Times Have Changed for Women’s Volleyball Team
Quality of practice time over quantity. Youth over experience. Training in civilization rather than isolation.
Times have changed for the U.S. women’s national volleyball team, a youthful bunch that practices for three hours a day at the Federal Building in Balboa Park.
It is just a bit different than the routine encountered in preparation for the 1984 Olympics under Arie Selinger. The U.S. team won a silver medal last summer, but Selinger’s methods had some people wondering if the end justified the means. In fact, one women’s coach called the current program a “more humanistic” approach to the sport.
Playing under a new coach, Taras Liskevych from the University of the Pacific, the women’s team is getting away--far away--from the eight-hour days and the remote existence endured under Selinger’s regime.
“The old organization was volleyball, volleyball, volleyball,” said Caren Kemner, a member of this team who practiced briefly with the 1984 Olympic team while she was in high school. “Right now, we’re more relaxed. There is more give and take. The best type of player Taras can deal with is an all-round person.”
Liskevych envisions his players practicing three or four hours a day, working at least part-time or going to school, and generally, leading as normal a life as possible.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to do anything but volleyball when I got here,” said Angela Rock, a former San Diego State All-American. “I have much more freedom than I expected. They want you to be a total person and have a social life here.”
Selinger’s methods were quite different. There was a singleness in purpose, and not coincidentally, only one player on that team earned a college degree.
“If I was entering a program where we’d train eight hours a day, I would have had to think twice about that,” said Caroline Kirby, an alternate who practiced for two months with the 1984 Olympic team. “I can’t say I would have said no, and I probably would have said yes. You do what you have to. But I thank God we have the schedule we do.
“Taras is totally sane. He’s a normal person. We trust him and respect him, and know he won’t turn into a maniac.”
Said UC San Diego Coach Doug Dannevik, who will coach the West team that will compete in the National Sports Festival in July: “The switch from Arie Selinger to Taras is like night and day, and I mean that in the positive sense. Taras can take Arie’s foundation and build it into a quality program in a more humanistic way.”
That is Liskevych’s goal. He was Selinger’s assistant in 1975, and respects him for the way he put together a successful Olympic team.
But . . .
“I hope to prove that we can do things differently and still be a winning team like the one Arie had,” Liskevych said. “I don’t know if that will be a fact, but we have to get away from the idea that because Japan practices eight hours a day, we have to practice 8 1/2 hours.”
The women’s team will try to follow the blueprint the U.S. men’s volleyball team used to win their first gold medal ever at the 1984 Olympics.
The men had a successful post-Olympic marketing campaign which brought them sponsorship by International Management Group and several television contracts. And they returned approximately half their Olympic team.
Under national team director Doug Beal, who coached the 1984 men’s team, the women’s team has joined the men’s team in San Diego. Beal becomes the first national director for a unified program.
“The two teams ought to be under one administrative structure,” Beal said. “We don’t want mirror images, but we want to give each equal chances. We want the women’s team to have a broader base of opportunities, outside of just playing the game.
“Clearly, we want the women’s team to be run more like the men’s team was run in 1984.”
That means placing women in career-oriented jobs through the Olympic Job Opportunity Program.
Jayne McHugh is the only player who has a job through the program, but national training center director Kerry Klostermann said he is in contact with a number of other firms. McHugh is working jointly at Alvarado Hospital and Medical Center and at the San Diego Sports Medicine Center.
The job program is designed to allow the women, like the men, to train daily at the Federal Building. The men practice early in the morning, and the women follow in the late morning and early afternoon.
Beal’s primary goal is to have a permanent facility built in San Diego within the next two years, the idea being that San Diego will become to volleyball what Eugene, Ore., is to track and field. There has been talk about building such a center at UC San Diego.
However, that is still a way off.
Molding the women’s national team into one of the top three teams in the world may also take time. The average age of the players is 22, and they have a limited amount of international experience.
In comparison, 7 of the 12 players on the silver medal team were also on the 1980 Olympic team that boycotted the Moscow games, and eight of those players were 25 or older.
Because it’s a lot more difficult to market a women’s silver medal team than a men’s gold medal team, many of the women were not able to benefit financially from their showing. As a result, they gave up life on the national team for professional careers in Europe.
Paula Weishoff is playing in Italy and Rose Magers is playing in Japan. The two starting middle blockers on the 1984 team are expected to rejoin the team between March and June next year.
Liskevych said as many as five players might eventually rejoin the national team. However, at the moment, there are no ’84 players on the team.
“Actually, not playing for a year or two on the national team will help alleviate the problem those players might have faced in making the transition from one program to another,” Liskevych said.
While inheriting a team with “zero players” is definitely not the ideal situation, Liskevych said it does enable him to shape his own program.
“I can get my philosophy established and provide a fresh approach for the women’s program,” he said.
Nine full-time players and six alternates were selected for the national team at an open tryout at Colorado Springs in February. Additional tryouts will be in San Diego in the next few weeks.
Liskevych said approximately 1,000 colleges and junior colleges have women’s volleyball teams. That is a broad talent base from which he believes he will be able to come up with 100 to 200 top players.
“I think the 1984 Olympics had a great impact on volleyball in this country,” Liskevych said. “What we’re facing now is developing the talent out there. For seven or eight years, we had the same players on the Olympic team, and therefore, we didn’t develop a lot of talent.”
Liskevych’s goal is to have 15 full-time players by Sept. 1. Until then, the team will practice daily and will tour Europe in July. They will play about 45 matches between now and the end of the year.
The more matches, the better, according to the players and coaches.
“None of us have international experience,” Kirby said, “and we have to get at least 100 international matches under our belts before we’ll be competing with the top three teams in the world. We’re a very young group now, but we have a lot of great potential.”
It promises to be a long, hard road to the 1988 Olympics. But this time, it might also be an enjoyable one for the players.