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COLLEGES : Lions Failed to Restore the Roar

What was expected to be the best women’s basketball season ever at Loyola Marymount ended without fanfare last weekend when the Lions finished seventh in the eight-team West Coast Conference.

The Lions came out of the gate running an up-tempo offense featuring the three best players in school history--guards Lynn Flanagan and Kristen Bruich and center Tricia Gibson.

They finished 11-17, their worst record in four seasons. Their 4-10 conference record was their worst since finishing last in 1986-87.

By the time conference play started in January, Bruich had quit the team after a public blowup with Coach Todd Corman, leaving him without an experienced point guard. A few weeks later several key reserves became academically ineligible, sometimes leaving Corman with as few as six or seven players, several of them freshmen.

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For a coach who was confidently predicting that the Lions could contend for the WCC title, Corman was left to rejoice when his team finally got its lone conference road victory last week.

It proved to be one step forward and two steps back.

Things deteriorated when the feisty Bruich, probably the best player in school history, ended a stormy relationship with Corman by arguing with him at halftime of a Dec. 19 game and storming off, never to return.

She is finishing school but never reconciled with Corman or the team. “She didn’t make any friends doing what she did,” said a school official.

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Bruich’s departure left the point guard position to Christy Fortney, a gritty but unpolished player, and Corman had to back off the running game.

Flanagan was left to carry much of the scoring load and finished as the leading scorer in school history. Gibson set school records for rebounding and blocked shots but never became a dominating inside force, operating better out of the high post.

The nucleus of next year’s team will be forward Joelle Longobardi and guard Jamie Jesko. Corman can also count on more consistent play from the three freshmen--forward Laura Nugent, three-point specialist Lisa Humphreys and Fortney--who were pressed into duty at midseason.

Corman and his assistant, Brett Marches, also are hopeful for a solid recruiting class. But in looking back, this will be the promising season that came unhinged.

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It’s been a tough senior season for Tom Peabody, who was expected to give immediate leadership to the Loyola basketball team but instead struggled throughout December because of injuries that impaired his head-first style.

But the “Human Bruise” has been back in form during the Lions’ 10-game winning streak. During that period he has had a message written on the back of a sneaker: “Don’t Be Scared.”

“It’s for me, mainly, but the guys are familiar with it,” Peabody said. “The idea is have enough heart to come through, don’t be scared to do what you have to do. It’s about going out and having fun.”

It took awhile for the left-handed power in the Loyola Marymount baseball team’s lineup to awaken, but Joe Ciccarella came alive last week, leading the Lions to four consecutive victories.

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For the week Ciccarella went 10 for 15 with five doubles, a home run, seven runs batted in, eight runs scored and four stolen bases. The powerful junior first baseman set a school record with four doubles in a game as he went five for six against San Francisco. Against UC Santa Barbara, Ciccarella just missed hitting for the cycle with a double, triple and homer.

Led by Ciccarella’s booming offense, the Lions swept a three-game WCC series at the University of San Francisco to improve to 10-7 overall and 5-3 in the WCC. If the George Page Stadium field is playable today, they will meet St. Mary’s in a single game at 2 p.m. On Saturday, the team’s are schedule to play a doubleheader at 11 a.m.

Stat of the Week: When Loyola Marymount’s basketball team started the season 2-7, the Lions were averaging a healthy 115 points but allowing nearly 130. But thanks in part to their 10-game winning streak, the Lions have nearly balanced the books, scoring 3,070 points while allowing 3,088. And in the 14 conference games the Lions actually finished in the black, 1,369 points to 1,288--a positive margin of 5.8 points per game.

Notes

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The 13th-ranked Loyola Marymount volleyball team (2-8) plays at No. 2 Cal State Long Beach (14-2) at 7:30 tonight. The 49ers are the only team to win even a game against top-rated USC this season. . . . Loyola guard Terrell Lowery was named West Coast Conference basketball player of the month for February and junior forward Joelle Longobardi of the Loyola women’s team earned the last WCC player-of-the-week honors. Longobardi had 45 points and 19 rebounds and shot 78% from the field as the Lions split their last two games. . . . Loyola’s Tricia Gibson lost the WCC rebounding title by five rebounds. Gonzaga’s Kay Koppelman grabbed 282 rebounds for a 10.1 average. Gibson finished with 277 rebounds and a 9.9 average. . . . Robert Barksdale finished the season averaging five assists, making him the first player from Dominguez Hills to lead the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. in that category.

Lady Toro sophomore center Dionne Vanlandingham lost the CCAA rebounding title to Chapman’s Jackie Saunders, 289-288. The Lady Toros’ Cheri Bullet finished fourth, averaging 9.4. Dominguez Hills freshman Karee Bonde led the CCAA in three-point baskets per game, averaging 2.6 for the season and 2.9 in conference games. Bullet was named to the All-CCAA first team, the only Lady Toro honored. . . . Dominguez Hills pitcher Mark Tranberg, a transfer from Chapman, had little problem against his old team last weekend, holding the Panthers to three hits in a 7-1 victory.


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