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Who Needs Vowels When You Have Ctvrtlik?

July 20, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Two years ago at the men’s volleyball world championships, Bob Ctvrtlik put on a four-star performance.

With the U.S. team working its way to a surprising bronze medal, his creative teammates would award him a ``star″ at crucial junctures _ as if he were a general.

``As we kept winning and advancing, the whole volleyball world was in disbelief,″ Ctvrtlik said. ``Each time we’d win a big match, they kept giving me another star. If we needed a day off and I couldn’t get the coaches to give us one, they’d take a star away. I ended up with four.″

Back in 1988, the Brazilians called Ctvrtlik (pronounced stuh-VERT-lick) ``Buy-A-Vowel,″ a nickname that made its way into a Trivial Pursuit question.

``Four Star″ is a better fit for the fiery 33-year-old outside hitter, who will lead an aggressive but young American team into its Olympic opener Sunday night against Poland.

Without Ctvrtlik, Team USA might have been a flop in its own Olympics. With him, the Americans have a link to their golden past and a chance to win a medal.

``I think it was among the most significant events this quadrenium for our team,″ Sturm said of Ctvrtlik’s return from a lucrative overseas pro career in 1994.

Actually, Ctvrtlik almost didn’t make it back to his third Olympics.

When he called Sturm in late 1993, the coach said no, having committed to other players after Ctvrtlik moved on from the 1992 Olympic team that won a bronze.

With his program in flux, Sturm finally relented.

``At the position he plays, we were in definite need of experience and stability,″ Sturm said. ``We had too many young guys on the court at the same time. He was a very important part of the development of the maturity of the team.″

Ctvrtlik hadn’t even suited up for a match when he was named captain of a team that had just gone 0-12 in the 1994 World League. With the return of Ctvrtlik and fellow Olympic veteran Scott Fortune, the Americans went 16-3, including a 13-match winning streak, before pulling off its bronze surprise at the world championships.

Ctvrtlik’s contributions are enormous.

He put down an average of 100 spikes in each of the last two Olympics, including 1988 when the United States won its second straight gold medal. He’s one of the best passers in the world. He started a charitable foundation that will raise money for needy kids by taking pledge for each spike he has here.

And he runs the show.

``I try to learn what everyone’s buttons are,″ he says of motivating a mostly stoic group of players. ``Some guys you’ve got to pat on the back, some guys you’ve got to get right up in their face and wake them up.″

Ctvrtlik, who learned volleyball on a cement court during a summer rec league in Long Beach, Calif., didn’t have to look far for inspiration. His father, Josef, escaped from Czechoslovakia on cross-country skis in 1948. After living in a refugee camp in Germany for two years, he made it to New Zealand, then California. He died of cancer in 1983, before his son became a star.

``He came over here without a cent and worked, worked, and worked some more,″ Ctvrtlik said. ``My father always let us know how good we had it, and instilled in us a joy to live, to compete. An enthusiasm.″

Ctvrtlik leads a starting lineup that includes four players 24 or under, none of whom have played in an Olympic match. Among them are 24-year-old setter Lloy Ball, another emotional player, and opposite hitter Mike Lambert, 22, the only player still in college. Lambert fills the ``hammer″ spot that Steve Timmons played in three straight Olympics.

Ctvrtlik said Team USA reminds him of the 1992 Brazilian team that got on a roll and won the gold medal.

``Young, cocky, confident and aggressive,″ Ctvrtlik said. ``I think the strength and weakness of this team is the same _ we’re very young. Our youth and aggressiveness are keys to this team. I wouldn’t want to face us.″

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