The way Long Beach State coach Brian Gimmil laro had it figured, 2004 was going to be the season during which Rosie Lewis truly blossomed as a major college volleyball player.
Something threw a wrench into the works for the 49ers outside hitter, though: her back.
During February of last year, she noticed twinges of pain in the lower portion of her back during individual workouts.
Then, in July workouts a few weeks before the start of practice a year ago, "it was agonizing," she said following the second of Tues day's two practices in the Gold Mine Gymnasium.
"I thought the muscles had tightened or it was spasms. But I knew something was wrong."
An magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examination revealed a par tially slipped disk.
She didn't realize it just then but her junior season was about to be put on a one-year hold.
"I had always fought through injuries before," she said, men tioning the broken hand she played with her entire senior sea son at Chandler High in Arizona and the multitude of ankle inju ries that all volleyball players seemingly have to endure.
This wasn't going to be one of those injuries.
"It was frustrating, being on the sidelines (during the season)," she said. "The hardest part was the doctors telling me I couldn't play when I knew that I had team mates who were hurt (with their own injuries) and they were out there battling (playing). I felt like I was letting my teammates down because I couldn't help them. Oth er injuries you can adjust to. But with that kind of (back) injury, there was nothing I could do to compensate for it."
She began light practicing with the team late last season and by the time individual workouts be gin in February "I was ready to go," she said, smiling.
"I went full on, every drill."
She's taken that approach since two-a-days began on Aug. 9 for the team's Aug. 26 season-opening match against Long Island Uni versity in the Walter Pyramid.
"Yes, it's been a long summer (waiting for practice to get under way)," she said. "I'm anxious (for Aug. 26 to roll around) to get out there and battle."
Lewis, who spent a year at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls before enrolling at Long Beach, gave 49ers volleyball fol lowers just a taste of what she is capable of doing for the program while playing in 47 games, and re cording double-figure kill totals in the team's final three matches, during the 2003 season.
"We hope she's going to be a big point scorer for us," Gimmillaro said. "She's waited a long time (to get to this point).
"She's strong and in very good shape right now. With continued development, you're going to see a very, very good player by the end of the season."
49er notesThe Aug. 26-27 matches against Long Is land and Sacramento State mark the first time the 49ers have played before school has started.
The first day of classes at Long Beach begin on Aug. 29.
The early start became possible last spring when the NCAA ap proved a proposal to begin the start of the season a week earlier.
Gimmillaro is gener ally pleased with the collective performance of his five incoming freshmen, Ali Daley, Nicole Var gas, Quincy Virdin, Naomi Wash ington and Stephanie Tokarz. Of the five, Vargas (setter) and Daley (outside hitter) appear the most likely to get significant immediate playing time.
That could change, though, be cause of the injured middle block ers the 49ers have. Erika Chides ter (who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury) is recover ing from June knee surgery and isn't expected to be available to play in matches until early Octo ber.
And Natalie Uhart is hobbled by shin splints.
If Uhart continues to be limited in what she can do on the floor, the 6-5 Tokarz (from Kechi, Kansas) could be a factor in the early matches playing alongside the other middle blocker, sophomore Alexis Crimes.