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Stork Delivers

Interim Men's Volleyball Coach Has Pepperdine in Final Four

May 03, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If Jeff Stork invites guests home, the futons need to be folded up, the toothpaste needs to be scraped off the bathroom sink and the leaves of the dining-room table need to come out.

Stork and his family used to live in a four-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot house on a five-acre spread in New Mexico. There, the mere idea of his three children sleeping in one bed would have been laughable.

Here, in the 400-square-foot guest house the three-time Olympian shares with his wife and their three kids, it's reality.

One small bathroom. Two futon beds for the five of them. And, of all things, about 10 bicycles commanding their own space.

The interim coach of the Pepperdine men's volleyball team might find more elbow room in an elevator, but he couldn't be happier. In many ways, he is at home.

While the family awaits the sale of the home near Albuquerque where Stork was an assistant with the women's team at the University of New Mexico, they are squeezed into his father Don's guest house in Topanga.

"You get to know your family pretty well," Stork said. "You can't say [to the kids], 'Go to your room.' The only thing you can say is 'Go outside.' "

Observers would probably say Stork has squeezed the most out of his one-year stint as the coach at his alma mater.

Stork has guided the Waves to a 22-5 record and put them in position to win their first NCAA championship since 1992. Pepperdine plays Ohio State (24-3) in an NCAA semifinal Thursday at Fort Wayne, Ind.

Stork, an assistant under Marv Dunphy last season, became the interim coach when Dunphy agreed to help the U.S. national team for a year.

Known as a player who was calm under pressure and an acute technician, Stork has taken the Waves to the Final Four a year after they lost George Roumain, two-time NCAA player of the year now a member of the U.S. national team.

Stork's childhood roots in Topanga, a rustic area east of Malibu, are evident more often than not.

A mild-mannered type, he sees no need for cell phones. Nor, on some days, automobiles. An accomplished cyclist, he enjoys riding one of his three bikes to Pepperdine, a 12-mile trek.

When he arrived at Pepperdine as a freshman in 1981, he was an outside hitter. Dunphy moved the 6-foot-4 left-hander to setter, where he became a natural. He was a three-time All-American and led the Waves to the NCAA title match in 1983 and again in 1984.

Pepperdine fell to UCLA both years, Stork losing to future Olympic teammates Ricci Luyties and Doug Partie.

Although Pepperdine won the NCAA title with Stork serving as an assistant in 1985, his championship aspirations as a player had to wait three more years.

He was the starting setter on the 1988 Olympic team, coached by Dunphy, that won the gold medal in Seoul, South Korea.

In the gold-medal match against the Soviet Union, besides directing the flow of the U.S. offense, Stork delivered 13 kills in 15 attempts, an extraordinary performance for a setter.

Stork also started for the 1992 Olympic team that won the bronze medal in Barcelona and was a reserve for the U.S. in 1996, his final year as an Olympian. Between Olympic appearances, he played professionally in Italy and Greece.

In 1997, his playing career finally over, he turned to coaching, taking the job as assistant for the New Mexico women's team.

Within a year, he received a call from Dunphy. The conversation began with an invitation to play in an alumni golf event.

Dunphy said he jokingly opened the door for Stork to become his assistant at Pepperdine.

Stork took him seriously.

"In 48 hours, I pretty much said, 'I can do it,' " Stork said.

Wise choice. Tough choice.

For six months, he commuted from Pepperdine to New Mexico, where he still had coaching obligations to fulfill.

His wife, Sabine, and their children stayed in New Mexico and tried to sell the house.

"The kids at first were fine," Sabine said. "But then they were like, 'Where's Dad?' There was absolutely no way we could survive without him."

So Sabine and the kids moved to Topanga.

"It's better than the alternative," Stork said.

In his return to Pepperdine, he is building an impressive resume.

It remains to be seen whether the rest of the college volleyball world takes notice.

"I always like options," Stork said. "I think eventually I would like to do head coaching somewhere on my own. Where that is is determined by what becomes available."

Stork realizes there are more opportunities in women's volleyball than men's. There are only 22 Division I men's teams. There are 305 women's teams.

"On the men's side, there's very little movement," Stork said. "I don't know the timetable of certain coaches' retirement plans, but it's difficult to wait around for a men's job. They're just not available."

There's no question the coaching job at Pepperdine goes back to Dunphy after the Olympics. In fact, Dunphy has already pegged his return to Malibu within a few days of the gold-medal match Sept. 20.

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