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They're Back to Put the People in the Pyramid

Volleyball: Long Beach State's illustrious alumnae, including May, Cross-Battle and Kierulff, face current team in exhibition tonight.

October 03, 2000|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long Beach State women's volleyball Coach Brian Gimmillaro recalls beating the drums 15 years ago, trying to muster up support for his program from anyone who would listen.

Few did, but Gimmillaro went on to build a dynasty at Long Beach anyway, winning three national titles, while advancing to the Final Four seven times.

Gimmillaro's efforts will be showcased tonight at 7:30 p.m. in what is being billed as "The Dream Team Match," an exhibition at the Pyramid pitting former 49er players against Gimmillaro's current team.

The alumni lineup is impressive. It includes four Olympians, four former national players of the year and a dozen former All-Americans.

Four of them have had their Long Beach jersey numbers retired: Antoinnette White, and Sydney Olympians Danielle Scott, Tara Cross-Battle and Misty May.

"It's kind of a dream of mine to see all of these players on the same court at the same time," Gimmillaro said.

May, formerly of Newport Harbor High and now a professional on the beach volleyball circuit, said she and others bought into the idea right away.

"It's going to be real exciting to get all the past players back in the gym, especially players I watched over the years," she said. "Antoinnette was my club coach and it will be fun to see her again because I have not seen her in ages."

White, who plays indoors professionally in Italy, is one of 10 former 49ers to go on to pro careers.

Scott said she and Olympic women's indoor teammate Cross-Battle, formerly of Southern California Christian High, are tired, but looking forward to the reunion.

"Tara and I agree that it should be fun," Scott said. "I look forward to seeing how good Long Beach is this year, challenge them and hopefully we are not too jet-lagged to school them a bit."

Kristi Kierulff, a member of the 1998 national championship volleyball team at Long Beach, is also expected to play. She attended Esperanza High and was an All-American in the long jump at Long Beach State.

A lot has changed since Gimmillaro, a former New York businessman, took the job with the 49ers in 1985. He has turned Long Beach State volleyball into a popular, big-time operation that often sells out at the Pyramid, an 18-story monument that dominates the skyline in an east Long Beach neighborhood of mostly single-story, single-family homes.

Long Beach State ranked fourth in the nation last year in attendance at women's volleyball matches. A school-record 3,616 watched the 49ers sweep St. Mary's on opening night this season.

Since that match, however, illness and injuries have taken their toll in what was supposed to be rebuilding year anyway. The 49ers (9-4) are off to their worst start since 1986 when they finished 15-17 and seventh in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.

May, who played at Long Beach from 1995-98, was fortunate. She played on two final four teams and was a two-time national player of the year. She also got to play in the Pyramid, which opened in 1994.

For many of the alumni players, this will be their first look inside the building. In the old days, the 49ers toiled in the tiny, dank campus gym, renamed the Gold Mine in its final years.

Gimmillaro says he'd hold this kind of event in a shoe box if he had to. "It will be a fun night to be able to see them all come back here and play," he said.

Tickets range from $4 to $9. Long Beach State students will be admitted free with proper ID. For information call (562) 985-4949.

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