Kathleen Dixon took a deep breath and tried to relax amid the din of 1,200 screaming fans packed into the University of Nebraska-Omaha gym for the NCAA Division II championship volleyball match.
She deftly lofted a serve to win match point for Cal State Northridge, giving the Lady Matadors their first NCAA title in four years.
Three days later, Dixon again was trying to gain her composure before an important shot. This time, however, she was shooting a free throw for CSUN’s basketball team.
Kathleen and her identical twin, Marianne, barely had finished celebrating their volleyball championship before suiting up for basketball practice.
Their recent return to the lineup comes just in time for CSUN Coach Leslie Milke, whose basketball team has struggled to a 3-7 record. With the Dixons back, CSUN defeated Cal State Hayward on Dec. 16 but lost its next two games to Cal State Sacramento and UC Davis.
Milke expects the Dixons to bolster her team and help CSUN challenge for a playoff spot in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn.--once they adjust from volleyball.
“We’re a much better team with them than without them,” Milke said. “They add so much to our rebounding and scoring.
“Physically, they’re in great shape, there’s no problem there. But in basketball, you have to interact a lot more than in volleyball. It will take a little time for them to get used to the other players. It’s not an ideal situation for us because they have missed quite a few games.”
The transition has been equally difficult for the Dixons.
“When we joined the team after winning nationals, there was a week where we had not played any basketball, just volleyball,” Kathleen said. “The skills are totally different. Our shots and are timing are still off. It’s frustrating.”
Kathleen, a 6-1 center, helped CSUN to a 15-11 record last season and received All-CCAA honorable mention recognition. She averaged 12.1 points and 6.7 rebounds. Marianne averaged 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds a game as a freshman forward off the bench.
The Dixons will be counted on to help fill the scoring void left by Denise Sitton, CSUN’s career scoring leader, who completed her eligibility last season. Kathleen is expected to provide inside scoring and rebounding at center and Marianne has been designated to start at forward.
“We really need rebounding, that’s what our coaches have been stressing from us,” Kathleen said.
CSUN Coach Walt Ker also relied heavily on the Dixons during volleyball season. Kathleen was an All-CCAA selection and named to the All-Final Four team. Marianne did not play as much as her sister but helped as a substitute middle blocker.
“What incredible progress they’ve both made this season,” Ker said. “They are both going to be great volleyball players.”
The Dixons redshirted for Ker’s team last season but attended practices and kept statistics at matches. They were recruited by CSUN on volleyball and basketball scholarships.
Basketball was their primary sport at Santa Monica High where Marianne was the Bay League’s most valuable player in 1986. Kathleen was the runner-up in the Bay League MVP voting.
They were The Times’ Westside co-players of the year in basketball as seniors in high school. In addition to basketball, the Dixons played volleyball, softball and competed in track and field at Santa Monica.
Milke recruited the Dixons to play basketball, but Ker also was interested.
“When I saw both of them in a volleyball tournament, I thought they were out of my league,” Ker said. “They were both tall and moved and jumped well. I figured some Division I school was going to snatch them up.
“They were very rough as volleyball players because of their all-around sports background. But the physical potential was always there.”
Despite their diversified physical skills, the Dixons intended to concentrate on basketball in college.
“Ever since our sophomore year in high school, all of our coaches said we would play college basketball,” Marianne said. “We love volleyball, but never dreamed we would play it in college.”
The Dixons’ decision to play volleyball helped Ker fulfill a longtime dream--win another NCAA title. It remains to be seen whether they can do the same for Milke.