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Festive times for Vulcans basketball teams

| Sunday, Dec. 28, 2003

The holiday season continues this week, but it appears as if greater joys await both of California University of Pennsylvania's nationally ranked basketball teams.

With the Jan. 14 start of the 12-game PSAC-West season still a couple of weeks away, the Vulcans women's and men's teams have powerfully showed why each team was picked to win the division titles in the preseason coaches' polls.

Heading into Christmas week, the lady Vulcans were ranked second nationally in NCAA Division II with a perfect 9-0 record. At times overlooked because of the team's unprecedented success over the past four years is the Vulcans men's team, which has raced out to a 10-0 start. Cal U men were ranked 17th in the last NCAA II national poll before the holidays and their 10-0 beginning is the best start ever by a Vulcans men's hoop team.

Facing the demanding challenge of being an opponent's marked team, Cal U's women's team has so far responded well to its status as one of elite programs in Division II. Through one-third of the regular season, Cal U's closest game was an 82-75 win at Wheeling-Jesuit and the Vulcans women have already defeated 2003 NCAA II tournament participants Wayne State of Michigan (94-66), Millersville (90-53) and West Chester (92-68).

At a tournament in Grand Junction, Colo., Cal U women defeated highly regarded Western State College of Colorado and host Mesa State by 36 and 24 points respectively.

The Cal U ladies wrapped up their pre-Christmas portion of the 2003-2004 season with back-to-back home thrashings of PSAC-East rivals East Stroudsburg (106-43) and Bloomsburg (98-52).

Not so surprisingly, All-Americans Becky Siembak and Sara McKinney are the leading scorers. Siembak, a senior and last year's NCAA Division II Player of the Year, is averaging 16.6 points and seven rebounds a game while shooting 64 percent from the floor.

McKinney, the 2002 PSAC-West Rookie and Player of the Year, is averaging 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

Senior Sameera Philyaw, already a two-time, first-team All-PSAC selection as both McKinney and Siembak, is averaging 15.4 points and six rebounds while shooting more than 65 percent from the floor.

Sophomore Megan Storck, the 2003 PSAC-West Rookie of the Year, is averaging 15.6 points, seven assists, and 4.5 steals a game and had a triple-double in the 63-point win over East Stroudsburg. Incredibly, she scored 17 points with 12 steals and 12 assists.

Junior Erin Dillon (10.5 ppg, 17 three-point baskets) rounds out the double figure scoring averages while steady sophomore Lisa Gotusso is averaging 8.4 points and 3.2 rebounds a game. Cal U is outscoring and outrebounding its overwhelmed opponents by per game averages of 92.6-58.2 and 40.7-30.1 margins respectively.

Fourth year head coach Darcie Vincent's record at Cal U is 86-18 (.827) and her team has won 49 of its last 52 games. The two-time defending PSAC-West and PSAC champions own a 42-game home win streak at Hamer Hall (second current longest in NCAA II) have won their last 34 games against PSAC opponents.

Also, the defending NCAA II East Regional champions and 2003 Final Four participant, Cal U travels Dec. 30-31 to the Henderson State Tournament in Arkansas. The Vulcans women's next home game will be 6 p.m. Jan. 17 against Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Cal U men just as tough

While the Vulcans women had never won even a division championship until Vincent and her staff arrived in the summer of 2000, the Vulcans men's basketball program has enjoyed a long run of success with this year's squad carving its niche.

Eighth-year head coach Bill Brown (162-53) has possibly put together his most balanced and cohesive team. The Vulcans have already avenged last year's NCAA tourney loss to Salem International with a three-point road win as well as defeating other 2003 NCAA tourney participants Millersville (50-43) and West Chester (78-63).

Just as the women's team, the Cal U male cagers have done well inside and outside of the region. The Vulcans opened the season with home wins over highly touted Virginia State (77-69) and University of District of Columbia (77-73). Earlier this month, Cal U men edged previously unbeaten and 13th ranked Wheeling-Jesuit 79-73. The Cardinals were averaging 105 points a game prior to facing Cal U.

Using the same lineup each game until an injury to senior forward Ryan Boles (5.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Cal U is outscoring and outrebounding its opponents by per-game averages of 77.8-61.8 and 37-30 respectively.

Senior Kevin Handy leads the Vulcans in scoring (14.3 ppg) and rebounding (6.3 rpg) with nearly a 58 percent field goal percentage. Spirited senior Michael Johnson is averaging 13 points and six rebounds a game with 17 steals and 16 blocks.

On the perimeter, senior Gerrmar Ballard and junior Sherman Brittingham along with freshman Sharif Bay have all been impressive. Ballard is averaging 12.1 points and 3.2 assists a game with a team-best 22 three-point baskets. Brittingham, effective inside and outside, is averaging 12.1 points and 4.0 rebounds a game while Bay is averaging 10 points a game. He is shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor.

Athletic forward Martin Diaw, one of six seniors, has started every game and is averaging two points and three rebounds per game. Ballard and Bay are both shooting over 85 percent from the foul line and as a team Cal U is shooting 65 percent at the foul line. Cal U's commitment to team defense is limiting its opponents' field goal shooting to just 38 percent while the Vulcans are shooting 54 percent from the floor.

The 10-0 start has put the Vulcans in ideal position for an 18th straight winning season and 12th 20-win season in 14 years dating back to 1990-91. The Vulcans' two other 20-win seasons before this remarkable stretch was 1987-88 (25-6) and 1969-70 (20-5). When PSAC-West play begins at Clarion on Jan. 14, the Vulcans will try to win a 12th PSAC-West title in 18 years and sixth west crown under Brown.

Returning to the PSAC championship game for the third straight year and winning the coveted conference title for the first time since 1999 will be another significant goal for Cal U, which leads all PSAC-West team with 13 PSAC title game appearances and seven titles. The important East Regional wins over Salem International, Wheeling-Jesuit, Millersville and West Chester should help the Vulcans receive an at-large NCAA tourney bid in March if they do not receive the automatic berth by winning the PSAC tournament.

Cal U made its 10th NCAA II tourney appearance last season. Since enduring a 17-11 initial season of transition at Cal U in 1996-97, Brown has guided the Vulcans to a 144-45 (.767) cumulative record over the past 7 1/3 seasons.

Both teams will head east Jan. 3-4, playing PSAC-East rivals Cheyney and Kutztown universities.

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