April 17, 2017

Thanks for the memories: Part 2 of 2

Pac-12 tournament trophy goes to Stanford

Despite losing the regular season championship, the Stanford women’s basketball team went to Seattle for the Pac-12 tournament and came home with the championship trophy. The path to the championship was paved with wins over Washington State 66-36 on March 3, over Oregon 71-56 on March 4, and 48-43 payback win over Oregon State on March 5.

In the Washington State game, senior guard Karlie Samuelson’s six 3’s tied her career record, something she’d done three times before. Her 21 points also marked the seventh career game in which she had at least 20 points.

Against Oregon, junior forward Kaylee Johnson scored a season-high 11 points and hauled in 12 rebounds for her first double-double.

Nothing  but net for Tara and the Pac-12 champions (Eric Evans Photography)
In defeating OSU for the championship, Stanford became the first No. 2 seed to win the trophy. Moreover, senior forward Erica “Bird” McCall was named the most outstanding player, and sophomore forward Alanna Smith was named to the all-tournament team, along with Bird.

Time to dance

Out came the dancing shoes when Stanford was placed in the Lexington bracket as a No. 2 seed. Ordinarily that seeding would mean Stanford could host the first two rounds, but they conflicted with a women’s gymnastics tournament at Maples.

No matter. The team traveled to Manhattan, Kan., and left with a 72-64 win over New Mexico State on March 18 and a 69-48 win over Kansas State on March 20.

Both games featured the welcome return of the band, Tree and Dollies for the first time since their suspension earlier in the season.

Karlie had 17 points in the New Mexico State game, 15 of them from 3’s. Her fifth 3 raised her career total to 238, one more than her sister Bonnie, ’15, and ranking her third on Stanford’s all–time list behind Candice Wiggins, ’08, with 295 and Jeanette Pohlen, ’11, with 268. Alanna led the team with 19 points.

It was junior guard Brittany McPhee to the fore against Kansas State as she poured in 21 points, followed by Alanna with 19.

Big D via Little Apple and Bluegrass State

That round two win sent the Cardinal to its 10th consecutive Sweet 16 and gave the team its 14th 30-win season in program history.

Although the team had planned to return to Stanford after the Kansas State game, its charter plane didn’t arrive. Instead, the team spent another night in Manhattan before flying directly to Lexington, Ky., where players took their finals in the hotel.

Associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coach Tempie Brown, however, dashed back to Stanford to fetch the team’s black road uniforms in case it advanced to play the No. 1 seed, Notre Dame, in the Elite Eight and to take care of other details.

Those black uniforms were needed because the Cardinal defeated Texas 77-66 on March 24, while Notre Dame defeated Ohio State 99-76.  

Stanford led Texas 18-17 after the first quarter, but trailed 36-29 at the half. Then the team became the comeback kids. Karlie and Britt got things going in the third quarter with two consecutive 3’s. When the third quarter buzzer sounded, Stanford was up 54-49.

The last Cardinal basket came with just over four minutes left and the score 64-57. The next 12 points came from free throws.

All 11 available players saw action. Sophomore guard Alexa Romano came in with less than a minute left and hit two free throws, causing jubilation on the bench. This reaction symbolized how much the players care for one another no matter how much time they play or how many points they score.

Bird led the team with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Also in double figures were Karlie with 15, Britt with 12 and Alanna with 10.

And with the win it was on to SWBB’s 19th Elite Eight and Notre Dame.

Another big comeback edges the Irish

This March 26 contest was a nip-and-tuck, come-from-behind victory with the Cardinal ending on top. The score was tied 10 times and the lead changed 18 times. The Cardinal were down by 16 early in the third before clawing their way back.

Bird makes the last-second, win-saving block against Notre Dame.  (Timothy D. Easley, AP)
With 2.3 seconds left, Alanna hit what proved to be the winning basket, making the score 76-75. With 2.2 seconds left, Notre Dame had a chance, inbounding the ball under its basket, but Bird blocked the Irish shot and assured the win, setting off a huge celebration. It was the 198th block of her career.

Britt topped the team with 27 points, followed by Karlie and Alanna with 15 each.

The victory sent the team to Dallas for SWBB’s 13th Final Four and the first since the seniors were freshmen. Britt and Karlie were named to the All-Tournament Team.

In the meantime, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association named Karlie and Bird to its All-Region 5 Team, and the Associated Press accorded them All-American honorable mention.

Facing South Carolina in the semi-final of the Final Four in Dallas on March 31, the Cardinal ran out of comeback magic. The final score was 62-53.

The first half ended with Stanford up 29-20, but it had suffered a major blow earlier in the second quarter when Karlie sustained an ankle injury. She played in the second half but wasn’t moving as well as usual. The player whom head coach Tara VanDerveer has called the team’s glue was held scoreless during 25 minutes of playing time. Cold shooting in the second half also contributed to the loss.

