When Van Girard became women’s basketball coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson three seasons ago, after a successful run at Lynwood High, he didn’t expect the transition to go without a hitch.
Girard admits that the coaching adjustment from high school to an NCAA Division II program was considerably more difficult than he anticipated.
“I thought I knew a lot about coaching basketball before I came here and I found out I didn’t,” Girard said. “There are a lot of successful coaches out there, especially in our conference, and I’ve tried to learn a little from all of them. I’ve learned so much at this level in the three years I’ve been here and I’m still learning.”
Dominguez Hills struggled to a 6-19 record in his first season and improved to 12-15 last season. But in Girard’s third season with the Toros, Dominguez Hills is finally on the move.
The Toros are off to a 10-2 start, their best since 1984 and currently the top record of any team in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn.
Girard credits several factors in the transformation from a second-division team to a CCAA title contender.
“We’re getting the right kind of people we can win with, developing the right kind of attitude to be successful and our financial support is getting a lot better,” he said.
The coach says instilling a positive attitude has been one of his most difficult tasks.
“We’ve had to establish the feeling that we can beat people and that has taken a while to instill,” Girard said. “There were times when we were just playing and waiting for the dam to burst.”
It has also taken time for Girard to recruit players who fit into his up-tempo game.
“I’d say that the players that we now have on the floor reflect the kind of players I would recruit,” he said. “There’s only one player on the floor that’s been here for (more than) three years and that’s Devon Akita. She’s the kind of player I would’ve recruited if I had been with the program back then.”
With only one senior on his roster, point guard Akita, Girard said the Toros are by no means a finished product.
“We have yet to put together a 40-minute basketball game,” he said. “We’ve played well for 33 minutes or 35 minutes and even about 37 minutes against (Cal State) Stanislaus. But we have yet to play for 40 minutes.”
Girard said that probably has a lot to do with the team’s youth.
“A lot of it has to do with growing,” he says. “With the exception of one player, we have no one who has been in this system for much more than a year.”
All things considered though, Girard is convinced that the program is finally heading in the right direction.
“I would say we’re pretty much right where we wanted to be at this point,” he said. “This is only the second recruiting class that I’ve been a part of and we still have a long way to go. But we’re making progress.”
All five starters average in double figures in scoring, led by sophomore forward Denise Slater at 13.3 points and forward Dionne Vanlandingham at 13.2. Vanlandingham also averages 12.7 rebounds.
“I think they’re all doing better at finishing the play,” Girard said. “Devon is doing a good job of getting the right people the ball. The whole team is working real hard and doing the right things to be successful.”
Despite his team’s early success, Girard isn’t ready to call his team the conference favorite. He still thinks nine-time defending champion Cal Poly Pomona deserves that distinction, even with its 6-5 nonconference record.
“I think what’s happening is the conference is getting better from top to bottom,” Girard said. “I know Pomona lost a lot with the graduation of (All-American) Niki Bracken, but I still think Pomona is the team to beat.”
So he has set his sights on finishing the season at .500 or better, leading the conference in defensive statistics and reaching the conference postseason tournament for the first time.
“All of those are realistic goals that, barring injuries or the unforeseen, we can reach,” Girard said.
College Division Notes
Heading into the holiday break, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men are the only undefeated College Division basketball team in the Southland at 8-0. The Stags are idle until they visit Azusa Pacific Jan. 2. . . . With a run-and-gun offense that averages more than 100 points a game, UC Riverside has the next best record at 9-1 . . . For the second year in a row, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Occidental have each placed one player on the Kodak All-American football team. Senior defensive lineman Pat Moore of San Luis Obispo was named to the NCAA Division II first team and senior offensive lineman Peter Tucker of Occidental made the Division III first team. Last year, defensive lineman Robert Morris of San Luis Obispo and linebacker David Hodges of Occidental were chosen to the squads.
Three College Division players from the Southland have been selected to the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics All-America team in men’s soccer. Junior midfielder Justin Wall of Westmont made the first team and senior forward Chris Palm and sophomore defender Chris Stempson of Azusa Pacific made the second team. . . . Whittier has named Ken Visser, an assistant at Cal State Long Beach since 1979, as its football coach. Visser replaces Don Uyeshima, who was interim coach last season when the Poets went 0-9. . . . Teams from the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference are prominent in the preseason NCAA Division III tennis rankings released by the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Assn. Pomona-Pitzer is ranked No. 2, Occidental No. 11 and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps No. 22 in women’s play and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is No. 4 and Pomona-Pitzer No. 9 in the men’s.