From the moment she arrived to play basketball at Cal Poly Pomona in 1985, there was little question that Cathy Gooden had a lot of ability to play point guard.
The problem was that the Broncos already had a pretty good point guard, Michelle McCoy, an NCAA Division II All-American who was secure at the position for the last two seasons.
But with the graduation of McCoy, the Broncos were desperately in need of a replacement this season and Gooden was expected to fill the void.
Little did anyone suspect just how well the 5-5 junior from Compton would perform. Good enough to lead the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. in scoring at 19.1 points a game and steals at 4. She is seventh in field-goal shooting at 56.3% and second in three-point shooting at 48.8%.
Those numbers have surprised the 20-year-old Gooden:
"I didn't expect to lead the conference in scoring. I gave a lot to my team last year but my scoring wasn't so great."
It is not as surprising to Coach Darlene May:
"I knew she was a good scorer because in high school she could handle the ball and score. It's just that in college she had to play behind Michelle her first two years.
"I think she's been taking it in stride. I think she's been looking forward to being a starter. She was ready for the challenge."
Gooden admits she was concerned about her new role at first:
"I was scared about being in that situation but she (May) had confidence in me and that helped."
With Gooden's success, it is no wonder that she has drawn comparison to her predecessor. Only Gooden cringes at the thought of being compared to McCoy.
"In the beginning, most people compared me to her and I told them we were two different people," Gooden said. "They just saw that we both dribbled the ball and shot well and figured we were the same.
"But I'm not Michelle McCoy and I don't want to be considered in her footsteps. I just wanted to go out and prove to people that I'm Cathy. I'm my own kind of player."
May said there are noticeable differences between the style of the two players.
"I think there are a lot of differences," the coach said. "I think Cathy's a more controlled player. You always know what she's going to do. Michelle had more flair. There's nothing wrong with a little flair. They're just different types of players."
Control has always been one of Gooden's chief attributes.
As a player at Compton High, she was one of the top floor leaders in the CIF Southern Section. In her senior year she led her team to a 26-0 record and the 4-A Division title and was named the Moore League's most valuable player.
Despite the success, Gooden was not heavily recruited by NCAA Division I schools. She was recruited by San Jose State, Colorado and Hawaii but decided to go to college closer to home.
"I was interested in Cal Poly all along," she recalls. "I don't feel that I made the wrong decision. In my freshman year I was a little lost, but the players helped to show me around and it helped."
Gooden said the adjustment to college was made easier by her friendship with former Bronco All-American forward Vickie Mitchell, a senior in Gooden's freshman season.
"I'm still close to Vickie," she says. "She's like a big sister."
Gooden also had to adjust to a different role as a player in college.
"In high school I was known for assists and just shot when they needed me," she said. "But at Cal Poly, Coach May said she needed more shooting out of me so I worked at developing my shot."
Gooden had displayed gradual improvement in her shooting touch, averaging 5.7 points as a freshman and 8.4 as a sophomore.
But Gooden thinks she may have improved most during the off-season last summer.
"I played in summer leagues and got a lot of experience playing the point and shooting," she said. "I think I improved and came back this season a lot better player."
May said Gooden's success as an outside shooter has been crucial to the development of the Broncos, who are 11-0 in the CCAA, 23-3 overall and ranked No. 3 in Division II.
"We were looking for her to do that," May said. "I felt our inside game would be strong, but our outside game was young and we needed Cathy to help fill that void."
Gooden says she has also developed her ball-handling skills.
"I improved on my left-hand dribbling over the summer," she said. "I had to prove that I could go both ways because I knew that was something opponents would get me on this year. I knew I would have to dribble with both hands at point guard, so I worked on it and now I can go with either hand."
Gooden is also working at developing leadership, a role that has been more difficult to accomplish.
"That's what she (May) wants me to do," Gooden said. "I had never taken a leadership role here before and that's what the coach is trying to teach me. It's been kind of hard, especially at first."
May said Gooden didn't have as much of an opportunity to develop as a leader last season because she was needed more for shooting.
"That may her weakness at this point," she said. "She's doing a better job at it, and I think she'll do better when she's a senior."
May said senior guard Paula Tezak, the team's emotional leader, has taken a lot of the burden from Gooden.
Gooden, who has been suffering from flu, missed the Broncos' game against Cal State Dominguez Hills last Saturday and may not play in the regular-season finale tonight at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
"It was hard sitting on the bench Saturday," Gooden said. "There are so many things you can see on the bench that you can't see during the game, but I wanted to be out there."
But May is not about to push Gooden back into the lineup before she is ready. Not with postseason play around the corner.
Pomona, which has won seven straight conference titles and reached the Division II finals five of the last six years, will be trying for its third straight CCAA postseason tournament title--and Gooden figures to play a pivotal role.