Bird and Alanna had 14 points each and 14 and 12 rebounds, respectively.

Following this semi-final game, Mississippi State stunned UConn 66-64 in overtime, ending the Huskies’ 111-game winning streak. The last time UConn had lost was Nov. 17, 2014, when Stanford won 88-86, also in overtime.

Mississippi State and South Carolina met in the final game April 2, when the Gamecocks won their first-ever championship 67-55.

During the Final Four festivities, Bird and Karlie earned Honorable Mention honors on the 2017 WBCA NCAA Division I Coaches' All-America Team.

Britt won the NCAA’s Elite 90 award for the having highest GPA, 3.73 in human biology, of all players in the Final Four. This award is bestowed in each of the NCAA’s 90 championships.

The team poses for its final group shot. (Dave Cortesi photo)
Last gathering at spring banquet

Nearly 250 people had a chance to honor the team one last time at the spring banquet April 9 at the faculty club.

During the event, Tara listed some of the team’s accomplishments such as the program’s 13th Final Four and its seventh in the past 10 years, the Pac-12 tournament championship for the 12th time in 15 years, six different leading scorers, six comeback wins and eight Pac-12 All-Academic honorees.

Illustrating the team’s unity, this was the first team to go to the Final Four with no All-American, and it had no Pac-12 Players of the Week.

Athletic director Bernard Muir announced that when the Stanford Hall of Fame opens in the fall, one area will be devoted to Tara.

Tara then brought each class to the front to praise each player. She also issued numerous thank-you’s to the staff, including the coaches.

Seniors praised for leadership

When it came time for the three seniors, she said, “This class has set a new standard for leadership.” Each one then had a chance to speak to the group.

A video showed season highlights.

Next, Tara talked about the coming season with its trip to Italy in September, Countdown to Columbus showcase in November and a Thanksgiving tournament in Las Vegas.

Amy retires from coaching

After the official festivities, the entire team lined up for photos. Returning players then gathered around Tara to hear what’s in store for the off-season.

It was then that Tara reportedly told the players that Amy is retiring from her 32 years of coaching at Stanford, but she will remain with the program in an administrative role.

Stanford athletics issued the official announcement on April 13. It did not specify what her role would be or who would replace her.

However, in an interview with Jacob Rayburn of Stanford.rivals.com, she said that she would keep some of her present duties, but her job description wasn’t complete.

She did say that “she will handle the program’s Nike contract and will work with Stanford’s admission office as a liaison in recruiting. She also is helping to coordinate the team’s summer trip to Italy from Sept. 5-15.” Rayburn wrote.

Bird drafted; Lindy hired

Also on April 13, Bird was drafted by the Indiana Fever as the No. 17 pick of the WNBA draft. She will join another Stanford grad, Jeanette Pohlen-Mavunga, ’11. The Fever reportedly were ecstatic to get her.

Lindy wore No. 15 during her four collegiate years. (Stanford photo)
Yet another Stanford grad, Lindy La Rocque, made news April 17 when Tara announced that she had been hired as an assistant coach, filling the vacancy left by Amy’s retirement from the bench. She, along with Kate, will work with perimeter players, according to Stanford Athletics.

Lindy, a guard known for her 3-point prowess, played in four Final Fours with the Cardinal from 2009-12. She returns to the Farm after two years as an assistant at Belmont University in Nashville. Before that, she was a graduate assistant at Oklahoma, where she earned a master’s in education.










April 14, 2017

Thanks for the memories: Part 1 of 2

Winding up the 2016-17 season with a 32-6 record, the Stanford women’s basketball team posted several major accomplishments. They included the 1,000th win of head coach Tara VanDerveer’s coaching career, the Pac-12 tournament championship and the first trip to the Final Four since the seniors were freshmen.

Here’s how it all happened:

For most of the team, the 2016-17 season began with practices during the spring and summer.

Returning players had workouts in the spring and were joined by three of the four freshmen for summer school. The other freshman, guard Mikaela Brewer of Canada, was playing for Team Canada, which won silver at U18 competition in Chile.

The freshmen on campus were McDonald’s All-Americans: guards Anna Wilson and DiJonai Carrington and forward Nadia Fingall. Anna and DiJonai couldn’t practice because of injuries. Nadia played in Pro-Am games in San Francisco, as did senior forward Erica “Bird” McCall.

Alexa goes to India

Sophomore guard Alexa Romano was on campus but wasn’t taking classes because she was part of the new Rubenstein-Bing Student-Athlete Civic Engagement Program. Alexa did some coaching and taught English and computer literacy at a youth center in New Delhi, India.

When the team reconvened in the fall, it was missing two seniors. Guard Lili Thompson had left for undisclosed reasons but remained in school to complete her degree. She later committed to Notre Dame to play as a graduate transfer next season. Forward Kailee Johnson graduated early to begin a career in real estate investing.

