Sharpshooter : Maureen Formico May Be the Waves' Best Ever

Times Staff Writer

USC's Cheryl Miller may be the best player in women's college basketball, but Pepperdine's Maureen Formico, though it be male chauvinist to say so, is among theprettiest.

Formico, a 6-foot, 21-year-old junior, also has a friendly smile and warm personality. She always attracts attention on the court.

Formico, with her strawberry blonde hair and strawberries-and-cream complexion, and dressed as she was the other day in a black V-neck culotte suit and high heels, could easily be mistaken for a model on an assignment at Pepperdine's scenic campus in Malibu.

But in a Pepperdine uniform, shooting and rebounding or picking up strawberries on her arms and legs while battling for loose basketballs, she can't be mistaken for anything but a player--may be the best the school has had since it began playing women's basketball in the 1975-76 season.

Sizzles in Triumph

Formico, a graduate of San Jose's Archbishop Mitty High School, is having a standout year for a team that has been down on its luck and had a record of 9-18 after Monday night's 87-75 victory over U. S. International, during which she scored a career high 43 points.

She is one of the nation's top scorers and rebounders, averaging 24.3 points and 12.9 boards, and set a Pepperdine record with 33 rebounds in one game. She also has set a single-season school record for most points (657), besting Kim Bueltel's 647, is closing in on single-season records for scoring average and most field goals, and is almost certain of setting a bunch of career records.

And her fine year began badly after she was injured in a pickup game last summer.

She broke her collarbone and separated her shoulder when she hit the floor while trying to retrieve a loose ball. She missed the first two weeks of practice and, tentative because of her sore shoulder, missed some of her favorite shots in her first few games. In the team's third game, a 74-49 loss to UCLA, Formico (pronounced FOR-mee-ko), was only 6 for 23 from the field, and she was wide open on most of the shots.

Stronger and Sharper

But as her shoulder got stronger, so did her shooting. In the team's first 10 games, she was shooting only about 34% from the floor. But as her confidence returned, so did her jump shot, and her percentage is now as healthy as her shoulder: 45.3% from the field, 71.% from the foul line.

If Formico was not in shape at the beginning of the season, neither was the team. Three players who were expected to play--forwards Anita Rogers and Cindy Jensen and guard Carla Reynolds--did not. Rogers, a fifth-year senior and the second-leading scorer (behind Formico) on last year's 13-18 squad, turned up academically ineligible. Jensen, a senior premed student, dropped basketball to concentrate on studies. Reynolds, a promising freshman, injured her knee so badly in a summer pickup game that she is not expected to play anymore.

Before the season, the team was down to eight players, and the eighth, 6-0 junior center Shawn Sturgeon, who is averaging 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds, missed the first four games because she also plays volleyball and the seasons overlap.

The Waves shot 32% from the field in their first 10 games, and before beating Wyoming, 81-68, on Jan. 10, the squad's record was a dismal 1-14. But, including the Wyoming win, Pepperdine then shot about 48% and won eight of its next 11.

Back on Course

The team, which finishes its season with games tonight at Hawaii Pacific and Saturday night at the University of Hawaii, is back on course and Formico is back to normal--which in her case is way above average.

Second-year Coach Ron Fortner, an assistant for three years to former Pepperdine men's Coach Gary Colson, said, "As time goes on, people are beginning to realize just how good a player Maureen really is. She can score from the perimeter, off the break and from underneath the basket. Her sense of the ball is amazing.

"She has learned a lot in the last year and a half, is one of the best players in Southern California, and we're pushing her for All-America."

She has room to improve. Fortner said she wasn't asked to play much defense in high school (and she confirms this) and that she is so eager to get rebounds that she sometimes battles with a teammate to get them.

She is showing eagerness to get better. Fortner said, "She is going to stay in summer school this year and work on her game. She's never done that before."

Likes to Go Home

Formico said she has not been willing to stay on campus during the summer before because she is a home girl, home being Los Gatos, a suburb of San Jose and Santa Clara with a population of about 30,000.

"I'm the baby of eight kids (six girls, two boys). My father died when I was a sophomore, and my mom and I are close."

She said that when Patty Meyers, her first coach at Pepperdine, left after her freshman season, she was disappointed. "I was not close to Coach Meyers, but I was impressed with her coaching tactics."

She said she thought of transferring to another school after the departure of Meyers, whose seven-year record at Pepperdine was 138-59.

Formico said she decided to stay at Pepperdine because "I've been raised with the idea that once you start something, you don't quit. I also enjoy the campus more, so I don't go home half as much as I used to."

Wants to Teach, Coach

Half-Italian and half-Irish (her mother's maiden name was Taylor), Formico, who was also a star volleyball player in high school, is majoring in physical education and hopes to teach and coach, probably at the elementary-school level, because "I really love kids." She works with physical education classes at Webster Junior High School and at Our Lady of Malibu School.

She is also fond of her high school sweetheart, 6-3 Dominic Caloiaro, who was a basketball player at Mitty High and DeAnza Junior College. Caloiaro, whose playing career ended when he injured his knee at DeAnza, is a junior at San Jose State and frequently comes to watch Formico play at Pepperdine.

If her boyfriend had come to see one of the men's basketball games, however, he might have seen his girlfriend playing around with another young man. But Caloiaro needn't worry. The young man was Brian Byrne, and Brian, son of one of the men's team's trainers, T. J. Byrne, is only 3 years old.

Formico said that, since she can't have her nieces or nephews with her on campus, she has taken to palling around with Brian and keeping an eye on him for his parents.

She was asked if Brian has taken a shine to her, and she replied, "Yeah, he has." It's easy to see why.

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