It's a New Surface but Same Game for Former West Player

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It might not take long for Paula Weishoff to dominate beach volleyball the way she has the indoor game.

"(The beach game is) all new to me," said Weishoff, who returned two weeks ago from Italy, where she was competing in a professional indoor league. "It's hard to play in the wind. I'm used to running indoors and getting there quickly. But on sand it's like cartoons, you run and don't get anywhere."

Weishoff's experience on the beach is limited to the summer of 1989, when she competed on the Women's Professional Volleyball Assn.'s two-woman tour to keep busy between seasons in Italy.

This weekend in Manhattan Beach, the 6-foot-1 Weishoff will play in only her second Bud Light Four-Woman Volleyball Tour event. The five-team tour will feature 12 tournaments this summer. Weishoff, a Torrance native and two-time Olympian, is the captain of Team Champion.

Karolyn Kirby, the WPVA's top-ranked player and defending world champion, thinks Weishoff will quickly become a force on the beach tour.

"She's strong and graceful and she's quick and smart," said Kirby, who played against Weishoff in Italy for two years.

Weishoff started playing organized volleyball as a freshman at West Torrance High because she was taller than most of her classmates. By the time she was in eighth grade, she was almost six feet.

"I was always at the end of the line because I was always the tallest and my name is Weishoff," she said, laughing. "In my eighth-grade class picture I scrunched down so that I wouldn't stick out. It was hard growing up."

Weishoff also excelled in track and soccer, but discovered her height and power were bigger assets in volleyball. During her senior season at West in 1978, she was selected the Southern Section 3-A Division volleyball player of the year. The Warriors reached the semifinals of the Southern Section playoffs that season.

Practically every major college in the country recruited Weishoff; she chose USC.

As a college freshman in 1979, Weishoff led USC to a 46-4 season and a national championship. She was named the Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women's player of the year (women didn't start competing in the NCAA until 1981).

"She was an intimidating player and a physically imposing athlete," said former USC coach Chuck Erbe, who led the Trojans to four national championships in 13 years. "Her power made her a feared player. She was also a great passer and great defensive player. She could do it all. For a girl her size she was as complete a player as there was."

Weishoff left USC after one season to join the U.S. National team. At the age of 22, she was selected the most valuable player on the squad, which won a silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. She was also named the U.S. Olympic Committee's woman athlete of the year.

"The main reason I went to USC was to train for the Olympics," said Weishoff, 31. "The only thing I regret is not finishing school. Now the national team has a good program. Players have a chance to finish school."

Weishoff quit the national team after the 1986 World Championships to play in Italy.

In 1991, she returned to the U.S. team as it prepared for the '92 Barcelona Olympics. Weishoff still had a commitment with her Italian club, so she spent most of the winter commuting between Milan and San Diego, where the U.S. team was training.

"It was really hard," Weishoff said. "I still notice it now. I had to take a month off after the Olympics because I was pretty burned out. But I guess it worked out for the best because I peaked for the Olympics."

Weishoff led the U.S. to a bronze medal.

"She was at her best every night," said Greg Giovanazzi, an assistant on the '92 team. "She was the only one who played great every single night. It was hard for us to imagine someone can play that consistently at a level like that with so much pressure and competition."

Weishoff retired from the national team after the Barcelona Games. She considers Italy home and makes a living competing in a 14-team pro league.

"I don't make six figures, but I live comfortably," she said. "Let's just say I'm not doing it for peanuts, but not a lot of money either. It's a living."

The four-woman beach tour offers decent money as well. Each event has a $25,000 purse with the first-place team earning $8,000, the second-place squad $6,250, third place $4,500, fourth place $3,750 and fifth place $2,500. Traveling expenses and hotel accommodations are paid for by the tour's promoter.

Weishoff says she will spend the summer in San Diego. She is considering skipping the 1993-94 indoor season so she can shift her emphasis to the beach game. In that case she would probably spend the winter coaching in Italy.

"She's one of the best players in the world," said Rita Crockett-Royster, who played with Weishoff on the '84 Olympic team and also competes in Italy and on the beach. "You name it, she can do it."

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