Fans got their first look at the team during an open practice Oct. 24. Senior guard Karlie Samuelson, sporting a red cast on her left wrist, took part only in non-contact drills. Anna stayed on the sidelines as she recovered from a concussion suffered in the spring.

After the practice, Tara introduced each player. She said the team was perhaps a month ahead of where it was at the same time a year ago.

The team had its only competitive tune-up at home Nov. 4 when it defeated UC San Diego 85-41 in an exhibition. The Division II school is coached by Tara’s sister Heidi VanDerveer.

Anna and Karlie were still sidelined, but the other 11 players all contributed. Afterward, Tara introduced the freshmen and said that “our future is in great hands with” them.

Season opens with a win over Cal Poly

Competition began for real at home on Nov. 11 when Cal Poly fell 83-55. Senior guard Briana Roberson led the way with 16 points, including four 3’s Also contributing to the team’s eight 3’s were Karlie and Mikaela with two each. Karlie had been cleared to play only a few days earlier.

The starters were Bird, junior forward Kaylee Johnson, Bri, junior guard Brittany McPhee and sophomore guard Marta Sniezek.

Britt is introduced before going on to lead the team over Texas. (Don Feria Isi/Photo)
Texas came calling on Nov. 14 and left with a 71-59 loss. Visiting from Australia, Darren Smith, father of sophomore forward Alanna Smith, said after the game that he had one bit of advice for the team: “Get the ball to Brittany.” Evidently the team heeded him, for Britt poured in a game-high and career-high 28 points.

Gonzaga dishes out first loss

The outcome was different Nov. 18 when Gonzaga left Maples with a 68-63 victory. Still, Britt led the team with 22 points. Bird added 17 points and 11 rebounds for her first double-double of the season.

The team returned to its winning ways by downing Cal State Northridge 88-54 at home on Nov. 20. The starting lineup featured Bird, Kaylee, Bri, Britt and Karlie for the first time since recovering from her injury.

Perhaps because she was looking ahead to a Thanksgiving tournament with three games in three days, Tara used all available players. Bird led the team with 17 points. Center Shannon Coffee logged only seven minutes but made a career-high 8 points, going 3-for-3 from the floor and 2-for-2 at the free-throw line. She added three rebounds and a steal to her stat line.

Three wins help team celebrate Thanksgiving in Mexico

Thanksgiving break found the Cardinal in Cancun, Mexico, winning three games in three days: 74-45 over Northeastern on Nov. 24, 87-39 over Wichita State on Nov. 25 and 78-69 over Purdue on Nov. 26.

Back on the road, the Cardinal visited Bird’s home town on Dec. 1 and came away with a 77-56 win over Cal State Bakersfield, coached by her father, Greg. She helped clinch the win with 18 points.

The team came home to defeat UC Davis 68-42 on Dec. 4. With Kaylee sidelined by a foot injury, the starters were Marta, Bri, Karlie, Britt and Bird. Once again all 11 available players scored.

After the game, season ticket holders adjourned to Dallmer Court to enjoy refreshments and hear from the coaches and players.

After time off for finals, the team journeyed to Tennessee and lost 59-51 on Dec. 18. Then it was off to the nation’s capital for a 71-52 victory over George Washington on Dec. 21. Scoring 13 points, Bird became the 37th SWBB player to surpass 1,000 points.

Anna cheered in her first action

Anna played for the first time Dec. 28 as the team romped 102-44 over Yale at home. She was one of four players in double figures, racking up 11 points plus one rebound, an assist and a steal in 17 minutes.

Playing the point, she entered the game with about six minutes to go in the second quarter. Less than a minute later, she stole the ball on a Yale inbound pass and scored her first collegiate basket. She followed that up with a trey shortly before the half.

Karlie scored a team high 21 against Yale. (Bob Drebin photo)
Starting were Bird, Karlie, Britt, Bri and, for the first time, Nadia, who had 8 points on 4-for-4 shooting.

Band, Tree, Dollies suffer suspension

Noticeably absent from the game were the band, Tree and Dollies. Administrators had suspended all band activities because of its behavior over the years.

Pac-12 play for the Cardinal began with a 64-57 win at Arizona State on Dec. 30. It was at tight game with six ties and six lead changes. Staying in the desert, the team began 2017 by defeating Arizona 77-55 on Jan. 1.

Back home, Alanna stepped into the limelight by leading her team to an 81-60 victory over Oregon on Jan. 6. She scored 24 points in just 20 minutes, snared four rebounds, dished two assists and stole the ball the twice. She was a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe.

Kaylee and Mikaela were back in action with limited minutes, but Britt was out, reportedly from a sprained ankle.

One well received new twist for fans came between the third and fourth quarters, when T-shirts attached to white mini-parachutes fluttered from overhead into the crowd.

Double OT leads to loss to OSU

The season’s toughest game to date came Jan. 8 when the Oregon State visitors came away with a win in double overtime. It was the first time in 30 tries that the Beavers had defeated Stanford at Maples.

