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World Beater

Burdine Is USC-Bound, and Glad to Have Cuba in Rearview Mirror

September 05, 2000|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

La Habra's Keao Burdine is one of Orange County's most talented girls' volleyball players. The 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter has committed to play at USC next season, and this summer she competed with the U.S. junior national team, which traveled to Cuba for an international tournament.

So what memories does she retain from that international experience? Challenging some of the world's top juniors? The blistering level of play?

"Cockroaches," Burdine said without hesitation. "That's what I remember most about my trip to Cuba this summer."

Forget that Burdine was one of the team's most consistent attackers in the NORCECA (North America, Central America, Caribbean) tournament, helping the United States win a silver medal.

And that she more than held her own on a team that featured future USC teammates, including former Southern Section player of the year Katie Olsovsky.

What bugged Burdine about her international experience was, well . . .

"The first night we got to the Cuban training center, there were cockroaches all over the room," Burdine said. "Bugs were on the bags, the floor, everywhere. It wasn't like a hotel or anything."

But the conditions weren't a distraction for the U.S. team, Burdine said.

"We all slept on the top bunks," she said, "under mosquito netting."

Burdine has been comfortable around the volleyball net for most of her life. She began playing at age 8 and has been around the sport even longer.

Her father Paul, who is an assistant girls' coach at La Habra and head boys' coach at Whittier High, and mother Pam made the sport an integral part of family life. Pam played at Fullerton and Cypress colleges and at Cal State Los Angeles.

"Even when Keao was 3, I remember she used to run up and down the sidelines during practices," Paul Burdine recalled. "She used to try and do the rolls and dives just like the players."

Ahead of Her Time

Keao Burdine also excelled as a junior player--playing on her club 18s team as a 14-year-old freshman--so it was no surprise she became an impact player at La Habra, helping the Highlanders win the section Division II-A title in 1998 when she was a sophomore.

And Burdine has continued to improve her all-around game, with college coaches taking note. Burdine hopes to finish her high school career with another section championship and maybe even more.

"Keao may be one of the best players in the county if not the country," La Habra Coach Troy Abbey said. "Physically, she hits the ball hard and jumps really well, probably in the 30-inch-plus range vertical jump. She also has great composure on the court.

"The thing that stands out about her is that when the competition gets tougher, when we're playing the best teams with the best players and you think maybe that's when she'll struggle, she gets better and better.

"She's definitely a great player and a great person too."

Burdine isn't a bad player to build a championship team around, and Abbey knows his team has plenty of other weapons. Four starters return, including all-leaguer Lauren Goins. The Highlanders also have plenty of size in the middle, with 6-footers Ranay Dato and Kristina Baum, and experience outside with Goins, another 6-footer, and Jenny Habben, a 5-10 senior.

The only major question mark is at setter, where junior Maggie Williams, the starter for the junior varsity last season, leads a pack of three contenders that includes her sister Morgan and junior Lauren Busch.

To assist with the transition there, Rachelle Suesoff, last season's starting setter, will serve as a lower-level assistant, Abbey said. Still, he's not ready to hang any banners yet.

"Maybe we're equal to or slightly better than the '98 team," Abbey said. "At La Habra, it's always been about the hitting and blocking. But we're working hard on our passing, back-row play and defense, because we know that's going to make the difference.

"We definitely have the capabilities. We have the talent, but we know it always takes a little luck. You have to have no key injuries and the draw plays a factor too before you can win a championship."

And that title is another carrot dangling in front of Burdine.

"I'm looking forward to bringing home another CIF championship," she said. "That would be a pretty cool way to go out."

Other players to watch this season:

Other players to watch this season:

Jacqueline Becker (Corona del Mar), Lauren Boissevain (San Clemente), Serena Bountour (Huntington Beach), Jody Carlson (Irvine), Kristy Chester (Esperanza), Andrea Delsigne (Capistrano Valley), Taylor Govaars (Newport Harbor), Breegan Mulligan (Mater Dei), Allison Nofziger (Ocean View), Drue Wawrzynski (Los Alamitos), Kim Wilson (El Toro), Melissa Zaipain (University).

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