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Curry Hopes Team Takes Bigger Steps

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Denise Curry calls her first season as Cal State Fullerton women’s basketball coach “a step in the right direction.”

But it was only that: a step. And it was a small one for someone who thinks in terms of giant leaps.

The Titans reached the Big West postseason tournament for the first time in three years last season, finishing third in the Western Division with a 7-8 record. But Fullerton still was well below .500 for the season at 10-17.

“I look at myself as an achiever, and I want it to be a lot better,” said Curry, a three-time All-American at UCLA and one of 13 women inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Curry looks back at Fullerton’s tradition in women’s basketball and sees no reason why it can’t eventually be that way again.

“It’s much easier to make it happen when it has happened before,” Curry said. “There’s a lot of talent in Orange County and Southern California, and we need to take advantage of it.”

Fullerton was a power in the 1970s under Billie Moore, losing only 15 games in eight seasons, and reached the NCAA playoffs in 1989 and 1991 under Maryalyce Jeremiah.

Curry hopes she can move the program another step along that road this season.

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“We’ll be better than we were last year, assuming that we can keep everyone healthy,” Curry said.

Injuries were a problem last season. Nashira Shaw missed the final five games with a broken cheekbone and Justine McMahan had a shoulder problem in the preseason and a leg injury later. Both quit the team in the off-season. However, Curry has five players back with at least two seasons of experience. Senior point guard Andrea Thieme is in her fourth season as a starter. She averaged 13.4 points last season and 14.8 in 1996-97.

Center Erin Whiteside was the team’s third-leading scorer last season as a sophomore, averaging 11.1 points. She led the team in rebounding with a 7.4 average.

Natascha Stokely, a 5-foot-11 forward, became a starter in the final five games and averaged 16 points during that span. She had 36 points and 13 rebounds in one of those games.

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Forward Nieshia Cleveland averaged 6.2 points last season, but scored 28 points in the season-opening victory over Oakland.

Guards Rhonda Anderson and Gabrielle Castro have played for three seasons, though Castro also had problems with injuries and illness last season. Castro and sophomore Loren Gualco have been bothered by back injuries recently, and their status is uncertain.

Several newcomers also are expected to help. That group includes freshman Kristina Naumovic, who played the last two seasons for a club team in her native Yugoslavia. Ada May Lake, a 6-foot-1 center, is a transfer from Sierra College, and forward Heather Cunningham played last season at Irvine Valley.

Missy Bynon is a promising freshman who averaged 15.3 points last season for Villa Park High.

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“We’re still not as big as I’d like for us to be,” Curry said. “But we’ll have better depth than we had last season, and I think that will help a lot.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

ROSTER

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No. Player Pos. Ht. Yr. 5 Jodie Howard G 5-6 Sr. 10 Lindsay Sotero G 5-4 Fr. 12 Kristina Naumovic G/F 5-11 Fr. 14 Missy Bynon G 5-6 Fr. 15 Helen Kale F 6-0 So. 20 Gabrielle Castro G 5-8 Sr. 21 Andrea Thieme G 5-7 Sr. 23 Rhonda Anderson G 5-7 Sr. 25 Loren Gualco F 5-11 So. 30 Ada Lake F 6-1 Jr. 32 Nieshia Cleveland F 5-10 Jr. 42 Heather Cunningham F 5-11 Jr. 43 Erin Whiteside C 6-1 Jr. 52 Natascha Stokely F 5-10 Sr.

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RETURNING LEADERS

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Scoring Thieme 13.4 Rebounding Whiteside 7.8 Steals Thieme 1.7 FG% Stokely, 60 FT% Whiteside, 60.8

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SCHEDULE

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Date: Opponent, Time

Nov. 16: Oakland, 7 p.m.

Nov. 21: Cal State Northridge 2 p.m.

Nov. 29: Georgia State 2 p.m.

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Dec. 5: at UCLA 4 p.m.

Dec. 9: Loyola Marymount 7 p.m.

Dec. 12: at San Jose State 7 p.m.

Dec. 13: at Santa Clara 2 p.m.

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Dec. 19: Florida State 2 p.m.

Dec. 20: Oral Roberts 6 p.m.

Dec. 29-30: at Montana Holiday Classic

Jan. 8: at New Mexico State 6 p.m.

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Jan. 10: at Nevada 2 p.m.

Jan. 15: Idaho 7 p.m.

Jan. 17: Boise State 2 p.m.

Jan. 22: at Long Beach state 7:30 p.m.

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Jan. 24: at Pacific 2 p.m.

Jan. 28: UC Santa Barbara 7 p.m.

Jan. 30: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 2 p.m.

Feb. 7: UC Irvine 2 p.m.

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Feb. 12: North Texas 7 p.m.

Feb. 14: at UC Irvine 2 p.m.

Feb. 19: Pacific 7 p.m.

Feb. 21: Long Beach State 2 p.m.

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Feb. 25: at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 7 p.m.

Feb. 27: at UC Santa Barbara 7 p.m.

March 3-6: Big West tournament


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