Regulation play ended 51-51, the first OT 63-63 and the second OT 72-69 in the visitors’ favor.

Stanford had a chance to clinch the game at the end of regulation when Britt hit a layup to tie the score and was fouled, but she missed the free throw.

Next it was off to Utah and a 77-58 win on Jan. 13. Colorado was the next host to fall, losing 84-70 on Jan. 15. The game was notable for 11 treys on 20 attempts, 55 percent. Karlie led with five.

Karlie pours in 201st career trey

Karlie joined some distinguished company on Jan. 20 as she logged her 201st career 3-pointer during the 73-46 defeat of Arizona at Maples. She tied for seventh all time with Nicole Powell, ’04. The record is 295 set by Candice Wiggins, ’08.

She was a starter, along with Bird, Britt, Bri and Nadia. All 11 available players saw action.

Marta, Britt and Kaylee  team up on defense against ASU. (Nhat V. Meyer, Bay Area News Group)
Stanford completed its sweep of the Arizona schools by defeating Arizona State 66-56 at home on Jan. 22. Stifling defense limited ASU to 29.6 percent shooting, while the Cardinal shot 45.8 percent.

Kaylee resumes starting role

Kaylee returned to the starting lineup after missing several games and coming off the bench for several more. Playing 25 minutes, she logged 6 points and four rebounds. Also starting were Bird, Bri, Karlie and Britt.

Halftime started with the men’s soccer team parading onto the court with two NCAA championship trophies –- one for last season and one for this. A few minutes later, the always-popular agility dogs wove through poles, jumped hurdles and scooted through tunnels.

One scary moment came shortly before the half when Britt fell under the south basket and gripped her ankle. She was assisted to the locker room, so fans assumed she was done for the day, but she was back to start the third quarter.

After the game, Pac-12 Network commentator Mary Murphy assessed the team as “getting better and better.” Associate head coach Amy Tucker cited a little-known statistic: Stanford was leading the Pac-12 in free throw percentage in conference games. Stanford also was the only conference team undefeated on the road to date.

The road record remained spotless with a 76-54 win over Washington State on Jan. 27 and a 72-68 win over Washington on Jan. 29. The Washington game featured a sellout crowd of 10,000, the first in program history. The win also exacted revenge against the team that had knocked the Cardinal out of the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments in 2016.

Tara gets 1,000th career win

Confetti rained down and cheers resounded from nearly 4,500 fans as the team’s 58-42 victory over visiting USC gave Tara her 1,000th career win on Feb. 3. She became only the second women’s coach to reach that milestone, preceded by the late Pat Summitt at Tennessee.
  
Tara gets a 1,000-win keepsake from Karlie, Bird and Bri
The team donned “Tara 1,000” T-shirts and held up four giant numerals -– 1000. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott gave Tara a trophy, and the three seniors --- Bird, Bri and Karlie --- gave her a framed Stanford jersey with 1,000 on it.

As fans left Maples, they were entertained by the band, Dollies and Tree outside the northwest entrance. After being suspended, they were expected to return to action before the winter quarter ended in late March.

In observance of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the national championship women’s volleyball team was honored during halftime, followed by seven of Stanford’s female medal-winning Olympians of 2016.

The euphoria ended three days later when UCLA left with an 85-76 win on Feb. 6. All 13 players were suited up, and nine played. Starters were Bird, Karlie, Bri, Kaylee and Britt, a lineup that remained constant thereafter.

Britt helps save the day against Colorado

Colorado came to visit Feb. 10 and gave the Cardinal a scare for the first two quarters, but the home team refocused in the second half to win 64-51, thanks in large part to Britt. She scored 20 of her 26 points in the second half and snared a career-high 11 rebounds.

Colorado defenders were glued to Karlie, but her 4 points were enough to raise her career total to 1,003, making her the 38th member of the team’s 1,000-point club. Twelve players were suited up. Mikaela wasn’t there.

With all 12 players contributing, the team defeated visiting Utah 87-51 on Feb. 12. As Tara has said, this is a team that wins by committee rather than relying on one superstar. Different players step up at different times. This time it was Alanna, who contributed a game-high 16 points in 20 minutes.

Cal falls twice to cross-bay rival

Cal felt Stanford’s one-two punch by losing 72-66 at Haas on Feb. 16 and losing again 72-54 at Maples on Feb. 19.

The latter was a fitting farewell for the seniors, who were playing their last game at home, but of course not their last game.

All 13 players were there, but Mikaela and Anna were in street clothes.

As had been the case in the game at Cal, where she scored a career-high 27 points, Alanna led the team with 17 points and eight rebounds.

After the game, the seniors, joined by their families, were honored. In keeping with tradition, one underclassman was selected to salute a senior. So it was Britt for Bird, Kaylee for Bri and Shannon for Karlie.

