Three Sisters to Team Up for First Time : Pacific Palisades Volleyball Stars Will Compete in Maccabiah Games

Times Staff Writer

There are few things Karen, Louise and Susan Schwartz have not accomplished in their amateur volleyball careers. Collectively, the sisters have won a NCAA championship, a state high school championship, a series of Los Angeles City high school titles, a number of individual awards--and the list continues.

Surely enough to decorate any mantel or wall.

There is one thing the sisters from Pacific Palisades have been unable to accomplish: They have never played competitive volleyball on the same team.

But they are finally getting their chance.

They will represent the United States and the Jewish community at the XII World Maccabiah Games in Israel from July 15 to 25.

"I'm excited about the idea of playing with my sisters," said Karen, 23, Louise's twin. "I think it is unusual for any team to have three players from the same family."

Different Colleges

Sure, they have tossed a volleyball around in their backyard and at the beach, but the Schwartz sisters have never played together in competition. Susan graduated from Palisades High five years earlier than her sisters, and all competed at different colleges.

Introduced to volleyball as babies, watching from their playpens as their father played beach volleyball, the sisters quickly learned that volleyball is the only game for the Schwarz family. As soon as the children were able to walk, they have been volleying a volleyball.

Berl Schwartz, the 59-year-old father of five, began playing volleyball nearly 40 years ago in his freshman year at USC. In 1946, when Schwartz began playing volleyball on Southern California beaches, the sport was more of a recreational hobby than a competition, he said. Since then, it has become a Schwartz family institution.

Everyone in the family plays volleyball, except the mother, Brenda, who would rather watch than play. The other two Schwartz children--Jeff, 30, and Margery, 28--played volleyball at Palisades High. Margery went on to play at UC San Diego.

All got their first taste of volleyball watching their father playing beach games and tournaments.

'Every Weekend'

"I brought them to the beach every weekend," said Berl, who still plays volleyball occasionally. "We brought the playpen down with us, and all five kids used to watch me play.

"There has been a volleyball in our house for years. As soon as they were old enough, they were touching the ball. They've always been around a volleyball."

It was during their early years on the beach that the sisters began to develop their volleyball skills.

"That's where we learned how to play," said Karen. "When we were younger, the older girls wouldn't let us play because we weren't good enough. But we practiced and were finally able to hold our own."

At Palisades High, the Schwartzes did more than hold their own--they helped the volleyball squad become a dominating force. Palisades Coach Gayle Van Meter, who coached all the Schwartz girls, considers the sisters some of the top players she has coached.

'They Were Great'

"They were great volleyball players and great people," said Van Meter, who has coached at Palisades for 15 years. And Van Meter knows a talented player when she sees one. She has won the City volleyball championship 11 of the past 12 years, five of those with a Schwartz sister.

Setting was the Schwartz specialty at Palisades. All the sisters were setters. Karen and Louise led Palisades as juniors to the state championship in 1979, a team Van Meter considers one of her favorites. Both were All-City players, and Karen was chosen for the All-State squad.

"They all have great hands," said Van Meter. "It's like they drop out of the womb with great hands. No one else has the Schwartzes' touch on the ball."

The Schwartzes continued their winning ways, but at different colleges.

Karen, 5-10, was an All-Western Athletic Conference player at San Diego State and played four years of varsity volleyball. Twice San Diego State placed in the final four in the NCAA tournament.

'Lulu' on Title Team

At 5-8, Louise, called "Lulu," led UC San Diego to the NCAA Division III finals for three years. She won one championship before graduating in 1984.

Susan, 6-0, switched to a hitter position in her three playing years at UC Santa Barbara, which once ranked eighth in the nation.

Although out of school, the sisters still play volleyball. Louise plays recreational volleyball in San Diego, where she lives, while Karen and Susan play beach and tournament ball.

Competing in the XII World Maccabiah Games will be yet another accomplishment for the sisters. Karen and Susan played for the U. S. squad that placed third in the Maccabiah Games in 1981, and they retain their enthusiasm.

Described by Karen to be "like a huge Jewish Olympics," the games began to highlight Jewish amateur athletes from around the world in the late 1920s. The games have been scheduled a year after the Olympics, every four years, since 1950.

"It's a major sports competition with teams of amateur athletes from Jewish communities around the world," said Mort Greenberg, Western States executive director for the games.

Spitz Swam in Games

This year's games, sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee, are expected to draw more than 4,000 athletes from 38 countries. Past Maccabiah Games athletes include swimmer Mark Spitz, seven-time gold medalist in the 1972 Munich Olympics, and Mitch Gaylord of UCLA, a member of the gold medal U. S. gymnastics team in the 1984 Olympics.

Of the 525 athletes representing the United States this year in 31 team events, about one-fourth are from California, Greenberg said.

"I'm thrilled," said Louise, who qualified for the team during the two-day tryout in April after she failed to make the final cut in 1981. "It's exciting because it's going to be something new."

"I'm honored," said Susan, who at 27 realizes that her competitive playing days are coming to a close. She is the oldest player on the 12-member squad. "I didn't know if I was going to get to go because I'm older than the other players."

Karen looks forward to once again traveling to Israel. In 1981 she spent a day traveling with a Jewish family from South Africa and celebrating the Sabbath at temple.

"It's a blast to meet other people from different cultures," said Karen.

But this year's Maccabiah Games have an added twist--terrorism.

Scared but Determined

Since radical Shia Muslims hijacked a TWA airliner June 14, killing one U. S. Navy petty officer and holding 39 Americans hostage for 16 days, the recurring terrorist threat in the Middle East has once again been in the spotlight, especially in the minds of the Schwartz sisters.

"When that (the hijacking) first came out, I was scared," said Louise. "I feel as though that's just one more thing to worry about."

Once the Maccabiah Games commence, however, the only thing the sisters will be thinking about is volleyball.

"I think we can do very well," said Susan, who believes the Israel national team will highlight the competition. "We have a lot of skillful players. And going by how well we did last time, I feel good about our chances."

But no matter where they place, the Schwartz sisters will be content. Volleyball is in their blood.

"There's nothing like a volleyball workout," said Louise. "You can train, but you're still going to be sore. It's something you have to expect and just live with."

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