Point guard Cathy Gooden of Cal Poly Pomona doesn't need to be reminded about the significance of her team advancing in the NCAA Division II women's basketball quarterfinals Friday.
All the 5-5 senior has to do is remember what happened to the Broncos last year when they lost to West Texas State in the quarterfinals.
"It's like an omen," she says. "We have to get past this game because that stopped us last year. I think it's more than just revenge. We know that if we do our best and win we can get back to the final four."
Not that Gooden hasn't been to the final four before. The Broncos won the Division II championship in Gooden's freshman year and finished second when she was a sophomore.
But Gooden said another final four appearance would have more meaning to her this time.
"To me it means a lot because I didn't play a lot in my freshman season," she said. "I played like one minute and it was my birthday. So it was like they were saying 'Get her in there.'
"For me it's my last chance."
To reach the final four, Gooden and her teammates will have to defeat St. Joseph's of Indiana (27-3) in their quarterfinal game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Kellogg Gym in Pomona.
St. Joseph's, ranked No. 6 in Division II, advanced to the quarterfinals with an 80-59 win over Oakland of Michigan in the Great Lakes Regional final last week.
The third-ranked Broncos, who have a 26-5 record, would appear to match up well in size with the Lady Pumas, who do not have a starter taller than 5-11. Their tallest starters are center Tracy Payne and forward Sheryl Vail, both 5-11, and St. Joseph's also starts Karen Deno (5-6) at forward.
"I understand they're aggressive," Pomona Coach Darlene May said. "But when you look at us, we don't have great size after Niki (Bracken, 6-2 center)."
May said the strength of St. Joseph's is in its guard tandem of Jennette Yeoman (5-6) and Jennifer Radosevic (5-8). Yeoman was named Most Valuable Player of the Great Lakes Regional after scoring 16 points and adding 12 assists in the title game.
"I don't know if we match up with their quickness," May said. "I understand their two guards are real quick."
Pomona's leaders are Bracken and Gooden.
After struggling with an ankle sprain late in the season, Bracken has played well on offense in the postseason. In the team's wins over Cal State Hayward and Cal State Northridge in the West Regional last week, Bracken established a regional record with 61 points to break her own mark of 59 that she set last year.
For the season, Bracken is averaging 19.8 points and 8.6 rebounds while Gooden is next at 15.5 points and a team-leading 5.6 assists.
May said Gooden's leadership has been a key factor in the team's success this season.
"I think she's done a good job for us," May said. "She's carried a load for us and she's done it well."
Gooden hasn't scored as many points as she did last season but May said her contributions go past her point total.
"She's doing some other things to make up for her points," May said. "She'll get her points and her assists and she plays good defense. Those are the kind of things we're looking for from her."
In addition to Bracken and Gooden, the Broncos start Susan Luckinbill (5-9) and Stephanie Coons (5-10) at forward and Carrie Egan (5-8) at guard. Luckinbill is averaging 9.8 points and Coons and Egan are at 8.0.
The Broncos have had close games in recent weeks. Two weeks ago they took a one-point decision (73-72) over Cal State Los Angeles in the first round of the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament. In the regionals last week, Pomona came back from a 40-38 halftime deficit to defeat Cal State Hayward (82-69) before staging another comeback in an 83-82 overtime win over Northridge.
"You really find out what your team is made of in those situations," May said. "I think the fact that they know they can come back is a good thing."