Oregon State squeaked by the Cardinal 50-47 on Feb. 24 in Corvallis. For the first time since Feb. 14, 2014, in a 61-35 loss to Arizona State, Stanford had no 3’s. Moreover, no one was in double figures, and the loss meant Stanford had no chance to share the Pac-12 season championship.

The regular season ended with a 65-59 victory at Oregon on Feb. 26.

Two days later, Bird, Britt and Karlie were named to the all-Pac 12 team. Bri was named to the all-defensive team, and Nadia was an honorable mention for the all-freshman team.


Next: Tournament time

April 11, 2017

Banquet celebrates stellar season

The team gathers for one last group shot. (Photo by Dave Cortesi)
Nearly 250 people celebrated the 2016-17 Stanford women’s basketball team’s accomplishments and honored each player for her contributions to its success April 9 at the Faculty Club.

The spring banquet also was a chance to say farewell to the three seniors, who were so instrumental in guiding their teammates both on and off the court.

The event began with a courtyard reception where fans had a chance to chat with the dolled-up players. Some of the 6-foot-plus posts, like freshman Nadia Fingall, wore high heels to tower over almost everyone else.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer welcomed everyone to the dinner and later presided over the program. Her remarks were laced with thank-you’s to the numerous supporters and staff members involved with SWBB.

Tara cites accomplishments of season

During her initial welcome, she ticked off some of the season’s accomplishments: the program’s 13th Final Four and its seventh in the past 10 years; its 30th appearance in the NCAA tournament; the Pac-12 tournament championship for the 12th time in 15 years; a record 212 blocks; six different leading scorers; six comeback victories; eight Pac-12 All- Academic choices; and many more.

She cited two more statistics to highlight how well the team meshed: It was the first team to go to the Final Four with no All-American player, and it had no Pac-12 Players of the Week.

Shortly before dessert was served, athletic director Bernard Muir commended the team for going to the Final Four and congratulated Tara for her 1,000th career win during the season, bringing the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation.

He said that when Stanford opens an athletic Hall of Fame in the fall, one area will be devoted to Tara.

Freshmen receive kudos for maturity

Tara then brought the four freshmen to the front. “College is a big, big step,” she said. “Kudos to our freshmen who handled their season with maturity.”

She said guard Mikaela Brewer, who didn’t travel with the team to the tournaments, “can compete for a part in our rotation” next season.

Even though guard DiJonai Carrington missed about two years of high school basketball because of injuries, she brought “a great physical style to our team” and displayed “aggressive defense.”

Nadia played in 36 of the team’s 38 games. Guard Anna Wilson missed most of the season with injuries, but she’s working to get healthy, Tara said.

“I challenge your class to win four Pac-12 championships,” she said to the freshmen.

Sophomores saluted

Next came the four sophomores, starting with center Shannon Coffee, who was a 63 percent shooter and “led our team’s benergy,” the term for the energy generated by the bench during games.

Guard Alexa Romano is a member of the “come early, stay late club” and serves on the scout team.

As for forward Alanna Smith, “What an exciting end of the season Alanna had,” leading to a “super sophomore season,” Tara said.

Guard Marta Sniezek led the team with 169 assists and 51 steals.

Staff members who were thanked included strength and conditioning coach Brittany Keil, whose “season is just getting started” as she helps returning players get ready for next season.

She also commended academic coordinator Shannon Reader for making sure the players could take their final exams in Kansas. They stayed there after the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament because their charter plane had problems and couldn’t take them back to Stanford. Instead they stayed in Kansas and then flew directly to Lexington, Ky., for the Sweet Sixteen.

Juniors excel in rebounding, academics

Next came the two juniors. Even though a foot injury was a challenge for her, forward Kaylee Johnson was the team’s third leading rebounder.

Guard Brittany McPhee was one of the most improved players in the country, Tara said. “She’s a gym rat and also a library rat,” as attested by the Elite 90 award she won for having the highest grade point average among all players in the women’s Final Four.

Tara’s final thank-you’s went to her coaching staff, who joined her. Assistant Tempie Brown works with the male practice players, scouts upcoming opponents and coordinates recruiting. Those recruiting efforts have led to the No. 2 rated incoming class, Tara said.

Associate head coach Kate Paye works with the perimeter players and, like Tempie, scouts and recruits.

Associate head coach Amy Tucker, who has been at Stanford more than 30 years, recruits, too. “She has a great eye for talent,” Tara said.

Seniors acclaimed

Referring to the three seniors, Tara said she was never disappointed in them. “This class has set a new standard for leadership.”

(After the ceremony, I asked the juniors, Kaylee and Britt, if they’re ready to assume the mantle of senior leadership. They responded with an emphatic yes.)

The first senior to be called to the front was forward Erica “Bird” McCall, the team’s leader in points, blocks and rebounds. She brings “energy and enthusiasm to our team every day.” She just graduated with a degree in psychology and has been invited to the WNBA draft April 13 in New York.

