It may have taken a few people by surprise when guard Paula Tezak of Cal Poly Pomona was named California Collegiate Athletic Assn. player of the year recently by conference coaches.
The 5-8 senior is not the typical, more offensive-minded award winner. She averages only 5.6 points a game--considerably fewer than quite a few players in the conference and far fewer than three players on her team.
But don't even hint to Pomona Coach Darlene May that Tezak doesn't deserve the honor. To May, Tezak is worth her weight in gold to the fortunes of the Broncos.
"There's not a player in this conference that deserved the MVP award more than Paula," May says. "How they (conference coaches) could consider another player is beyond me."
You won't convince May that the award should go to a stronger offensive player. It's a bit of a sore subject with May.
"I get real tight about that because it just irks me," she said. "Obviously they (coaches) don't have an eye for talent when they think that. They don't watch the game when they say something like that. They just watch the scorers.
"I had to talk long and hard (at the all-conference meeting) when to me it should have been hands down. But it wasn't. The other kids weren't bad players. I just feel that if you win a championship with an undefeated team you should have the MVP, and I felt it was Paula."
What makes the 21-year-old Tezak so valuable to the Broncos, who are 28-3 and ranked No. 2 nationally in NCAA Division II heading into the quarterfinals against top-ranked West Texas State (31-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday night in Pomona?
"If you think of everything you can say about a basketball player, that's where she helps this team," May said. "She helps us in every phase of the game. I don't think there is anything she doesn't do except score 25 or 30 points."
Tezak averaged a conference-leading 7 assists and ranked among the leaders with 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 steals--not to mention her defensive skills.
But Tezak's value doesn't stop with statistics. May said it's her leadership that makes the biggest impact.
"Her leadership has been incredible," she said. "I don't care how many superstars you have. You're not going to win without leadership. We're not a superstar team, but with the leadership she gives it makes all the difference in the world.
"I'd say she's one of the best leaders I've ever had here. I've had some good leaders, but she's at the top of the class. We wouldn't be anywhere without it."
Guard Cathy Gooden, a teammate who led the conference in scoring with an 18.5-point average, is inclined to agree.
"We have to give a lot of the credit to Paula," she said. "She's our leader. She pumps us up before every game. If we're down, she always says something to pick us up."
Considering that Tezak is the only senior on a 12-player squad that includes seven freshmen, the role of team leader may have come with the territory.
"I feel like I'm the leader. I am the only senior and I've been here longest," Tezak said. "I feel like I have to be the leader, but that's no problem because I enjoy it."
For Tezak, it is probably more leadership by example.
"I think there has to be someone to set a guideline for everyone," she said. "I see myself as someone who is trying to set a good example. I also know Coach May pretty well and I think I know more of what she wants us to do because I've played for her longer than anyone else."
Not that she doesn't get verbal with her teammates when necessary.
"If I'm out there working hard and I see them sagging off, I'll say something," Tezak said. "I'll probably just say, 'Come on, let's get going,' and that usually works."
May said Tezak's leadership extends off the basketball court--an ingredient that will not be easy to replace next season.
"We're going to miss her, especially in the hotel and on the bus," May said. "She makes as much impact there as on the court, and you would have to travel with us to know what I'm talking about."
But it is on the court where Tezak is noticed most. May said Tezak's attitude has a lot to do with her success.
"She's blessed with quickness and has the intensity to go with it," May said. "If the ball is near her, she's going to get it and you can't teach something like that. It's innate. Her intensity is always there too. Some players have it for 20 or 30 minutes. Paula has it for 40 minutes."
Tezak said it is difficult to explain the source of her intensity. But come game time, she is always ready to go.
"I just feel like I have a lot of energy bottled up and feel like I enjoy playing the game and letting it out," she said. "Sometimes Barb (Thaller, assistant coach) tells me you can't be everywhere at the same time, but I try to be. It's like I get a high in doing good and letting all my energy go."
Perhaps it stems from her enjoyment of playing the game, especially for the Broncos.