COLLEGE DIVISION : Her Consistency Over Years Leads to 400 Victories

When Darlene May became women's basketball coach at Cal Poly Pomona 16 years ago, she took the position with what she says were modest aspirations.

"I just wanted to have a college coaching job," she said. "That was the main thing I was concerned about and I just wanted to do a good job."

May has fulfilled those goals--and then some.

With her team's 70-68 victory over Weber State on Saturday, May became one of the few women's basketball coaches to have 400 victories.

May's record is 400-91, a winning percentage of .815. She already has the most victories in NCAA Division II history.

"It makes me proud to be at that level," May said. "I would've never imagined that I could reach that level in 15 years and about three games."

May's Bronco teams have averaged 26.5 victories. In the last eight seasons, Pomona has won or shared the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. title eight times, won three Division II championships and finished second in the nation three times.

"The most important thing to me are the conference and national championships but I feel pretty proud that we have stayed at the same level for 15 years," May said.

"I don't know what it is," May said. "I have such a tremendous desire to excel that if we lose I always take it personally. I just don't accept losing. Even if I'm just fishing, I don't like to lose--and I like fishing."

May is quick to credit her players and assistant coaches, principally longtime aide Barb Thaller, for her success.

"I may have 400 wins but (Barb) has played a big part in a lot of them," May said. "You can't say enough about having good assistants."

The Broncos have also had more than their share of outstanding players, most of whom have fit nicely into the coach's hard-working, disciplined approach to the game.

But along the way May has also developed players, such as All-American forward Niki Bracken, who didn't fit into the mold when they arrived.

"I don't think Niki Bracken was that kind of player when she came in," May said. "I don't think she had that killer instinct inside her when we first got her but she is certainly that kind of a player now."

The coach doesn't dispute that she can be very demanding of her players, especially during practice.

"I have kids who come in here and they just don't know how to practice and I demand that from my players," she said. "That's when they really learn how to play the game. You have to teach kids to learn how to practice and sometimes it takes a year or two for them to understand what you want."

May also attributes her success partly to her flexibility in coaching philosophy.

"I feel like the athletes have changed a lot in the 15 years that I've been here," she said. "I think I've changed along with them and learned how to communicate. In my first two or three years, I think I was awful in that regard but I've changed as I've gone along.

"You'll see that we don't have many players that leave our program (before graduation). That's because I try to keep the lines of communications open all the time."

She has succeeded as a recruiter, although May acknowledged that it is not easy to compete for talent against Division I programs.

"The competition for recruiting the athletes has really changed," she said. "I can't even begin to explain what it's like to recruit now.

"You have to find sleepers. At our level you don't have any other choice. That's what you have to do because the competition for the athletes has become tremendous. You walk into a gym and all the coaches know about the players you are recruiting."

With her success, both as a coach and as a recruiter, May has had her chances to move up to Division I. In recent years she was offered the job at Washington and was in the running for positions at Cal State Fullerton, San Jose State and San Diego State.

But May said she has not been eager to move up.

"I'm not a real big person for change," she said. "I didn't shop around for a lot of other jobs. There are times that I've had second thoughts. The Washington job was a really good possibility. But I always figured that this was my home and I just wanted to stay here."

May said she doesn't have any serious complaints about her position at Pomona.

"The enjoyment I get from working with the kids is still there," she said. "It's some of the other things about the job that get to me. I don't enjoy losing and I don't enjoy spending every day of my life in a gym. But as far as working with the kids and being at the school, I do enjoy that part."

Even so, she doesn't think she will be coaching for more than about four more seasons.

"I would like to retire by the end of my 20th year," she said. "I would like to retire before my 21st year, maybe 1995.

"I've just got other things that I would like to do and that's long enough to be coaching basketball. It's still a young person's game and I think it'll be time to let somebody else beat the bushes for talent."

May said if she doesn't accomplish anything in her final years of coaching, she has nothing to be disappointed about.

"If I never win another national championship, I'll still feel like I accomplished a lot," she said. "There are so many coaches out there who haven't even won one championship."

But as the newest member of the 400-victory club, May has already left a lasting mark on women's basketball.

The CCAA will be well-represented when the NCAA Division II women's volleyball playoffs start Friday.

Four CCAA teams have received berths in the 20-team tournament, including third-seeded Cal State Northridge and fourth-seeded UC Riverside. The others are Chapman and Cal State Bakersfield.

In first-round regional matches Friday, Northridge (26-10) visits Bakersfield (17-15) and Riverside (25-4) plays host to Chapman (26-5).

Riverside, which is led by All-American outside hitter Sheri Benson, won the CCAA title, although the Highlanders were seeded behind Northridge for the playoffs. The teams split in four meetings this season but the Matadors won the last two matches.

Sacramento State heads into the playoffs as the top seeded team and Portland State, defending national champion, is seeded No. 2. But since 1980, Northridge has won three titles and finished second five times and Riverside has won three national titles since 1977.

Regional winners will advance to the Elite Eight championship tournament Dec. 8-10.

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