Bird responded that these have been “the best years of my life.” She thanked each of the coaches for all the help they gave her. She noted that when she was a freshman and struggling with a psychology class, Tara tutored her and reminded her of the biblical story of Job and his struggles.

Evidently, the tutoring paid off, for Tara said Bird graduated with a 3.7 GPA in psychology.

Calling on guard Briana Roberson, Tara said, “Bri had a super senior season.” The team calls her “Big Shot Bri.” “On defense Bri was our stopper,” ranking with the likes of Kate, ’95; Susan King Borchardt, ’05; and Ros Gold-Onwude, ’10.

Like Bird, Bri praised the coaches, saying each had been integral to her success. “They taught me to battle and get through struggles.”

Guard Karlie Samuelson was one of the team’s and Pac-12 all-time leading 3-point shooters and second in the nation this year at 48.5 percent.

But she’s “not just a 3-point shooter,” Tara said. “She can see things that need to be done on the court” and is “an absolute pleasure to coach.”

Karlie’s thank-you’s extended not just to the coaches but to Brittany Keil and team trainer Katelin Knox. Her teammates are “my favorite players I’ve ever played with.”

Both Karlie and Bri have said they’d like to keep playing for a time, perhaps overseas.

Next the crowd was treated to a video showing season highlights.

What’s in store for next season

Finally, Tara gave a look ahead, saying that the returnees can become the go-to players. They and the incoming freshmen can also look forward to a trip to Italy in September and a Thanksgiving tournament Nov. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

Before then, they’ll take part in the Countdown to Columbus showcase event Nov. 12 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, site of the 2018 Final Four. Stanford will play Louisville, and UConn will play Ohio State.

The team will play at Ohio State on Nov. 10 to open the season, director of basketball operations Eileen Roche said afterward. Contracts for the Thanksgiving tournament haven’t been signed, so the other teams haven’t been announced, she said.

Tennessee at Maples is on the pre-conference schedule Dec. 21.

After the official festivities ended, the players and others stayed to chat some more. Eventually, the entire team lined up for photos. Returning players then gathered in a circle around Tara to hear what’s in store for this off-season.

See Ron Madson’s gallery of photos from the banquet at  http://tinyurl.com/mozgexh.






April 2, 2017

Hoping from home



Bird, followed by Brittany and Alanna, celebrates the team's first-half lead. (LM Otero/AP photo)

Alternately cheering, cajoling and groaning, several dozen fans of Stanford women’s basketball filled Dan Gordon’s brew pub in downtown Palo Alto as the team took on South Carolina in the semi-final of the Final Four in Dallas on March 31.

Their hopes ended as the 2-seeded Cardinal lost 62-53 to the 1-seeded Gamecocks. There wasn’t another comeback like the ones that had brought the team to this point.

Perhaps the biggest groan came with just under five minutes left in the second quarter when senior guard Karlie Samuelson suffered an ankle injury and had to be carried off the court. The TV broadcast showed her fall several times, sometimes in slow motion, to demonstrate just how much her ankle had twisted.

Karlie goes scoreless for game

The team was up 21-15 at that point and closed the half with a 29-20 lead. Karlie returned for a short time in the third quarter but left quickly. She played some more for a game total of 25 minutes, but she wasn’t moving as well as usual. The player whom head coach Tara VanDerveer called the team’s glue was held scoreless.

The crowd groaned some more about halfway through the third quarter when sophomore forward Alanna Smith had to leave with three fouls. Nevertheless, she later returned, playing a total of 26 minutes and contributing 14 points and 12 rebounds. Senior forward Erica “Bird” McCall had 14 points and 14 rebounds in her final game.

Still, shooting went cold in the second half, contributing to the loss.

Eerie similarity to 2010 in San Antonio

Karlie’s injury evoked memories of the 2010 Final Four when Stanford faced UConn for the championship on April 6 in San Antonio. The Cardinal led 20-12 at the half, but UConn rallied in the second half after senior center Jayne Appel aggravated an ankle injury.

After fresh tape and a pain shot, she returned but finished the game scoreless for the first time in her college career. UConn won 53-47.

UConn wasn’t so lucky this year as Mississippi State stunned the Huskies 66-64 in overtime, ending their record 111-game win streak. UConn hadn’t lost before that since Nov. 17, 2014, when Stanford won 88-86, also in overtime, at Maples Pavilion.

Most media reports are calling UConn’s loss this year the biggest upset in the history of women’s basketball.

In the meantime, the Stanford players and their fans can reflect on how much the team accomplished this year and how much fun they had along the way –- except for this final game.

For the players, it's also back to campus for the start of spring quarter April 3. The only exception is Bird, who is graduating in hopes of going to the WNBA. The draft is April 13 in New York.

Fans will have one more chance to see the team at the spring banquet April 9.



