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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | THE COLLEGES

Northridge Could Have New Coach by Friday

January 29, 1998

All the interviews are done and by Friday evening a new Cal State Northridge football coach perhaps will be in place.

The three finalists for the job, Jeff Kearin, Tom Mason and Ron Ponciano, met with the school's search and screening committee on separate days this week.

Paul Bubb, Northridge's athletic director, said no action will be taken before Friday. Bubb said no one has been eliminated at this point.

Kearin, 38, is Northridge's running backs and special teams coach; Mason, 41, is Northern Iowa's defensive coordinator and Ponciano, 38, is San Jose State's defensive coordinator.

Kearin admittedly wants the job badly, calling it a "dream job for me," and Ponciano, Northridge's defensive coordinator in 1995-96, said he will pursue the position to the end.

He downplayed the likelihood that San Jose State will counter a Northridge offer, if extended, saying that talking about it would be premature.

The Matadors have been without a coach since Jim Fenwick resigned Jan. 5 to become offensive coordinator at New Mexico.

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Besides the tremendous play of point guard Edniesha Curry, who leads the Big Sky Conference in scoring, steals and three-point baskets, four other freshmen have been key to the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team's startling 9-8 start that includes a 5-2 conference record.

This is a team coming off a 4-23 season that was picked by coaches to finish seventh in the Big Sky this season.

"The most gratifying part of where we are is that the maturity of change is coming with younger kids," Coach Michael Abraham said. "We didn't go the JC route for a quick fix. We recruited freshmen and already they are stepping up."

Myesha Saleem, a 6-foot forward from Monrovia High, had 13 points and seven rebounds against Idaho State last week and recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds against Montana State two weeks ago.

Viveco Lof, a 6-3 post player from Norrkoping, Sweden, and Neda Milic, a 6-1 forward from Belgrade, Serbia, have provided strength inside. Lof leads the team with 16 blocked shots and averages 4.8 rebounds and 6.8 points. Milic, who has recovered from two major knee surgeries, averages 5.4 points and 3.5 rebounds.

LaShaunda Fowler, a 5-6 guard from Seattle, is second behind Curry with two steals a game in conference play and offered a glimpse of her potential with a 14-point, five-steal performance in a victory against Cal State Sacramento.

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Poor free-throw shooting cost the Northridge women's basketball team a chance to remain tied for first in the Big Sky.

The Matadors lost to Idaho State last week, 78-68, and made only six of 15 free throws. Meanwhile, Idaho State was at the line more frequently and did more with the opportunities, making 21 of 26.

Abraham did his best to be diplomatic, but he couldn't hide his feelings.

"It was not as evenly an officiated ballgame as we've come to expect from Big Sky officials," Abraham said. "There were very critical calls in the second half that went against us. If they had been called with more discretion, we wouldn't have been in the position we found ourselves in."

Abraham and Curry got technicals.

"The furthest official from Edniesha called her for taunting," Abraham said. "She did not taunt the player. It was a bad call."

Added Abraham: "It wasn't a negative loss because it was a unifying experience for us. We look forward to playing them again."

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Consistent free-throw shooting has helped the Cal Lutheran women's basketball team climb to first place in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Cal Lutheran (9-6 overall) ranks third in the nation among Division III teams in free-throw percentage. The Regals improved to 5-0 in the SCIAC play Tuesday with a 65-64 victory at Pomona-Pitzer.

Nicole Sanchez's layup with eight seconds to play provided the margin of victory. But key foul shots down the stretch by Missy Rider and Lexi Miller set the stage.

Rider, a junior center, ranks fifth in the nation in free-throw percentage at 88% (49 of 56). Miller, a freshman guard, has made 94% of her free throws but does not have enough attempts to qualify among the nation's leaders.

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The streak continues to grow for the Antelope Valley men's basketball team.

The Marauders (15-8) stretched their Foothill Conference winning streak to 21 games with a 79-58 victory last week over Victor Valley. Antelope Valley was 1-0 in conference Northern Division play entering Wednesday night's game against last-place Barstow.

Antelope Valley last lost a division game on Feb. 1 1995, losing to Victor Valley, 93-83, in overtime. The Marauders were 8-0 in division games each of the past two seasons.

"It's a matter of pride to keep the streak alive," said Newton Chelette, Antelope Valley's coach. "We'll try to keep it alive as long as we can."

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Baseball season begins Friday--weather permitting--for the region's eight junior college teams.

A notable improvement from last season figures to be Pierce's pitching. The Brahmas ranked last last season in the Western State Conference in several pitching categories, including a 7.94 team earned-run average.

That is likely to change with addition of Division I transfers Barry Zito and Derek Morse, and freshman Merrill Dunn of North Hollywood High.

Zito, among the top freshmen left-handers in the nation last season, transferred from UC Santa Barbara, where he had 115 strikeouts in 81 2/3 innings. Morse, The Times' All-Valley pitcher of the year at Kennedy High in 1996, was academically ineligible at Cal State Northridge. Morse was 15-0 while leading Kennedy to the City Section 4-A Division title.

"Any Division I program would love to have those guys, especially Zito and Morse," Pierce Coach Bob Lofrano said.

Staff writers Fernando Dominguez, Steve Henson and Vince Kowalick contributed to this notes column.

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