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Pomona Women Pick Up the Pace : Successful Program Elevated to New Level With Addition of Top-Notch Players


POMONA — The Cal Poly Pomona women's basketball program is an established winner that has produced three Division II national titles.

The Broncos have averaged 26 victories a year under 19-year Coach Darlene May, and have won 12 consecutive California Collegiate Athletic Assn. championships.

During the past two years, however, Pomona has elevated itself to a new level by winning recruiting battles against Division I schools.

Two years ago, LeeAnna Hiestand--a three-time all-state high school player in North Dakota--gave up her scholarship after two seasons at the University of Nebraska and transferred to Pomona.

Last year, Jennifer Harney, a two-time All-State player at Golden West College, turned down offers from several schools, including Nebraska, and signed with the Broncos.

The two players have been key players this season for Pomona (27-2), which advanced to the Division II quarterfinals by winning the West Regional last weekend at Pomona. The eighth-ranked Broncos play second-ranked North Dakota State (27-2) Friday night in Fargo, N.D. The winner advances to the Final Four at a site to be determined.

Friday night's game will be a homecoming for Hiestand, a 5-foot-10 forward who redshirted last season at Pomona after injuring her knee during the sixth game. Hiestand grew up in Moorhead, Minn., which borders Fargo.

"Everybody is pretty excited at home," said Hiestand, who scored 13 points during Pomona's 59-51 victory over Portland State for the regional championship. "I knew that if we played well this season, we might end up playing North Dakota State.

"I know a lot of their players and have worked at their coach's camps during the summer. My parents even saw them play last week (in their playoff victory against) Augustana."

Hiestand never thought she would end up in Southern California when she accepted a scholarship to play at Nebraska in 1989. She averaged 4.3 points for the Cornhuskers in 28 games her freshman season, and 1.3 in 16 games her sophomore year.

Disenchanted with her place in the Nebraska program, Hiestand decided to leave. Her name traveled across the country on the coaching grapevine, finally reaching Pomona assistant Paul Thomas. Thomas, who played and coached in Nebraska and Minnesota before he joined the Pomona staff three years ago, recommended Hiestand to May.

"She brings a lot of intangibles to our program in terms of her complete desire to win," May said. "She practices every day like it's the national championship game.

"We don't look at LeeAnna as a go-to player. She gets her offensive work done silently. Instead, we look for her to hold down the opposing team's best player."

Harney, too, had aspirations of playing at Nebraska after her senior year at Esperanza High in Yorba Linda. The Cornhusker coaching staff, however, said they did not have a scholarship available.

Harney enrolled at Golden West and averaged 17 points a game for a team that won the 1991 community college state championship. Nebraska invited her to Lincoln for a recruiting trip and offered her the scholarship that Hiestand had given up.

Harney, however, decided to return to Golden West. She averaged 17 points and generated offers from San Diego State and Pomona. After visiting Pomona and meeting with players, including Hiestand, she signed with the Broncos.

"It's a challenge to play here, and that appealed to me," said Harney, who scored 13 points against Portland State and is averaging 14 points. "I also like to win, and this program is known for that. If I was with a losing program, I don't think I would still be playing."

Pomona hopes to continue its season with an appearance in the Final Four. Hiestand, Harney and center Mildred Conston--the most valuable player in the regional--are intent on bringing the Broncos their first national championship since 1986.

Other quarterfinal games include 10th-ranked Norfolk State (29-2) against fourth-ranked Bentley (Mass.) (29-2), second-ranked Delta State (25-5) against 11th-ranked Pittsburgh-Johnstown (25-4), and top-ranked Washburn (Kan.) (31-0) against sixth-ranked Michigan Tech (28-2).

"I think our chances are as good as anybody's to get (to the Final Four)," May said. "There's no question that (North Dakota State has) more going for them than we do playing in North Dakota.

"But I told our team we're in a win-win situation. The experience of going back there and playing in front of (9,000) to 10,000 people is going to be something they will never forget."

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