February 21, 2017

Cheers, tears for seniors and team

After squeaking by Cal by 6 points at the Bears’ home three days earlier, the Stanford women’s basketball team scored the same number of points but delivered a more resounding victory, 72-54, an 18-point margin, at Maples on Feb. 19.

It was a fitting farewell for the team’s three seniors, who were playing their last game at Maples. There are more games to go, but Maples is home.

All 13 players were on hand. Freshman guard Mikaela Brewer was there after missing several games, but she was in street clothes. Freshman guard Anna Wilson was in a boot. The other 11 players saw action.

Seniors in starting lineup

As usual, the starters included the three seniors -– forward Erica “Bird” McCall and guards Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson -– plus the two juniors, forward Kaylee Johnson and guard Brittany McPhee.

As the first of more than 4,300 fans arrived, they received Stanford T-shirts and Beat Cal buttons.

Shortly before the game started, head coach Tara VanDerveer presented flowers to Cal’s two seniors.

Except for a 2-point basket to start the first quarter and two ties later, Stanford led the entire way. The score was 20-14 after the first quarter, 37-32 at the half, 54-44 after the third quarter and 72-54 at the final buzzer.

Marta, Alexa and Alanna cheer their teammates from the bench.
Alanna leads the way

As had been the case at Cal, where she scored a career-high 27 points, sophomore forward Alanna Smith led the team with 17 points to go with a team-high eight rebounds plus one assist, two blocks and one steal. As the Australian made one of her signature moves to score at the basket, announcer Betty Ann Hagenau exclaimed, “Alanna Smith from down under!” 

Britt with 16 and Karlie with 11 were the only other Cardinal players in double figures.

During halftime, the football team walked onto the court holding the Axe, a trophy it has had for seven straight years by virtue of beating Cal.

With the game comfortably in hand toward the end of the fourth quarter, the seniors returned to the bench as the crowd stood and cheered.

Families join seniors for post-game salute

After the tossing of victory balls, the seniors were honored. Joined by their families, they walked through an honor guard of their teammates and staff. As each one approached center court, the video board showed highlights of their careers.

Bird, backed by Kaylee, goes for a layup
Bird was accompanied by her parents, brother and grandparents. A psychology major, she will graduate this quarter to be ready for the WNBA draft.

Bri was with her parents, brother and aunt. Majoring in political science, she hopes to continue playing and then go to law school.

Joining Karlie were her parents and older sister, Bonnie, who graduated from Stanford two years ago. Karlie is a human biology major who hopes to earn a master’s degree in exercise physiology.

While the seniors and Tara were at the post-game press conference, associate head coach Amy Tucker brought Alanna to the mike. “She’s been red hot of late,” Amy said.

Freshmen get their turn at the mike

Next Amy summoned the freshmen: Anna, Mikaela, forward Nadia Fingall and guard DiJonai Carrington. Slightly hoarse, Nadia said that the year’s highlight for her has been “being around such a great group. … We really love each other.”

DiJonai quipped, “I’m happy to finally know the plays.”

Anna, who noted that she has been injured a lot, said she likes being around her teammates and learning.

Mikaela, who’s also had her share of injuries, said the come-from-behind win at Washington was this year’s highlight for her. She’s also happy that she scored 100 percent on the mid-term for her favorite class, chemistry.

Tara returned to say, “It’s been a great four years with this group.” The seniors have embraced the team culture as workers. They also provide the team with leadership and maturity while being happy for others’ accomplishments, she said. “It’s a great team to coach.”

Underclassmen praise seniors

In keeping with tradition, underclassmen were selected to honor each senior. Britt said of Bird, “There’s no one else like her on the planet.” A great friend, “she makes everyone happier and … carefree.”

Bird responded, “It’s been a great night for me. Playing at Maples has been a dream come true.” After she ends her basketball career, she wants to return to her hometown of Bakersfield and open its shuttered YMCA. Her father, Greg, who coaches the Cal State Bakersfield women’s team, coached Bird as she was growing up. “She’s so coachable,” he said, thanking the Stanford coaches for helping her.

Bri battles for the ball.
When Kaylee came up to honor Bri, she said, “I’ve been dreading this night,” and called Bri one of her best friends. A hard worker, kind and unselfish, “she makes me want to be a better person,” the teary-eyed Kaylee said. Because they both hope to become lawyers, they’ve talked about their “future law firm, Roberson Johnson.”

After introducing her family, Bri said she hopes to go to law school at Stanford.  The hard work and discipline she has learned in basketball will apply at law school, she said.

Highlights of her four years have been the win over UConn (88-86 in overtime at home on Nov. 7, 2014, to end the Huskies’ long win streak and their last loss since embarking on their current streak of 100-plus) and this year’s win at Washington.

Her father, Kenneth, said that when she was in fifth or sixth grade, she played in an especially rough game in a church league. Afterward, he told her that every part of her body must have been bruised. She replied that only her heart wasn’t bruised.

