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Keeping Starlites Shining : Jeanne Beauprey Brings Her Olympic Talents to Women’s Major League Volleyball

Times Staff Writer

Athletes often are reaching their primes when their college eligibility runs out. For women, the chances of continuing careers at the professional level are especially limited.

But Jeanne Beauprey, a member of the 1984 silver medal-winning U.S. Olympic volleyball team and now an assistant coach at her alma mater, UCLA, has been lucky. She is playing for the Los Angeles Starlites in the new Major League Volleyball, which began competition in February with teams in Dallas, Minneapolis, New York, Chicago and the Bay Area.

“Most girls don’t have any place to take their talent after college,” said Beauprey, 25, a graduate of Mission Viejo High School. “This is a terrific opportunity.”

Although most women’s professional leagues have failed, organizers of Major League Volleyball say they think theirs will survive.

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Les Patrick, general manager of the Starlites, who play their home games at Cal State Long Beach, said not playing in the shadow of a men’s volleyball league is an advantage.

“It’s the first opportunity for a women’s sports league to succeed,” Patrick said. “In basketball, the girls are good, but they aren’t Dr. Js. In volleyball, they aren’t going to be compared to the men.”

For Beauprey, the Starlites offer a chance to enjoy her sport--without the pressure of Olympic practice. Beauprey always will remember the thrill of playing in the Olympics, but she would just as soon forget about the grueling, eight-hour daily workouts.

“It’s a lot different now,” Beauprey said. “It (the Olympic team) was a lot more work. It’s not as intense now. It’s on a different level.”

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And the level of play is no comparison, either. “The competition in the Olympics is a lot stiffer,” Beauprey said.

The Starlites are 5-1 and will play Dallas at 7:30 tonight at Long Beach for first place. Beauprey is third on the team in kills, second in digs and second in blocks.

“I’m the kind of player who keeps the team together,” she said. “I’m not a superstar. I do my job and help everyone else do their job. That’s what I enjoy about it.”

Beauprey is one of three Orange County players on the team. Also playing are Olympian Debbie Green-Vargas, from Westminster High School, and Tracy Clark, from El Toro High School.

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Beauprey, who played volleyball for four years and basketball for two at UCLA, played for a top-division professional team in Noventa, Italy, during the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons.

She now juggles her duties as coach and player.

She has had to leave practice at UCLA and go directly to Long Beach to work out with the Starlites.

“You kind of have to switch your mind a little, but it helps in coaching,” she said. “If I tell a player to do something, I know I can do it.

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“In the beginning, it was difficult because we were recruiting (at UCLA). It has kind of mellowed out a little bit. Right now we’re in the off-season at UCLA.” The league offers the chance to lengthen athletic careers, but it’s no path to big money for the players. The average salary is $5,000 to $6,000 for the 22-game season, which ends May 10. Players can earn as much as $3,000 from the league for leading in any statistical category, such as kills and hitting percentage. And the most valuable player, voted on by the players, earns another $5,000.

“This year, they’re putting a little too much emphasis on statistics,” Beauprey said. “There should be a little more emphasis on the team aspect.”

Patrick said attendance at franchises in Minneapolis, Dallas and San Francisco has been about 2,000 per game. But the Starlites are drawing only about 1,100.

“It’s a tough market to crack,” Patrick said. “L.A. is such a sprawling metropolis that a new team is barely noticed. I can’t afford to market in L.A., so I’ve come to Long Beach.

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“Just getting dates to play has been a monumental nightmare. This is a very busy area.”

Busy enough, Beauprey hopes, to support the Starlites.

“This league is giving girls the opportunity to continue their careers--and make a little money, too.”


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