The Cal Poly Pomona women's basketball team will be in a familiar position when it competes in the NCAA Division II Final Four Tournament on Friday and Saturday at Delta State in Cleveland, Miss.
It is the fourth time in five seasons that the Broncos have played in the tournament. They won the title in 1985 and 1986 and finished second in 1987.
Pomona has never finished lower than second in Division II after reaching the final four tournament.
The Broncos must defeat Bentley of Massachusetts in the semifinals at 3 p.m. (PST) Friday. Pomona is ranked No. 3 in Division II with a 27-5 record while Bentley is 30-2 and ranked No. 10.
Second-ranked Central Missouri State (29-3) meets 11th-ranked Delta State (28-4) in the other semifinal game Friday, and the winners meet for the title Saturday night.
While final-four appearances have developed into a tradition for Pomona, it is the first time that Bentley has reached the semifinals. The Falcons qualified by upsetting top-ranked Bloomsburg State of Pennsylvania in the quarterfinals, 73-68.
The Falcons are led by 6-3 center Nina Houghton, an All-Eastern College Athletic Conference North Region selection who averages 11.5 points and 6.8 rebounds. Two other leaders are guard Lori Bender (5-4), who averages 12.1 points, and forward Jodi Ouellette (5-10), who averages 8.8 points but scored 22 and grabbed 12 rebounds in the victory over Bloomsburg.
Pomona, which advanced to the final four with a 72-63 win over sixth-ranked St. Joseph's of Indiana in the quarterfinals last week, will counter with a team led by All-Americans Niki Bracken at center and Cathy Gooden at point guard.
Bracken, a 6-2 junior, averages a team-leading 19.9 points and 8.6 rebounds for the season but is averaging 28 points in the Division II playoffs. She scored 23 points against St. Joseph's.
"I feel more relaxed because we're coming up against teams that haven't seen us before," Bracken said. "So I can pretty much play relaxed and play my game."
Gooden, a 5-5 senior who is the team's floor leader, added 15 points and 10 assists in the quarterfinals and is averaging 15.5 points and 5.8 assists this season.
The Broncos have also received strong offensive support from their other starters, forwards Susan Luckinbill (5-9) and Stephanie Coons (5-10) and guard Carrie Egan (5-8). Luckinbill averages 9.9 points, Egan 8.0 and Coons 7.9.
Gooden said she likes her team's chances in the tournament.
"I feel we can pull it off," she said. "I think we can go into the final four thinking positive and knowing we can get far. We've gotten this far already."
After moving into the NCAA Division I national rankings for the first time this season, Cal Poly Pomona will be tested in the Pony Invitational Softball Tournament today through Sunday at Cal State Fullerton.
The Broncos, who climbed to No. 7 after sweeping a Big West Conference double-header from Nevada Las Vegas on Sunday, are 9-1 in conference play and entered the tournament with a 19-5 overall record.
In pool play today, the Broncos meet New Mexico State (13-13) at 10:30 a.m. and 14th-ranked UC Berkeley (19-9) at 4:30 p.m. Top teams in each pool advance to the championship bracket of the tournament Friday through Sunday.
Seven other Division I top-20 teams are also competing, including No. 1 Fresno State, No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Fullerton.
Pomona has been led by senior outfielder Nikki Busch, who has a .328 batting average and 12 runs batted in. Other top hitters are third baseman Heather DeLuca at .297, shortstop Shellie McCall at .273 and catcher Denise Correa at .264.
The Broncos have received outstanding pitching from sophomore Nicki Luce and senior Lori Thompson. Luce, an All-Big West Conference selection last season, is 9-3 with an 0.70 earned-run average and Thompson is 9-2 with an 0.78 ERA.
In taking two games from Las Vegas, Bronco Coach Carol Spanks reached a milestone with her 450th career win. She has a 450-175-6 career record.
About 300 college cyclists from the West Coast will compete in the Cal Poly Pomona Cycling Classic on Saturday and Sunday.
There will be criterium (short course) races on Saturday starting at 8 a.m. in Pomona and an individual time trial, a 9.7-mile race, at 9 a.m. Sunday in Upland starting at Euclid Avenue and 24th Street.
Among the 45 colleges expected to compete are UCLA, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and defending national champion UC Santa Barbara.