Long Beach State in action

The top-ranked Long Beach State women's volleyball team will continue its NCAA volleyball championship tournament journey tonight in the second game of the Pacific Regional semifinals at The Pyramid in Long Beach.

Nebraska (26-6) will play USC (23-5) in the 5:30 p.m. first game, followed by the 49ers (31-1) against Washington (20-9) at 8 p.m.

The winners will meet Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. for the Regional championship and a spot in the NCAA Final Four.

Ticket information

Tournament passes are $16 for adults; $10 for seniors 60 and older and for students with ID; and $6 for children 14 and younger.

Individual session tickets are $8 for adults; $5 for seniors and students; and $3 for children.

For ticket information, call (562) 985-4949.

Volleyball coach praised for intensity, compassion

Gimmillaro: Tonight, his L.B. State women's team continues quest for national title.

Staff Writer

Hands slam volleyballs over the net, into the eager fingers of women who run, lunge, dive, roll on the floor and leap back up.

"Mine, mine, mine!" a player shrieks as a ball hurtles toward her.

"You, you, you!" another shouts, jumping out of her way.

"Nice hit!" a third yells as her teammate crashes to the floor. "Get up, get up!"

Suddenly, a little girl wearing a red Santa hat appears at the edge of the pandemonium.

"Daddy!" she screams in delight, then runs to Cal State Long Beach volleyball coach Brian Gimmillaro, who's deep into the third hour of practice in the campus gym.

For a few seconds, his eyes leave the frantic floor and he returns his 6-year-old daughter's radiant gaze. Then, after hoisting her into his arms, he orders his team to maintain control of the ball - "I do not want it in anyone else's hands." He's focused: on the women in his life, on his personal and professional goals.

This week, Gimmillaro is particularly focused on the NCAA championships. At 8 p.m. tonight , his 49ers face the University of Washington at The Pyramid. If they win tonight and Saturday night, they'll advance to the Final Four on Dec. 18 and 20 in Spokane, Wash.

But Gimmillaro isn't particularly tense. He's done this before.

"What would I rather be doing?" he asks. "Not be in this position?"

Not a chance.

  • Since joining CSULB in 1985, Gimmillaro has coached his women's volleyball teams to a 356-92 record and two NCAA titles.

  • This year, with a 31-1 record, his team is ranked No. 1 in the nation by 47 of 60 volleyball coaches.

  • This month, he was voted Big West Coach of the Year. For the fourth time.

    Not bad for a 49-year-old guy who serendipitously stumbled into Long Beach, volleyball and a coaching career, in that order.

    It began in upstate N.Y.

    Gimmillaro left his home in upstate New York when he was 17. After his parents divorced, he says his mother struggled to support her three sons as a sales clerk. If her youngest was going to make something of himself, he was going to have to make it on his own.

    So in August 1965, Gimmillaro boarded a Greyhound bus bound for L.A. He had $400 in his pocket and plans to attend UCLA - plans that changed the very first day.

    It was quite a day. He found a job stacking boxes at a Lucky market. He bought a 1958 Plymouth. He rented an apartment. Then he decided to take a look at the ocean.

    "I got in my car, and somebody pointed me down toward the Pacific Ocean, and I ended up in Belmont Shore," he recalls. "I just thought it was the greatest place."

    When he learned there was a university on a nearby hill, Westwood went out the window.

    Degree in economics

    After graduating from CSULB in 1970 with a degree in economics, Gimmillaro wanted to teach.

    "We all wanted to make the world a better place and through education, we all thought we could," he says.

    After all, they were all children of the '60s.

    "We grew up with Kennedy, very idealistic," he says. "I still am. Things can be what you want them to be and what you make them."

    Unfortunately, teaching jobs were at a premium when he graduated, so he worked as a General Mills sales rep instead. Ten months later, he began a five-year stint as a substitute teacher before landing a permanent position teaching algebra and history at Gahr High in Cerritos.

    By this time, he'd moved from Belmont Shore to Seal Beach to Sunset Beach. Along the way, he discovered a new sport: beach volleyball.

    When his best friend began coaching the Gahr girls volleyball team, Gimmillaro helped out. Eventually, he led the team to four CIF titles. He also served as business manager of the 1984 Olympics women's volleyball team.

    An education

    Gimmillaro acknowledges he had to overcome biases toward women and ethnic minorities. He feels fortunate he was forced to do so.

    "One of the reasons I have success coaching women is because women trust me, and they can," he says.

    Gimmillaro is very comfortable with women, especially tall women, says his 6-foot tall wife, Dania.

    "She looked normal to me," quips the 5-foot-8-inch coach, who also looks up to most of his players.

    A bachelor until he was 39, Gimmillaro met his wife at a Gahr graduation ceremony. They were introduced by his wife's younger sister, who was valedictorian.

    "Brian's very intense, very bright, very stimulating," says Dania Gimmillaro, 34. "Just very caring. Right away he wanted to know me. He's very sensitive."

    "I work hard on being a husband," Gimmillaro says. "I really want her to feel happy with me. Not just proud of me but happy with me."

    She says she is. Gimmillaro focuses on his family as intently as he focuses on his job, his wife says. In addition to 6-year-old Lauren, the couple have an 8-year-old son, Stefan.

