Sunday, September 19, 1999

NKU discovers gem in Gomez


Colombian brings foreign experience to volleyball team

        Luisa Gomez's age, 19, precludes the Northern Kentucky University sophomore from being called a non-traditional student.

        Nothing else does:

        She's a volleyball player from Cali, Colombia, a former member of the Colombian Junior National Team. She was recruited by e-mail. She spent a month this summer camping in New Mexico to study cicadas.

        “Everyone who meets me asks, "Why did you come to Kentucky?” Gomez said. “I just wanted to come to the U.S. to play volleyball. If I go back to my country and say I have a degree from a U.S. university, it's (considered) really good.”

        Gomez is an outside hitter for the Norse, who have followed their Division II Elite Eight season with a 12-1 start and No.7 national ranking. She backs up senior stars Jenni Long and Jenny Jeremiah, and she has used her jump serve to total 12 aces thus far.

        In the big picture, her presence means much more. Foreign players have become increasingly prevalent at Division II schools, and Gomez is NKU's first such signee.

        “The people winning national championships, check their rosters — more than half are international players,” NKU coach Mary Biermann said. “Often, they're older — some are 26 or 27, all with years of experience playing on their national teams. It's a big controversy.”

        That abuse of Division II's lack of age requirements isn't what NKU's after. But foreign players just out of high school are an attractive option.

        “I'm always recruiting good talent, and it was a good idea to get started in South America and get our feet wet,” said NKU assistant coach Carlos Chia, a native of Peru.

        Gomez's family has relatives in the U.S. who helped her target schools to contact. Biermann got their e-mail, written in Spanish. “I told Carlos, "This one's for you.'”

        Gomez's mother had played on the Colombian National Team, coached by the same man who once coached Chia on the Peruvian National Team. Chia communicated by e-mail until Gomez could visit and try out for the coaches.

        Cali, a city of 2 million people, is quite Americanized — with American TV and movies, McDonald's and Pizza Hut. Gomez had been on numerous vacations to the U.S.

        That didn't diminish her culture shock last year upon moving.

        “It's extremely different, from the food to the people to (volleyball) to the kind of partying they do here,” she said.

        So. How do they party here?

        “Back home we have the salsa, the merengue — music where you hold someone,” Gomez said. “Here, you're separated and you grind. I hate it.”

        Gomez hasn't yet returned to Colombia. She joined NKU's biology department for that summer trip, then spent the rest of the summer in New York City.

        “I get homesick,” she said. “But I know it's good for me to be here.”

        She has enjoyed the change of seasons, something she didn't have in Colombia (“It's always summer,” she said.) When it first snowed last year, she was so excited she stayed outside, freezing, to watch.

        “It has been a great experience here,” Gomez said. “The way the team is going, I think it's only going to get better.”

        LOCALS AT GEORGETOWN: Several local players have helped Georgetown (Ky.) College to a No.3 ranking in the NAIA national football poll.

        Sophomore quarterback Eddie Eviston (Newport Central Catholic) ranks second in the NAIA in total offense, averaging 340.5 yards per game in the Tigers' 2-0 start. He is fourth in passing (293.5 yards per game), has thrown seven touchdowns and rushed for two TDs.

        Sophomore linebacker Nathan Lindeman (Highlands) is second on the team in tackles with 18. He earned Mid-South Conference Player of the Week honors in Week One, totaling 14 tackles, four tackles for loss and a blocked field goal against Iowa Wesleyan.

        Junior linebacker Stephen Lickert (Highlands) has 101/2 tackles. Senior fullback Ashley Moser (Beechwood) has rushed eight times for 48 yards and a TD and caught three passes for 31 yards.

        Fans can follow the team online at www.georgetowncollege.edu.

        ALEXANDER ONLINE: Shaun Alexander now has his own Web site, produced by Alabama's sports information department. The Boone County grad is being trumpeted as a Heisman candidate, and this is a way to make info more accessible to Heisman voters and fans.

        The site, www.37heisman.tide.ua.edu, includes a bio, statistics and a photo gallery.

        Neil Schmidt is the Enquirer's Northern Kentucky sports reporter. Call him at 578-5582 or send e-mail to nschmidt@enquirer.com.

       



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