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Life in the Fast Lane : Basketball, Track Keep Cal Poly's Debra Larsen on the Run

June 26, 1986|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

Debra Larsen loves the fast life. She likes filling the lane on the fast break for the Cal Poly Pomona women's basketball team and racing around curves for the Lady Broncos track team.

What she enjoys most of all, however, is being able to do both.

"The busier I keep the better I do," Larsen said. "Sometimes it's hard to juggle sports, but I love it. Athletes who only compete in track are out there all year and it gets to be a drag. I'm just starting out."

Her recently concluded school year was anything but a drag.

Larsen, 22, was named California Collegiate Athletic Assn. Athlete of the Year after playing on the Lady Broncos national championship basketball team and winning the heptathlon at the NCAA Division II track championships.

Sparkled in Cage Tourney

Larsen, 5-10, averaged 13.8 points and 8.4 rebounds last season and helped lead the Lady Broncos to a 30-3 record and their second straight national title. She was named most valuable player of the NCAA Final Four in Springfield, Mass., and was selected to the Kodak/Women's Basketball Coaches Assn. All-District 8 team.

All that before she got untracked. Or rather, on the track.

Larsen specializes in the heptathlon--a seven-event, two-day competition that includes the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200-meter dash on the first day and the long jump, javelin and 800-meter run on the second.

Larsen won the NCAA championship at Cal State L. A. by scoring 5,827 points. That mark, a meet and stadium record, puts Larsen seventh on the all-time U. S. list. She finished third in the long jump, fifth in the shot put and javelin and seventh in the high jump. She was named All-American in all five events.

Those achievements qualified Larsen for the Division I championships, but she and her coaches decided to pass. Jolanda Jones of the University of Houston won the Division I meet with a score of 5,826--one point less than Larsen's Division II mark.

Hurt Foot Last Week

"I would have liked to go, but we decided that there were too many meets too close together," said Larsen, who was in third place before a foot injury forced her to drop out of the U. S. Track and Field National Championships last weekend in Eugene, Ore. "That's what's nice about track. The marks speak for themselves."

Just in case, however, there are plenty of people who can't say enough about Larsen.

"I don't know where her competitiveness comes from, but she doesn't like to lose," said John Turek, track and cross-country coach at Pomona for six years. "She's an extremely gifted natural athlete. She can do some outstanding things with a little bit of effort."

It took more than athletic ability for Larsen to become a good basketball player. She was an all-state player in high school, but the competition was far below what she encountered in her first practice at Pomona.

Hailed by Cage Coach

"Basketball is a tremendous challenge to Debra and she enjoys working at it," said Darlene May, who has coached the Lady Broncos to three national titles in the last five years. "When she first got here she wasn't a basketball player at all. She was just an athlete playing basketball. Next year, we'll probably build our team around her.

"She's so determined. If she had the skill she possesses and didn't 'want it', she'd be nothing."

All Larsen wanted when she transferred to Pomona from USC was a chance to compete in a situation she found comfortable.

Larsen had gone to USC out of Aberdeen Weatherwax High School in Washington after considering scholarship offers from Utah, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State. She left USC in the middle of her sophomore year for two reasons.

First, Sherry Calvert, the track coach who had recruited Larsen, was replaced by Fred LaPlante. Larsen was also bothered that she was not allowed to go out for the basketball team at USC because she was deemed too valuable to the track program.

'Tough Decision'

Larsen strongly considered transferring to UCLA but decided against it when she learned that she would have to sit out two years if she enrolled in another Pac-10 school. She chose Pomona based on Calvert's recommendation and the opportunity to also try her hand at basketball.

"It was a tough decision, but the transfer to Pomona was good for me," said Larsen, who did not compete at the collegiate level during the 1983-84 school year. "I worked out and I was happy. I trained easy and competed in meets that weren't sponsored by the NCAA."

As a sophomore in terms of eligibility last year, Larsen competed for the Pomona track team with a hairline fracture in her foot for most of the season. She finished fourth at the nationals and went directly from the meet to the hospital and into a cast.

"When you don't have something, you realize how important it is to you," Larsen said. "It wasn't fun being in a cast, but it may have been the best thing for me."

Another favorable factor was training with teammate Janet Nicolls, who, like Larsen, is among the top heptathletes in the country.

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