After 1,289 points, 454 assists, 431 steals--an NCAA Division III record--and 366 rebounds in the past four seasons, Nicole Albert's collegiate basketball career came to an end Saturday when Cal Lutheran lost to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 62-48.
Albert will leave an impressive legacy at Cal Lutheran when she graduates in May with a liberal arts degree.
The 5-foot-5 point guard is the Regals' career leader in assists and steals and ranks second in scoring and seventh in rebounding.
She averaged 13.8 points, 7.0 assists, 5.0 steals and 4.5 rebounds this season and set school records for assists (182) and steals (130) in a season. But the memory she'll cherish most from her playing days is helping to turn a downtrodden program into a respectable one.
Cal Lutheran was 1-23 during the 1991-92 season when Albert was a senior at Corcoran High, but the Regals went 8-17 and 3-9 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play in '92-93, 8-15 and 4-8 in '93-94 and 23-3 and 11-1 last season.
Injuries and a tougher pre-conference schedule limited Cal Lutheran to an overall record of 13-13 this season. But the Regals tied Claremont-Mudd-Scripps for a share of their second consecutive SCIAC title before losing to the Athenas in a playoff game Saturday to determine the conference's automatic qualifier for the Division III playoffs.
"Last year it kind of just totally switched around," Albert said. "Before, no one came to our games. It was like, 'Oh, there's a women's basketball game tonight? Who cares?' But that changed last year. We started to get a following."
To third-year Cal Lutheran Coach Tim La Kose, Albert was the sparkplug behind the Regals' drive to respectability. He said that her intense work ethic set the tone for teammates in practices and games.
"She came to play every day," La Kose said. "Day in and day out, you could count on her. She expected a lot out of herself and her teammates. It got to the point that we kind of took her for granted."
Although Albert always wanted to excel on the court, she also viewed basketball as a way of relieving the everyday stresses of college life.
"I always told myself to try to concentrate on the task at hand when I was at practice," she said. "I tried to leave any frustrations that I might be having in school or whatever off the court. To me, the two hours of practice or a game was a time to relax. It was an outlet for me to get rid of any tensions I had."
Track is another sport that Albert uses to reduce stress.
She is an 800-meter runner who hopes to improve her personal best of 2 minutes 20 seconds that she set as a senior in high school.
"I actually was a better track athlete than I was a basketball player in high school," Albert said. "I got more letters [from colleges] for track than I did for basketball."
A desire to compete in two sports, an affinity for the small-college atmosphere and a chance to play on the same team as her sister all factored into Albert's decision to attend Cal Lutheran.
She figured she'd be pressured to focus on a single sport at a larger school and would feel lost at a university where class sizes were often in the hundreds.
Moreover, her sister, Evelyn, was entering her senior season at Cal Lutheran in the fall of 1992 and the chance to play with her was too tempting for Nicole to pass up.
La Kose is glad Albert made the decision she did.
He said the Regals would not have been as successful without her and that he's thankful he had the opportunity to coach her.
With six of its top eight players--and four of its five starters--expected to return next season, Cal Lutheran should again contend for the SCIAC title. But La Kose said it will be difficult to replace Albert.
"I don't know if you can replace a player like Nicole," he said. "She just brought so much to this team, both on the court and off it."
While Albert's collegiate career is winding down at Cal Lutheran, Dolores Tuimoloau's is off to a great--albeit delayed--start at Ventura.
Tuimoloau won the shotput in the 1994 State championships as a Channel Islands High senior, but was academically ineligible last year after spending much of the fall nursing her father, Junior, back to health following heart surgery.
She opened this season with a school-record put of 48-4 in the Santa Barbara Invitational on Feb. 10 and is undefeated after three meets. And Ventura assistant Dave Laut, the 1984 Olympic bronze medalist in the shotput, figures she's capable of breaking the 55-foot barrier by the end of the season.
A 55-foot performance would exceed the automatic qualifying standard (53-3 3/4) for the Olympic trials in June, but Laut isn't thinking that far ahead.
"We're just taking it one meet at a time," Laut said. "We've just got to keep plowing ahead and take it as far as we can go."