This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Cal Poly Pomona women's basketball team.
Debra Larsen and Michelle McCoy, two National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Division II All-America players who helped lead the Broncos to a second-place finish in the division last season, graduated.
In all, four players from last season's team graduated, making this season's team one of Pomona's youngest ever. The Broncos have seven freshmen and only one senior on their 12-player roster.
So it is more than a little surprising that the Broncos have a 9-2 record after Tuesday night's 75-59 win at United States International University, especially considering that Pomona has played nine straight road games, most of them against Division I teams.
The fast start has surpassed the expectations of Coach Darlene May, who, in her 14th season at Pomona, has grown accustomed to success. Her career record is 350-83.
"I'm a little surprised that we're doing as well as we are," she said. "It's a credit to the five veterans we have back, and we're also getting adequate involvement from the freshmen."
Pomona has been led on offense by 5-foot 5-inch junior guard Cathy Gooden, who is averaging 18 points and 5 rebounds after playing in the shadow of McCoy last season.
"Cathy's finally getting the chance to show what she can do, and she has done very well," May said. "She has great quickness, and she has also shown she can shoot."
Most of Pomona's inside scoring has come from 6-2 sophomore center Niki Bracken, who averages 16.6 points and 7.9 rebounds, and 6-1 junior forward Marcine Edmonds, who averages 15.7 points.
But May says that the Broncos would not be nearly as successful without the all-around play of senior guard Paula Tezak, who averages a team-leading 8.4 assists and 8.6 rebounds a game.
"I know she's not scoring," May said of Tezak's 4.9 average, "but she's our catalyst. Paula's really the heart and soul of this team. She's the one that gives us the desire to succeed."
May said the presence of Tezak and Gooden in her team's backcourt has given the Broncos excellent leadership.
"This has been the first team since I've been here that has had that kind of leadership on the floor. Both Cathy and Paula command a lot of respect from the rest of the players," she said.
Even better news for Pomona has been the development of a strong freshman class that is headed by guard Carrie Egan, the Southern Section 3-A player of the year last season from Brea-Olinda High School, and forward Kelly Connelly.
"I think that we've got the potential to be one of the best groups we've ever had here," May said. "I don't know if it's going to happen this year or when, but we've got an excellent group of kids."
That should make Pomona the favorite in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. and help the Broncos remain successful for at least a few more years.
Perhaps the biggest surprise among lower-division men's basketball teams in the Southland has been UC Riverside, 8-0 after defeating UC Davis, 77-71, Monday.
Not that the Highlanders have been unsuccessful in the past. Riverside was 19-9 last season, the first time in four years that the Highlanders did not win 20 games in a season.
The surprise is that Riverside has won despite having only one starter, 6-4 guard Julius Thomas, return from last season.
Thomas and 6-2 guard Maurice Pullum have both averaged about 16 points to lead the Highlanders; and 6-4 forward Chris Jackson, a former Santa Ana Mater Dei High star, is averaging about 10.5 points.
The schedule also may have something to do with Riverside's success. All of the Highlander victories have come against opponents that are NCAA Division II or lower.
The schedule will get considerably tougher in early January when the Highlanders play road games against Division I teams Southern Louisiana and Southern Mississippi on back-to-back nights before the start of CCAA play.
Though the success of the Cal Poly Pomona women and UC Riverside men may be a surprise, there is nothing unexpected about the play of the Biola men's basketball team.
This season has been reminiscent of last, when the Eagles went 29-1 before losing in the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics national tournament in Kansas City.
Just as last season, the Eagles have entered their winter break with an undefeated record. Biola, which was 9-0 at this time last year, is 10-0 now. Among the Eagles' victories are one against a Division I team, Northern Arizona, and two against Division II teams, Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State Los Angeles.
"I think it's comparable to last year's team," Coach Dave Holmquist said. "I think both teams had several overachievers and that's what has made us so good."
But Holmquist is quick to add that his team, which has been led by NAIA All-America forward Johnny Griffin, cannot take success for granted.