Colleen Riley is in her 22nd year as coach of the Fullerton College women’s basketball team, and she can’t understand all the recognition she has been receiving this season.
Most of the attention has come because of Fullerton’s 80-68 victory over Sacramento City on Dec. 6, making Riley the first community college coach in the nation to win 500 women’s basketball games. Fullerton is 11-2 this season, and Riley’s record is 503-95.
After the game, players and fans donned shirts that proclaimed No. 500 for the coach. When she drove home, she was greeted by Christmas lights blinking “500" on her garage door.
“That was really nice and something I never expected,” Riley said of the lights, which were set up by a neighbor. “All the attention has been very nice, but I never expected it.”
Two weeks ago, Fullerton celebrated again. Riley was carried into the gym on the shoulders of Nick Fuscardo, the baseball coach, and Ken Hill, the sports information director, to applause from fans, players and staff members. She was given a plaque by Fullerton President Philip Borst and Athletic Director Hal Sherbeck.
Riley is proud of her accomplishments, but is just as glad that’s behind her. Now she can get back to coaching.
“I knew this would be the year of No. 500,” Riley said. “But I had no idea it would be this big of a deal. I think I’ve just been lucky. I love Fullerton College and couldn’t ask for anything more. We have had great athletes that wanted to win and the support of the administration from the very start.”
Riley, 48, moved with her family from Michigan to Anaheim in 1959. After her graduation from Anaheim High School, Riley was a multisport star at Fullerton College. She played volleyball, field hockey, basketball and softball and was on the swimming team. She earned a bachelor of arts degree from Whitter College and a master’s degree from Cal State Los Angeles.
She returned to Fullerton in 1968 to take over the women’s basketball program, which at the time was part of the Women’s Athletic Assn.
Since the start, Riley’s teams have dominated, averaging 24 victories and four losses and winning a state title in 1978. She has also won 15 conference championships and six Southern California titles.
“We just got on a roll,” Riley said. “People ask me, ‘How much longer will I keep doing this?’ And I tell them that ‘As long as I need to work.’ I never started out wanting to stay this long but I like the level. I have friends that are on the Division I level and the pressure is tremendous. That’s not for me.”
But winning is.
The Fullerton women’s basketball tournament will feature a 15-team field including state champion Golden West and runner-up College of the Sequoias
The tournament starts Thursday, and the title game is at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Fullerton plays Centralia of Washington at 7 p.m. Thursday in the first round. Golden West follows at 8:45 against Coe of Utah.
The Orange Empire Conference men’s and women’s basketball seasons start Jan. 3. The first night will feature games between last season’s top two teams for men and women.
The Rancho Santiago men play at Cypress at 7:30 p.m. Rancho Santiago, the defending state champion, lost only three games last season, two to Cypress. In other games, Golden West is at Orange Coast, and Saddleback is at Fullerton.
The Golden West women play host to Orange Coast, the second-place team in the conference last season, at 7:30 p.m. Fullerton is at Saddleback, and Cypress is at Rancho Santiago.
Estrus Crayton, the Rancho Santiago running back and kick returner, has added another award to an already bursting trophy case.
Crayton shared the state offensive player of the year award with quarterback Brett Salisbury of Palomar and running back Fred Bradley of Moorpark.
Crayton already has been named Mission Conference Central Division offensive player of the year as well as a first-team J.C. Grid-Wire selection.
Other local members of the all-state first team are: tight end Rob Coons (Fullerton), receiver Mike Cook (Saddleback), offensive lineman Greg Thurston (OCC), defensive linemen Ray Smith (Golden West) and Dave Spoolstra (Rancho Santiago), linebacker Kevin Ashworth (Golden West) and punter Kevin Leon (Fullerton).
There was one curious omission from the state team. Lawrence Hatch, an OCC defensive back, had a stellar season at cornerback and as a kick returner and was a first-team pick by the J.C. Grid-Wire. But somehow, the J.C. Athletic Bureau and the state coaches’ association couldn’t find a spot among the 32 players on the first-team defense.
Hatch did make the honorable mention list, along with linebacker Eric Thomas (Golden West), defensive backs Bobby Sylvia (Golden West) and Michael Coe (Saddleback), receiver Toney Jenkins (Saddleback), offensive lineman Jerry Gillespie (Golden West) and quarterback Eric Robinson (Fullerton).
Taft (8-1) won the state title with Bakersfield (10-1) finishing second. Orange Coast (10th) and Fullerton (17th) were the only Orange County teams in the top 20.
Charles Williams, an offensive lineman from Cypress High School and Cerritos College, has signed with the Houston. Williams, 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, was a J.C. Grid-Wire first-team selection as well as a Mission Conference Northern Division first-team pick.