius except me."

Dumble is certainly no dumbbell on the court, however. She knows how to maximize her all-around skills and is third on the team in kills, fourth in blocks, second in aces and sixth in digs.

"Denise is a player who thinks a lot out there," Coach Mike Puritz said, "sometimes maybe even a little too much. Sometimes, I'd like to see her just go ahead and use her strength instead of trying to be too specific. She's a very powerful player. She hits one of the heaviest balls on the team.

"She's capable of igniting this team with her serving and blocking and offense, but she's had to make a bit of an adjustment to playing at this level and, unfortunately, dealing with this level of success."

Bakersfield lost only four matches last year. The Anteaters (5-13 and 4-7 in the Big West) have struggled while trying to adjust to each other under the fire of a schedule that includes eight matches against teams ranked among the top 10 in the country.

"We just haven't come together as a team," Dumble said. "With so many new players coming in, we've been trying to learn everything and learn each other at the same time.

"We've been letting down, losing focus and letting ourselves get caught up in our mistakes."

Irvine is 3-3 in its last six matches, however, and one of those losses was to 10th-ranked Long Beach State. The Anteaters did manage to take a game from the 49ers, who have dropped a game to only three unranked teams since 1982.

"We played really good that match and that game was sort of a turning point for us, I think," Dumble said. "It wasn't just that we found out we could compete with almost anybody. We played a lot harder and I think it made us realize where we could be and how much better we can be.

"We all get along great, off the court, too, which I think is really important. And we've stuck together through the losing. We just need to learn to win as a team. It takes more than just skills, it takes work, desire and heart."

*

Lion-hearted: Dumble's favorite "movie star" is Simba, the lead character in the Disney movie "The Lion King." She has Simba stuffed animals, Simba stickers, Simba posters, even Simba bandages.

She also roars before every match.

"It's just to get everyone going," she said.

*

The long shot: Shooting guard Chris Brown led the nation in three-point shooting last year, providing the Anteaters with almost 15 points per game on long-range jumpers.

Brown, who did not become eligible until mid-December last season, might have slipped in a few over unsuspecting defenses last season. He won't sneak up on anyone this season, however, so Coach Rod Baker is doing his best to make sure his senior sharpshooter gets a decent view of the target.

"Chris made 4.7 three-pointers a game last year and that's something you can easily get dependent upon," Baker said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to find a way to get him some shots without people hanging all over him. And hopefully, he'll be able to make as many as he did last year.

"But we have been able to get guys shots in the past. We tell all our recruits, 'We'll get you shots. You have to make them."'

*

P.J. watch: Senior P.J. Polowski racked up nine more points this weekend--scoring twice in each of two games--to boost his season total to 40 points. He's the second-leading scorer in the nation.

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