Are the Broncos Too Good for Division II? : Women's Basketball Coach Says Her Champs Won't Join Big Teams

Times Staff Writer

Winning national basketball titles may become routine for the Cal Poly Pomona women.

Another year, another title.

Last week the Broncos won their second straight NCAA Division II crown. Kingpins of Division II in the 1980s, they have made the division finals in four of the last five years and won three titles.

Maybe they're just having one of those decades.

Or is the Bronco basketball program outgrowing Division II?

Coach Darlene May said she doesn't think so.

Matter of Money

While some opponents may be wishing that the Broncos would move up to Division I, May said the chance of that is slim.

"It's just a question of money," May said. "We just don't have it. We've had success against Division I teams, but I think that in the long run we would just get swallowed up (financially)."

May, whose team has won 35 straight games against Division II competition, prefers being a Division II powerhouse instead of a face in the crowd in Division I.

"Why not be the big fish in a small pond?" May said. "Who wants to be a small fish and get eaten?"

May does not mind being in Division II as long as she can recruit the type of players she has won in the past.

"As long as we can recruit that borderline (Division I) athlete who wants to play for a national champion and be an All-American (at any level), I think we can continue to be strong at this level," she said.

May Land Star Center

That has not been a problem for May, who has received a verbal commitment from promising 6-1 center Nikky Bracken of Compton for next season and is hoping to land three other players.

But that's next year. May is still thinking about this season.

The fact that the Broncos won another title will not go down as the surprise of the year, since Pomona was ranked No. 1 in Division II all season.

But May wasn't about to say ho-hum.

"It's a great feeling any time you win a title," she said. "It's what we've been working for all year."

May, who has produced a Division II-record mark of 312-78 (.800), said that all of her championship teams have been different.

"Our first (in 1982) was an extremely good shooting team led by Lisa Ulmer, Carol Welch, Jackie White, Diane Looker and Jeannette Tjaarda. Our second (1985) was virtually a slow-down, patient type of team led by Vickie Mitchell, Janine Phillips, Sheri Jennum and Kelley Fraser. And this year's team was a quick-running type of team."

Excellent Passers

The coach said quickness made the difference this season.

"This team had great quickness and the ability to pass very well," she said. "I haven't had those qualities in a lot of teams."

The leader was Mitchell, a 6-0 senior center who was named Division II player of the year by the Women's Basketball Coaches Assn. Mitchell, who averaged a team-high 15 points and 11.2 rebounds and led in steals (127) and shooting percentage (53.4%), will be honored at a breakfast in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday.

Mitchell finished her four years as the career leader in rebounds for the school and the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. with 1,202.

"Her statistics in four years are not the most fantastic thing you've ever seen," May said. "But she has meant so much more to the program. If I would have played her 40 minutes a game, her stats would have been a lot more impressive."

Others Came Through

Mitchell's importance may have been most noticeable in Pomona's 70-63 win over North Dakota State in the championship game, when she played only 17 minutes because of foul trouble but finished with 14 points.

"When she was in there we were a different team," May said. "We were blowing them away, and when she went out they got back in it."

With Mitchell on the bench, the Broncos relied on the scoring and rebounding of 5-10 junior forward Debra Larsen, who finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Larsen, named the most valuable player of the tournament, may have saved her best for Pomona's last two games, when she totaled 41 points and 23 rebounds.

"She came into her own in the tournament," May said. "Not that she wasn't playing well before, but she really became a team leader at the end of the season. In the Delta State game in the semifinals (which Pomona won 71-68), when they were triple-teaming Vickie, she really did a great job on the boards.

"She just does a great job on both ends of the court and that's the kind of players we need to have."

McCoy a Standout

Another standout was 5-6 junior guard Michelle McCoy, easily the team's flashiest player with an assortment of no-look passes, between-the-leg dribbles and dipsy-doodle shots. She finished with 16 points against Dakota.

"Certainly McCoy is an exciting player and she passes the ball as well as any player I've ever coached," May said.

McCoy certainly impressed ESPN television commentator Dick Vitale, who called her a "Mini-Magic," comparing her to Magic Johnson of the Lakers, Dwayne (Pearl) Washington of Syracuse and Johnny Dawkins of Duke.

"That's Dick Vitale, and anything that's flashy he's going to go overboard on," May said.

The coach, who has always preferred fundamentals over flash, also received strong play from the other starters: 6-0 senior center Debbie Flett and 5-8 senior guard Violet Palmer. Flett scored 19 points in the title game, including several outside jumpers while Mitchell was out of the game.

Teamwork, Determination

All in all, it was the kind of teamwork May likes to see.

"We had some kids who wanted to be there in the end, and when you have those kind of kids you can do well," May said.

"This was not my best practice team ever, but they sure were gamers. They got a little antsy when we practiced but they just wanted to play."

The Broncos, the first Division II team to win back-to-back titles, must replace Mitchell, Flett and Palmer if they hope to maintain their budding dynasty.

With her success this decade, May expects a lot of teams to be gunning for the Broncos, but she's not worried.

"It's not going to be any different than it was this year," she said. "They'll still be gunning for us. But that's OK because we'll still enjoy beating them."

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