UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / JOHN WEYLER : Volleyball Team Has Experience to Improve on Last Season


It was a more forgettable year than Mike Puritz remembered.

The UC Irvine women’s volleyball coach was running his finger down last season’s schedule, wincing as he counted the humiliations.

“Before we won those two games against Colorado State in the last match of the year, we had gone, two, three weeks, uh, almost a month without winning even a game.”

It started Oct. 26 with a 3-0 loss at home to Cal State Fullerton and then the Anteaters put a string of bagels on the board against UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State, Pacific, San Jose State and San Diego State. They ended the season on “high” note Nov. 22, losing, 3-2, to Colorado State to finish 6-22, the worst record in school history.


But forget all that. Puritz has.

“Last year, we had a terrible record, but we had talent,” Puritz said. “We did a lot of good things, but we just weren’t doing them on a regular basis. I really believe anyone who saw us last year would know that we had the potential to become a very strong team.”

Ah, youth. Last season, the 14 players on the team had a combined total of five years of Division I experience. This year, it adds up to 11. Everyone is back except Stacy Mitchell.

Three of those returnees have all-conference awards at home. Senior Popi Edwards, who could break the school record for career kills this week--she has 1,265, 15 shy of the mark--was a repeat first-team All-Big West selection. Middle blocker Amy Pimental and setter Meredith Fletcher were named to the all-freshmen team.

Joining the group are two freshmen and a sophomore transfer who are already producing. Topping this short list is Tandie Wade, a 5-11 outside hitter from Stockton St. Mary’s High who was all-everything and a Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 pick. It’s not often one of the 50 best high school players in the country ends up at Irvine, but Wade liked the school.

“Academics at UCI is always a big selling point,” Puritz said. “She made the visit, loved the campus and the area, liked the players and decided to come to a school where she could play a lot and make a difference.”

Joining Wade in the immediate-impact club are Tracey Heims, a former Estancia High and Golden West College player, who has already moved ahead of Fletcher and is starting at setter, and Anastasia Paveloff, an outside hitter from Whittier Christian, who had 11 kills in a loss to Portland during the Portland Invitational last weekend.


“Last year wasn’t what we wanted, but we have to accept it,” Puritz said. “You have to start building somewhere and we’re moving on and doing everything we can to keep away from a repeat performance.”

The Anteaters started the season 2-1, but suffered three 3-1 losses in Portland, losing to the hosts, Sacramento State and Idaho.

“It wasn’t what we had in mind result-wise, but it was a good learning experience,” Puritz said.

“We had a couple of outstanding games, but didn’t put together a real good match. But we’re still pretty confident. We’re obviously a much-improved team over last year.”


Gag rule: To put it bluntly, the Anteaters had a tendency to choke last year. When the going got tough, Irvine’s ball-control skills went south.

“It was a funny year, but I wasn’t laughing,” Puritz said. “In pressure situations, our passing and setting really broke down. There were some flashes when we thought we had turned it around and then we’d take a step backwards. It was very frustrating.”


He certainly would have enjoyed a couple of victories in Portland, but Puritz feels a lot better about the way the Anteaters lost.

“Our digging, setting and passing was much improved,” he said. “We just had two many serving errors and too many unforced hitting errors. And I think those problems are much easier to remedy.”


Missing piece: Pam Prine, the state’s community college soccer player of the year the last two seasons at Cypress College, injured her knee during a preseason seven-a-side tournament and is out for the season.

Prine, one of Coach Marine Cano’s top recruits who figured to be a key component of the Anteaters’ defense, underwent successful surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament 10 days ago.

“It was a blow,” Cano said. “Pam is just a super athlete. She definitely was going to be one of the pieces in the puzzle. She not only provides a lot of defense, but on set pieces, like free kicks or corners, she scores a ton of goals.”

Prine already is rehabilitating the knee and should be ready to practice with the team next spring.



Speed trap: Seven freshmen are getting a lot of playing time on the women’s soccer team and they’re learning how to drive in the Division I fast lane.

“In club soccer, you see a lot of very pretty stuff, smooth stuff,” Cano said. “On this level, it’s power-and-speed skill, what I call technical speed. We’ve got a lot of young players with slow, precise, calm skill, because in high school, they could outrun and out-turn everyone.

“Here, you have to collect quickly, pass or shoot or head quickly and you have to dribble very, very fast. The defenders are fast, big and strong and it’s like, ‘Don’t even try those high-school moves with me.’ ”

The freshmen seem to be making a rapid adjustment. Kori Zimmerman, from La Canada High, leads the team with one goal and two assists. Nicole Bucciarelli (Van Nuys Grant High) has a goal and an assist and Simone Ferrara (South Torrance High), Dena Lundy (Bakersfield High) and Danica Holt (San Pedro High) each have scored a goal.

The Anteaters, who tied Pepperdine (3-3) on Wednesday and USC (2-2) on Sunday, have found the back of the net eight times so far. Freshmen have scored five goals.

Anteater Notes

Popi Edwards, who was named to the all-tournament team at the Portland Invitational, has been so honored many times, but this was the first time since high school she was selected as a middle blocker. Coach Mike Puritz moved her from outside hitter into the middle last week. “Her speed and athleticism will allow us to compete with the best teams in Big West,” he said. “She was nervous at first, but she’s sold on it now. She had great success in Portland.” . . . The volleyball team’s attempt to improve on last year’s 6-22 record doesn’t get any easier this week. The Anteaters play host to Hawaii in Crawford Hall at 7 Friday and Saturday night. Hawaii is 21-0 against Irvine. . . . Senior Matt Maunz scored nine goals in four games during the Southern California water polo tournament at USC over the weekend. Irvine beat UC San Diego, Long Beach State and UCLA and lost to Cal. . . . The men’s and women’s cross-country teams play host to the UCI Invitational Saturday at Central Park in Huntington Beach. Fifteen universities, including the fifth-ranked Arkansas women’s team, will compete.