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A grueling trip out of nowhere
Joe Jares
November 06, 1978
The U.S. women used to be patsies but Patty, Flo and Debbie are changing that
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November 06, 1978

A Grueling Trip Out Of Nowhere

The U.S. women used to be patsies but Patty, Flo and Debbie are changing that

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A short man with a gaunt face, Selinger was born in 1937 in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow, Poland. In World War II, to escape the Nazis, his family hid out for two years before being caught and shipped to Bergen Belsen, the concentration camp in northwest Germany. In 1945 Selinger was headed for an execution site when American troops captured the train he was on and liberated the prisoners.

Selinger and his mother, the only two members of his family to survive the war, went to Palestine, where in and around military service, Arie became a sprinter, long-jumper, pentathlete and high-leaping volleyball player on Israel's national team. Later he coached men's club teams and the Israeli national women's team.

In 1969 Selinger began studying at the University of Illinois, where he earned a Ph.D. in the physiology of exercise. In February of 1975 he was named coach of the U.S. women's team, then training in Pasadena, Texas.

When the USOC opened its first permanent training center in Colorado Springs, at what used to be an Air Force base, the team moved north. The center is a bit weedy and still looks more like a high-desert basic training camp than the campuslike park that was planned. Buildings are named after sites of past Games. Selinger, his wife and one of his two daughters have an apartment in a barracks called Athens. (Their other daughter just returned to Israel to study and their 19-year-old son is currently serving in the Israeli army.) The cream of America's female volleyball players are in a green building once known as Barracks 13 but now named Grenoble.

They are an extraordinary group of athletes. Bob Beeten, the USOC's head trainer, says that "in terms of overall strength, they are probably the best or among the best" women athletes he has ever tested, "fitter even than the track and field women, with the exception of distance runners. Arie made a pretty good anatomical selection of them," says Beeten. "They were well identified physiologically. I think they're going to accomplish a great deal."

One of the finest "anatomical selections" is the 6'1", 160-pound Dowdell, who, Selinger says, is "one of the best, or the best, blocker in the world. She can get seven points a game blocking, and blocking is the most difficult skill."

Dowdell, 24 and nearsighted, has also excelled in basketball and hurling the javelin, and is almost as good a spiker as a blocker. Last year at an international tournament in Varna, Bulgaria, the U.S. defeated the Soviet Union, Hungary, Finland and Cuba, losing only to the eventual winner, North Korea. Dowdell was chosen as the tournament's best spiker. At the World Championships in the Soviet Union last summer, she was MVP among teams that finished fifth through eighth. Selinger calls Dowdell and Hyman "my two cannons."

The setter who, in effect, loads the cannons is the 5'4", 125-pound Green. Despite having two years of eligibility left, she is one of the five women who left Southern California's national championship team in order to train at Colorado Springs. Green, 20, who is half Korean, has the good setter's ability to see the approaching ball and the opposing blockers at the same time and set the ball accordingly.

"She's the quarterback," says Selinger. "She makes the choices. If we play smart or don't play smart, that's up to Debbie Green. Against Oriental teams her height is not a liability and versus taller teams she is smart enough to 'block soft' or to deflect the ball in the right direction."

Green knows how to set 60 different ways, not counting improvisations if the pass to her is bad. If she proves deficient or gets tired, Selinger can call on 5'6" Laurel Brassey, who played on the San Diego State men's volleyball team in 1974.

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