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UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / JOHN WEYLER

Harger Rises Fast in Volleyball

February 08, 1996|JOHN WEYLER

He was a tight end, but too slight to star as a football player. And despite his height, Chris Harger hardly stood out as a center on a very competitive Long Beach Poly basketball team.

Then, before his junior year, a coach asked if he was interested in volleyball. Well, "interested" may not have been the right word since he'd never given the sport a thought. But despite his buddies' contention that volleyball was a sport for wimps, he tried out for the team, anyway.

"I walked on and got a starting position and really made a difference on the team," Harger said. "It was really fun and I kind of fell in love with the game. My senior year, I stuck with just volleyball to try and get a scholarship."

The plan worked and the transformation was complete. Harger was a FAB 50 All-American and an All-Southern Section selection as a senior in 1993.

He decided to attend UC Irvine and dedicated himself to a self-improvement regimen. If the rest of the team didn't want to come along--the Anteaters were 2-20 in his first season at Irvine--at least he could focus his energy on getting better.

A 6-foot-10, 240-pound junior, Harger seems to be closing in on some of his personal goals. And he's starting to pull the Anteaters along with him. Last year, Irvine had a 9-14 record and he led the team in solo blocks (22), block assists (88) and was second in kills (225). This season, the Anteaters jumped to a 4-0 start. They've settled back to 4-5, but Harger has become a force to be reckoned with around the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

"He's a man," Coach Andy Read said. "He starting to project power out there. . . . hitting, blocking, when he's jump-serving, even in the back row. He's developed to the point where he feels it's his game. It's his net, his floor, his game."

Harger doesn't want to say he owns the place, but he is certain no one will be running him off the property.

"There's no one in the league that intimidates me," he said. "I think I'm one of the top middle blockers in the league and I never walk out there on the floor thinking someone else is better than me.

"I play my own game, play as hard as I can, and good things usually happen."

Harger has become a team leader--both statistically and on the floor--for Irvine, but he's still a raw talent in many ways.

"How good is he? It's more a question of how good he can be," Read said. "He didn't grow up playing on the beach like most of these kids. He got to the game late, and because of that, he still has a ton of volleyball to learn.

"We started him as a freshman because we had to and he went through a lot of frustration, but it's helped him become a dominant player."

Harger believes the potential for improvement will work in his favor as he seeks a spot on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. And his stature won't hold him back anymore.

"You look around the world and it's obvious we need guys Chris' size playing volleyball for the USA," Read said. "You've got a guy who's 6-10, who's already becoming an intimidating jump server and he's got five more years to learn the game. By the year 2000, he could easily be good enough."

For the moment, Harger is content to focus on the present and his hope of seeing Irvine become a volleyball power during his college career. The four consecutive losses to open conference play didn't help, but he still sees the Anteaters taking two steps forward for every step back.

"We'll be getting it going good again," he said. "Everybody was really excited to play when the season started. I don't want to say that we got comfortable, but maybe some people haven't been playing as hard as they can the last couple of weeks.

"We can't think of this year as a building process, we have to think of it as a year we can win, and I try to emphasize that very strongly with our young players. Our immediate goal this year is to make the playoffs. We have the talent, it's just a matter of playing well together and playing with consistency.

"Six of us came into the program together as freshmen, so I understand it can take time for young players to adjust. But I don't want to sit around and wait for it."

*

Room to move: Point guard Raimonds Miglinieks leads the nation in assists, but all that passing hasn't lessened the physical punishment. He has as many bumps and bruises as any of Irvine's big men.

Every opponent's primary goal is to take Miglinieks out of his game and they start pushing, shoving and holding from the opening tip. Miglinieks is 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds, so it's not easy to knock him off course and that doesn't help him get many calls from the officials.

"They push me and foul me all the time," Miglinieks said. "I ask the referees and they say, 'Yes, he pushed you, but I didn't call a foul because he didn't disturb you.'

"But I just touch those guys a little bit and they fly around and they call on me those fouls."

Anteater Notes

Freshman Brett Lucas, from Miranda, Australia, made his debut on the Anteater tennis team Tuesday night with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Loyola Marymount's Tad Crayton, at the No. 4 singles spot. "He hits a very big ball and is very competitive," Coach Steve Clark said. Lucas is ranked No. 10 in boys' 18s. . . . The men's tennis team has won four matches in a row and is ranked 45th in the nation. The doubles team of Marc Tardiff and Julian Foxon is ranked 22nd. . . . Forward Leticia Oseguera's 31-point, 20-rebound performance against Long Beach State Saturday was her ninth double-double of the season. . . . Khalid Channell, a forward for the Anteaters last season who is in medical school at Stanford, was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Assn. Soccer player Shawna Berke won the same award last June.

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