    Gimmillaro never really relaxes. His mind is always racing, often replaying games.

    "Oh, yeah, he dwells," his wife says. "He's a dweller."

    But he says he doesn't dwell on what ifs. "I dwell on ways to make it better," he explains.


    He dwells on every move, says Assistant Coach Debbie Green, a 1984 Olympics volleyball silver medalist. Ask her to describe her boss's coaching style, and she doesn't hesitate.

    "Intense," she says. "Every play to him is important, every minute of practice. He's into every play."

    Which is not a bad thing.

    "If you're not intense, how can you expect that of your players?" she asks.

    Green, 39, says she never wanted to coach. She didn't like the head games, and she'd already been in gyms six days a week for 12 years. But when Gimmillaro called her 12 years ago, she relented.

    "He wanted the best for his volleyball players," she says. "He wanted them to succeed on and off the court. I knew I could work for him."

    And while Gimmillaro's intensity sometimes drives them nuts, she and Assistant Coach Jeri Estes call him their friend.

    "He and I don't always agree, but his friendship is not something that is questioned," says Estes, 24.

    In the midst of the championships, Green says her boss is "more intense, if there is such a thing."

    Although he appears calm, Gimmillaro is focused on every component of a victory, including vociferous fans. After working out in the campus health club from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., after attending a staff meeting and scanning his mail, he rushes to The Pyramid box office, where 50 shivering fans are waiting to buy tickets in a biting wind.

    "Work fast, these people are dying!" Gimmillaro yells to the ticket takers.

    Then he shakes everyone's hand, thanking them for coming and urging them to cheer for his team.

    "Save your voice! Don't say anything all week!"

    Back in his spacious mauve office, he's on the phone, agreeing to exchange game tapes with other NCAA semifinalists. On his big blond desk are four family photos and five neat rows of papers.

    Gimmillaro may eventually leave that office. "I always want the freedom of feeling someday I might do something else, not that I ever will," he says.

    He's already rejected at least two impressive offers. Last spring, Texas wondered if he might be interested in a $250,000 contract. The year before, he turned down an offer to coach the U.S. Olympic team.

    Although painfully tempted by the Olympics job, he didn't want to be on the road six months a year. He didn't want to move to San Diego. He didn't want to leave what he considers one of the top universities and cities in the country.

    "I've always wanted what people say doesn't exist out here, and that's community," he says. "There's a true small community feeling. That's what I've always wanted, and now I'm getting it."

    He's also getting the finer things in life. He drives a 1996 silver Jaguar. He lives in a stunning home in a gated enclave just north of his beloved Belmont Shore. He supplements his $80,000-a-year salary with income from his side businesses, including a volleyball club, camp, lectures, videotapes and products, such as kneepads.

    He hasn't lost that '60s idealism, however. "I get upset when people destroy other people's dreams," he says. "I'm offended by people who take away the naivete of people and don't let them believe in their dreams."

    Which is why he was so upset when his No. 1-ranked team was seeded second in the NCAA tournament.

    "I asked these young people to trust me," he says. "You tell the players this is what you play for and this is what you get."

    And then they don't, thanks to people in charge.

    "I don't want players to distrust authority," he says.

    But Gimmillaro doesn't want to dwell on the subject. He'd rather focus on his team. While men care most about their ability to play, he says, women care primarily about the team.

    "With women, that group is the much more challenging thing - the fragile bond of the team," he says.

    Not that Gimmillaro considers his women fragile.

    "We are very direct here about what the goals are, and that's to be the best," he says. "It always takes more than expected. I have no patience when the team's growth should be beyond what it is."

    As they prepare for their daily three-hour practice - which is supplemented by 45 minutes of weightlifting three times a week - the players acknowledge they have to be mentally tough to play for their demanding coach.

    When he wants you to get better, he sometimes gets on your back, says Kristy Kierulff, 20.

    "He expects more than we expect out of ourselves," says Benishe Dillard, 20. "It's a tough program and takes a lot of getting used to."

    But they and their teammates generally don't mind being pushed.

    "He recruits players who want to be good and don't mind being pushed hard," says Misty May, 20, who was recently named Big West Player of the Year.

    The players like Gimmillaro's teaching style. He breaks down every move in a volleyball game, says Dillard. He realizes not everyone learns the same way, says Stephanie Streeks, 22.

    "He doesn't tell you how, he tells you why," says Nique Crump, 21.

    And, she says, "He's got a really big heart. He cares for us a lot."

    After a few laps around the court, the players pair up. Each pair hits a ball back and forth, 600 times. None of the seven balls touches the floor.

    Gimmillaro watches from the sidelines, often sitting on a ball, occasionally stopping the action to deliver advice in a voice so soft it can't be heard beyond the court. Criticisms are followed by compliments.

    When his little girl comes flying across the gym, the players recognize her at once.

    "They all baby-sit me," Lauren explains.

    And because they're family, Lauren can't wait to give them the Christmas cards she's tucked inside a black Chanel bag. Finally practice is over, and Gimmillaro asks his daughter to call out the names on the envelopes.

    And just this once, it appears his focus has faltered.

    In a tiny voice, the kindergartner gently reminds him, "I can't read."





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