Jeff McClean is quite flexible -- he plays well inside and outside, on hardwood, sand or grass. About the only thing McClean can't do on a volleyball court is hear, which hasn't stopped him yet.

Less than a year after trying the game for the first time, McClean, 25, was starting at middle blocker for nationally ranked California-State Northridge. His coaches told him it didn't matter McClean was deaf; at 6 feet 5, he had the size and skills to play on the college level.

McClean since has graduated, but hasn't left the game. A two-time member of the U.S. men's national deaf team, the Woodland Hills, Calif., native yesterday led the Greater Washington Association for the Deaf's "Red" team to the championship of the American Deaf Volleyball Association's 1990 national tournament at Gallaudet University.

It was the first time in the four-year history of the tournament GWAD's "Black" team failed to win the title. In the championship match, GWAD "Red" defeated GWAD "Black," 15-10, 11-15, 15-7, largely because of McClean, whose experience guided a team that hadn't played together until the tournament started.

"Most of the teams really want to beat {GWAD "Black"}, but no one seemed to really try against us in the quarterfinals and semifinals," McClean said.

"Then in the finals I expected a tougher match, but I think they choked a little. In the second game, we broke down completely, but they didn't take advantage of it."

Utilizing the outside hitting of McClean and national deaf team player John Macko, GWAD "Red" recovered from its second-game collapse to take a 14-2 lead in the third before putting the match away.

"They couldn't stop John and me on the outside," said McClean, who plays outdoor volleyball in California two or three times a week. "And the rest of the guys played real good supporting defense.

"This was like an average {U.S. Volleyball Association} match. These guys can play."

To reach the finals, GWAD "Red" defeated Michigan's Flint Academy for the Deaf, 15-0, 15-4. In the other semifinal, GWAD "Black" defeated the Chicago-based West Suburban Association of the Deaf, 15-7, 8-15, 15-8.

Local teams also were featured in the final of the eight-team women's bracket. The Volleyballers, made up of Gallaudet alumni and national deaf team members, defeated a group of current Gallaudet players, 15-5, 14-16, 15-10.

The Volleyballers won seven consecutive points at the start, then the teams played evenly for the remainder, with Gallaudet rallying from several deficits in the second game to force a deciding third game.

"It's the highest level of competition I've seen since I've been involved," said Peg Worthington, a member of the U.S. women's deaf team coaching staff since 1981 and the women's volleyball coach at Gallaudet for 18 years.

"All the girls have had college experience and that really made it a balanced match. They've all played at a fairly high {NCAA} Division III level."

Although the opposition in the tournament wasn't as tough as he's used to, McClean said it's just as enjoyable to play with other deaf players as it was in college.

"At first, I couldn't sign that well," McClean said. "But now I think it's better to sign. I'm not having some of the misunderstandings I had before."

McClean, who graduated from Northridge in May 1989, said he knew of only one other deaf player to participate in a Division I college program: Brian Ellers, a four-time all-American at perennial volleyball power Pepperdine University.

"I played basketball in high school," McClean said. "But when I went to Northridge, they asked me to play volleyball. My best friend there started at the same time and graduated at the same time as me, and luckily he was a really good translator.

"Most of the time, though, {being deaf} didn't matter. If you pay attention, you can follow almost everything."