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U.S. Defeats China in Volleyball; Friedman’s Home Debut Is Brief

For Steve Friedman, his home debut on the U.S. national volleyball team basically amounted to a cameo appearance in Saturday night’s exhibition match against China in UC Irvine’s Bren Center.

He spent more time on the bench--actually, Friedman stood with the other reserves on the sideline, arms folded--than on the playing court.

But for a brief moment he escaped anonymity, making a kill in the second game. The PA announcer’s voice boomed: STEVE FRIEDMAN.

And, that was it. Such is life for the newest member of the national team.

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“It wasn’t a great kill,” Friedman offered in a postmatch analysis. “But at least I made it.”

Friedman, who lives in Mission Viejo when he isn’t traveling the world, was just glad he had the chance to do something for the benefit of his friends and family.

His playing time in the 15-9, 15-13, 12-15, 15-7 victory by the U.S. team was comparable to Friday night’s match in Berkeley--not much. Friedman doesn’t expect that to change for a while, which takes some getting used to for the Pepperdine star.

“It’s a real period of adjustment,” Friedman said. “I’m the worst player on the team in the eyes of everybody else. It’s especially hard after I was one of the best in college.

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“It makes a difference. When you expect the ball, you can hit it well. And when you aren’t expecting it, you’re not ready. It’s rough not only on the ego . . . I don’t like to sit down. I don’t sit easy.”

For now, his lot is to sit. Or, make that, to stand.

“He’s a candidate for the ’88 team,” said U.S. Coach Marv Dunphy, who coached Friedman for two years at Pepperdine. “He’s a big strong hitter and we need big strong hitters. He’s really improved a lot as a player since he entered the (Pepperdine) program.”

The 6-foot 6-inch, 220-pound outside hitter made his name at Pepperdine with power hitting. He won Most Valuable Player honors at the NCAA Tournament last spring, leading the Waves to their second straight national title.

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In the last two NCAA matches, Friedman recorded 31 kills against Penn State in the semifinals and 38 in the championship match against USC.

“Last year, I just happened to play the best match of my life against Penn State,” he said. “Then, I played the best match of my life the next night. Two nights in a row.”

Now, the only goal is to get more playing time. He had some experience playing in a reserve capacity as a junior at Pepperdine. Although he started as a sophomore, two other players received more playing time that year as outside hitters because they were more versatile.

Back then it was harder because Friedman said he felt he was as good a hitter as the other two.

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Now with the national team, he is surrounded by the very best. Friedman turns his head one way and sees Karch Kiraly, perhaps the best in the world. And the other guys aren’t too bad, either.

Though three starters retired from the national team last October, Friedman doesn’t think the United States has plummeted in the volleyball world.

“After they left, we went to Japan and hammered everybody,” he said. “Everyone was there with the exception of Brazil and Cuba. This team has so much talent, I don’t think there’s anything stopping us.”

As difficult as it is to play in a reserve role, Friedman is patient. He said he is the type of player that takes longer to develop. And at age 24, Friedman feels there is plenty of time.

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After all, he has had obstacles to overcome in the past.

“I was the starting center my junior year on the basketball team at Capistrano Valley (High School),” he said. “When I decided to give up that to concentrate on volleyball, my dad thought it was crazy. He thought I was a quitter.”

Volleyball Notes

With the victory, the U.S. men’s team won its 19th straight match. It hasn’t lost since the World Championships in Paris last October, dropping a 3-1 decision to Russia. Last year, the squad finished 47-9 with five losses coming against Cuba and the other four to the Russians. . . . In addition to Steve Friedman, there are two other players from Orange County on the 15-man squad. Veteran Steve Timmons, a starter on the 1984 Olympic team, is from Newport Beach. Rudy Dvorak of Laguna Beach is a relative newcomer to the squad, but the Dvorak name isn’t unknown to the volleyball world by any means. Rudy’s brother, Dusty, was a member of the national team for all three legs of the Triple Crown. He left the squad last October, along with Pat Powers and Steve Salmons. The brothers, both setters, played together briefly for the United States in the summer and fall of 1986. . . . The series against China continues on Monday with a match in Cedar City, Utah, followed by appearances in Amarillo, Tex., Denver and Colorado Springs. . . . Outside hitter Karch Kiraly is a finalist for the Sullivan Award (honoring the U.S. amateur athlete of the year) for the second straight year. . . . The match was the first event--other than UCI basketball--to be held in the Bren Center since its January opening. Attendance was 4,162.

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