Lauren Goecke has been so close twice before.
As a senior at Prairie High School, the Falcons were undefeated going into the Class 3A state championship game before falling 57-48 as Holy Names of Seattle was the team to finish without a loss.
Last season as a Cal Poly Pomona junior, Goecke and the Broncos reached the NCAA Division II Final Four before being derailed in a 77-62 loss to a Bentley University team that then won once more to cap an undefeated national championship season.
With most of last season’s team returning, Cal Poly Pomona had the kind of expectations for this season that made Goecke respond, “Unfortunately,” upon mention of the fact that the Broncos (19-7, 17-5 California Collegiate Athletic Association) finished third in the CCAA regular season.
“We have been through a lot this season,” Goecke said. “I think that all the adversity has kind of prepared us for the final hurrah, and feeling like it’s now or never, especially with having a majority of our team back from last year when we went to the Final Four. I think that little taste we got last year is what’s really motivating us and pushing us to achieve. We know that no one else knows where we were. We’re the only ones who have had that taste, so I think that’s really been motivating us.”
Cal Poly Pomona is the No. 3 seed in this week’s CCAA tournament in Stockton, Calif., and faces No. 6 seed Cal State East Bay at 2:35 p.m. Thursday. The winner meets No. 2 seed Humboldt State in Friday’s semifinals, with the championship game Saturday. Cal State Dominguez Hills is the top seed, with UC San Diego and Cal State San Bernardino in the other quarterfinal.
Prairie to Pomona
At 5-foot-9, Goecke played four different positions during her time at Prairie, a versatility noted by The Columbian in selecting her First Team All-Region as a junior. She was Honorable Mention as a senior and a two-time First Team All-3A Greater St. Helens League selection.
The only non-Californian on the CPP roster, Goecke has been exclusively a point guard throughout her collegiate career. More of a distributor than a scorer, she leads the Broncos with averages of 3.8 assists and 1.3 steals a game while averaging 4.4 points and 3.6 rebounds.
“I love my role,” Goecke said. “I love passing, so that works out well.”
She played in 25 of 28 games as a freshman, starting 13 in a 19-9 season, then started every game of her 14-13 sophomore season. She played in every game last season, starting 27 of 33 as the Broncos finished 26-7, and has started each of the team’s 26 games so far this season.
Cal Poly Pomona plays a more deliberate style than Goecke’s teams did at Prairie, she said. The Broncos will run when the opportunity presents itself, but rely more on half-court offense and post play.
“We have big posts, and we try to utilize our size,” she said. “It’s awesome being a point guard and having size inside, which I wasn’t really used to at Prairie.”
What Goecke was used to at Prairie was hard work.
She credits the work ethic instilled in the Prairie program with preparing her to step into significant playing time immediately at the collegiate level.
“I was so thankful for that, because I can’t even imagine going to college and not having learned that mental toughness part of it during high school, because that’s what really helps you as a player,” she said.
As a freshman, Goecke got a rude introduction to the speed and physicality of the collegiate game.
“I remember in my first game, I got screened and I nearly fell down,” she said. “You just have to be strong. It’s so much different. It’s learning to be tough and be more physical. That, and just learning to be really efficient and consistent, because consistency is what sticks in your coach’s mind enough to trust you to play you. Consistency has really helped me over the years, and learning to be consistent has really helped me achieve.”
Experience with Prairie going to the state tournament and playing in a big arena with championship pressure was good preparation for CPP’s trip last season to the NCAA-II Elite Eight in Erie, Pa., Goecke said. The Broncos defeated Edinboro University of Pennsylvania 81-61 in the quarterfinals.
“It was almost like it doesn’t faze you because you have been through it before,” Goecke said. “I was just definitely so thankful for the opportunities that I received in high school, because it definitely made me a better player and helped me be composed when I got that opportunity again.”
Final try for title
Last year, the Broncos won the CCAA regular season before falling in the conference tournament championship game. CPP still advanced to the NCAA-II tournament, but Goecke and her teammates would prefer not to leave their fate in the hands of a selection committee.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time, and hopefully we can get back to the national tournament again,” Goecke said. “It’s taking care of business like what we didn’t get to do last year, and just coming back home with the national title. Obviously, it’s more of a stretch for us this year, but I know that we definitely have the talent to do it. We just have to come together and get it done.”
The fact that her organized basketball career is winding down seems “surreal” to Goecke.
“I just think of how blessed I am that God gave me this opportunity to play basketball at so many different levels and to have all of these opportunities to travel and have wonderful coaches and great teammates,” she said. “This experience is entirely irreplaceable. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Selected to the CCAA All-Academic team after each of her first three seasons and on schedule to graduate in June with a degree in accounting, Goecke already has full-time employment lined up with a Portland accounting firm.