SPOKANE, Wash. -- Women's volleyball in the United States has come a long way since Jo Ellen Vrazel played on the national championship team at Utah State University in 1978.
But it hasn't come far enough, the veteran of the USA Women's Team said while preparing for her club's Goodwill Games match against the Soviet Union Friday night.
Vrazel played professional volleyball for the New York Liberties from 1987 to 1989, when the Major League Volleyball association collapsed due to financial problems.
'It wasn't a problem with popularity, that's for sure,' Vrazel said. 'It was definitely a problem at the administrative level getting the sponsorships.
'It was a great thing, I really hope it comes back,' she said.
The favorites in Goodwill women's volleyball are the Soviets, gold winners in the 1986 Goodwill Games and the 1988 Olympics; and China, which hasn't lost a game in its last five tournaments in world competition.
Cuba, the early favorite, left its national team home to prepare for the world championships in China next month and brought its B team to Spokane.
Cuba may be able to afford to play its second-string due to its extensive network of volleyball clubs for youngsters, which feed its national team with quality players.
And while the United States has a long way to go, Vrazel said she is encouraged that women's volleyball is catching on with American young people.
'It has developed greatly on the junior level,' she said. 'In college, it's the second-largest sport behind women's basketball.
'There hasn't always been a great feeder system into it. But the growth on that level is phenomenal, which is only going to improve our level because those kids are starting at such a younger age,' she said.
At 30, Vrazel is one of the oldest athletes in the Goodwill volleyball competition and is easily the oldest on the U.S. squad, which was chosen by the United States Volleyball Association.
'Sometimes they call me the old lady,' said Vrazel, who coached for four years at the University of Washington. 'I have different views. I think I add calmness and stability to the team.'
The native of Mobile, Ala., recalled how she went to college in the small town of Logan, Utah, where she led the Utah State volleyball team to the national title in 1978 and to a second-place finish in 1979.
'Utah State didn't have anything in the way of top-notch women's athletics, or men's,' she said. 'With us, they just happened to pull together talent from all around the country.
'As soon as we started playing well, the town of Logan just got behind us and the state of Utah did too,' she said. 'It was tremendous. We were the first ones at that school to win a national championship.'
Now Vrazel sees the Goodwill Games on the U.S.'s turf as an excellent opportunity to showcase the sport around the world. Turner Broadcasting System plans to televise part of the U.S.-Soviet match.
'This is key. You want to do well here for when you go to the world championships,' she said. 'This is as good as it gets right here, with the exception of Cuba.'
But U.S. Coach Taras Liskevych, whose teams have defeated China and Cuba but not the Soviet Union, is thinking a lot about the world championships and the 1992 Olympics.
'I think we're ready for this competion based on what it means in the overall projection during the next month and-a-half,' he said. 'Every team here, their focal point is the world championship. We think physically were at about 75 percent. I think all the teams are like that.'
He too complained about the lack of U.S. support for volleyball, and said the home court advantage is a rarity.
'The sports on the Olympic level and the national team levels are highly under-financed,' he said. 'The reason you don't play tournaments in America is because tournaments cost a lot of money. I think this is a great opportunity. We love playing in the United States. We had great experiences at the Pan-American Games in Indianapolis and certainly now the Goodwill Games in Spokane.'