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A Higher Level : Long Beach's Misty May Sets Her Sights on NCAA Dominance


LONG BEACH — She studies everything. No point is too insignificant, no approach too mundane for Misty May.

That May, a Long Beach State freshman volleyball star, often knows what her coaches want beforehand doesn't matter. She's attentive anyway; always on the attack.

Once the lessons are learned, then the fun starts. Her athleticism takes over and May plays at a higher level than most.

"She's a really good player," said team captain Brita Schwerm.

"She stepped in right away. She's added a lot of strong qualities to the team immediately."

May's style hasn't changed much. It's almost the same formula she used to become what some say was the best volleyball player in Orange County history, while at Newport Harbor High. One slight difference: May understands and does more now.

"Even if the coaches aren't talking to me, I listen to what they're telling the other players," said May, 18. "Just from listening to what other players are told, it's helped me so much.

"I've learned a lot since I've been here and I think I've become a better player."

She is better than advertised and her freshman season isn't over yet. Already her coaches include May when they discuss the game's best setters, a position she's played little. Moreover, May overcame her first serious injury and two position switches, emerging as a go-to player on an inexperienced team.

None of this, of course, came as a surprise.

"There isn't anyone in the country I'd rather have. She will be tremendous," said Coach Brian Gimmillaro, who's not prone to hyperbole. "She is one of the best in the country right now. Our program will only get better as she progresses."

This from someone who won two NCAA titles before May stepped on campus. Gimmillaro's excitement, though, is warranted.

May took the starting setting position after about a day of practice, if that. She probably owned the job the second she committed to the 49ers, disappointing every other major program.

She arrived with a trunkload of awards and more praise than most achieve in a lifetime. There were several player-of-the-year awards, and May's name topped most recruiting lists.

May (5 feet 9) is sixth in the Big West Conference in assists per game, averaging 11.0. This after being a dominant outside hitter for three of her four stellar seasons with the Sailors, two of which ended with State championships.

She played setter last as a high school freshman, and the Southern Section isn't quite major Division I volleyball. May had her doubts.

"I was very nervous," she said. "It's a lot different from high school. Even though I knew some of it, I was learning the position all over again."

Enter 49er assistant coach Debbie Green. She was the setter on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team and is regarded as one of the greatest in the game's history.

Green takes personal interest in May's development, and they have become friends. Green expects greatness from May.

"She could be better than me," Green said. "She has more athletic ability than I did and she knows the game.

"There are a lot of athletes who can listen to instructions for three hours. But to take those instructions and right away execute perfectly is incredible. She's exceptional at that."

May's progress hasn't been derailed despite some obstacles. She missed two matches after suffering a dislocated right shoulder in practice Sept. 26. And Gimmillaro, recently needing a lineup with more offensive punch, returned May to a hitter position for the last three matches.

Not problem for May.

"I've played every position, not this year but in the past, so it's easy for me to adapt to new situations," she said. "I feel a little rusty in the hitting aspect, and I'd really like to stay with setting, but I'll do whatever is going to help the team."

The temporary switch might help May individually too, Gimmillaro said. Gaining new perspective has its benefits.

"Sometimes it's good for a player to change," he said. "It's like the scorer in basketball who moves to the point [guard] position. It gives you more appreciation for the other position."

Gimmillaro isn't sure when he will move May back to setter. However, her future is at setter.

"She's got the ability, the desire, the whole package to become maybe the game's best setter," Gimmillaro said. "I'd like her to do things that haven't been done before in the game.

"I think she came here for that reason. That's our goal, and I think that's her goal too."

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