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Roumain in the Right Place, Right Time, Right Sport

TIMES STAFF WRITER

You watch George Roumain playing volleyball and you wonder if he didn’t pick the wrong sport.

You wonder where the 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior stashed his helmet and shoulder pads? Why isn’t he muscling guys out of the post on the basketball court, with calf muscles that look like overfilled grain sacks and a chest that juts out like a comic-book hero’s.

He can crush the ball, but watch a bit longer and Roumain, the star outside hitter for the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team, also shows the finesse, balance and leaping ability of a ballet dancer.

“People see his size and are surprised to see how good an athlete he is,” said Pepperdine Coach Marv Dunphy. “He has really worked on his finesse and overall game and developed his skills. . . . You play different positions in volleyball, and I will say that at the [outside hitter’s] position, he is the best in the country.”

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Not the best player overall? On Wednesday, the American Volleyball Coaches Assn. announced it thought so by voting Roumain the nation’s player of the year.

Many expect Roumain to be one of the top players on the U.S. national team in the 2000 Olympic Games and to stand out on the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals beach circuit.

“I’m not thinking about any of that stuff,” said Roumain as Pepperdine prepared to open the Final Four tonight against Princeton at Honolulu. “I’m just interested in this team, this season and winning the national championship.”

After the second-ranked Waves defeated No. 1 UCLA, 3-1, in the finals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament Saturday, Pepperdine (22-4) entered the Final Four as Western Regional champion.

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The Waves are expected to easily defeat Princeton, the Eastern Regional champion, today at 11:30 p.m. PDT, and UCLA (26-4) is expected to have few problems getting past Lewis University of Romeoville, Ill., from the Midwest Regional at 9:30 p.m.

Barring an upset, UCLA, which earned the at-large bid, and Pepperdine would play in the NCAA final Saturday night. They have played three times this season, UCLA winning the first two.

“Yeah, I get up to play them,” said Roumain. “They’re the top team in the nation and one of the best programs over a lot of years.”

In the Mountain Pacific tournament, after Roumain had made several crushing spikes for points, the Bruins looked as if they were bracing for a car wreck each time he touched the ball.

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But Roumain showed he could do more than clobber the ball. He had two aces and six digs with his 42 kills.

“He was one of the nation’s best players last year, and he’s still our most improved player,” Dunphy said. “He thinks about the game and how to improve. Yes, he has power and jumping ability and hits the ball high and hard, but he also tries to play smart.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NCAA Men’s Volleyball Final Four

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* Who: Lewis (Romeoville, Ill.), Pepperdine, Princeton and UCLA.

* Where: Honolulu.

* When: UCLA vs. Lewis at 9:30 PDT, Pepperdine vs. Princeton at 11:30 PDT tonight. Winners advance to final at 9:30 PDT Saturday night.

* TV, radio: UCLA vs. Lewis live tonight on ESPN2 and KIEV (870). Saturday final live on ESPN2 and KIEV (870).

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