Tara said that when Bri was recruited, no scholarship was available for her freshman year, but there would be one thereafter. In the meantime, her family would have to pay her tuition, and she couldn’t go to summer school.

However, one week before summer school started, Toni Kokenis took a medical retirement for her senior year, freeing her athletic scholarship for Bri. When Tara called Bri’s mother, Felecia, to let her know, the first thing Felecia said was how sorry she was for Toni and her family.

Karlie shoots for 3 from the corner.
Next up was sophomore center Shannon Coffee, who honored Karlie. Like Kaylee, she said, “I’ve been dreading this day for a while.” She called Karlie a “kind-hearted, sincere person” who became her friend last year.

Karlie thanked the fans and her teammates before handing the mike to Bonnie. “I love watching Karlie play,” Bonnie said. She does all the little things. Noting that the two of them, along with younger sister Katie Lou, now at UConn, often played one-on-one at home, Bonnie said, “Lou and I hate to play against Karlie” because she’s so good defensively.

Tara added, “I told her she has to be a coach. I love her competitiveness.”

Tara again referred to the team culture, which is all about “caring about each other and loving each other.”

Although this was the last home game, there are two more conference games, at Oregon State at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and at Oregon at 1 p.m. Feb. 26. Both will be shown on Pac-12 Networks.


The Pac-12 tournament is March 2-5 at Seattle’s KeyArena. Given its current conference record of 14-2, it’s unlikely that Stanford will play the first day.  

(Photos by Scott Strazzante, San Francisco Chronicle)

February 14, 2017

Cruisin’ past the Utes


With all 12 available players contributing, the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated visiting Utah 87-51 on Feb. 12.

As head coach Tara VanDerveer has often said, this year’s team wins by committee rather than relying on just one superstar. Therefore, different players step up at different times.

Alanna goes to the basket. 
Stepping up this time was sophomore forward Alanna Smith, who contributed a game-high 16 points along with five rebounds, one block, one assist and two steals in 20 minutes.

Also in double figures were senior guard Karlie Samuelson and junior guard Brittany McPhee with 13 each and senior guard Briana Roberson with 10.

Junior forward Kaylee Johnson led the team in rebounding, snaring six of the Cardinal’s 45.

The team dominated in all categories, but one of the brighter lights was its 90 percent free-throw success, making 18 of 20. Free throws haven’t been a strong point in some previous games.

Nine 3’s from seven players

Seven players contributed a total of nine 3-pointers. Karlie and Bri had two each. Alanna, Britt, senior forward Erica “Bird” McCall, sophomore guard Alexa Romano and sophomore center Shannon Coffee each had one.

Shannon’s trey resulted in some of the loudest cheers from her teammates because she has had limited playing time. This time she made the most of her five minutes by adding an assist and a block to her stat line.

The team got off to a fast start, leading 31-8 after the first quarter. The second quarter was tight, with each team scoring 12, but still giving the hosts a 43-20 lead at the half.

Shannon, Nadia and Alexa scramble for the ball in the fourth quarter..
The third quarter ended 66-41. With bench players carrying most of the load in the fourth quarter, Stanford outscored the Utes 21-10, leading to the final score of 87-51.

The starting lineup was unchanged from recent games with Bird, Kaylee, Britt, Karlie and Bri.

As was the case in the Colorado game, freshman guard Mikaela Brewer wasn’t there. Speaking at the post-game Behind the Bench, associate head coach Amy Tucker said, “Mikaela’s dealing with a personal situation. She’ll be back.”

Since it was Breast Cancer Awareness Day, many fans wore pink. The team’s  white home uniforms had pink accents.

Sophomore guard Marta Sniezek, whose parents were there from McLean, Va., looked gift wrapped with a big pink bow in her hair. She gifted the game with 5 points, two rebounds, seven assists and two steals in 17 minutes.

The game ran into some glitches. First, the tipoff was delayed for a few minutes because of technical difficulties.

Just over four minutes into the first quarter, a referee was injured. He limped to the locker room assisted by trainer Katelin Knox. He sat by the Gatorade bucket after the first quarter with a pant leg rolled up and a crutch behind him. He left later. Thus most of the game was played with only two referees.

The second quarter was momentarily delayed because the clock wasn’t running.

Shannon, Nadia answer questions

To start Behind the Bench, Amy was accompanied by Shannon and freshman forward Nadia Fingall, who answered fans’ questions.

Nadia said, “I still have a lot to work on. I really like getting my teammates involved.” Her goals are to take her game to the next level and avoid mistakes. She also wants to extend her range and improve her free-throw shooting. She had 5 points, five rebounds, one assist, one block and three steals in 13 minutes.

Shannon, whose mother was there from Centerville, Ohio, said she’s “working on mobility and getting up and down the court,” along with finishing at the basket.

Amy interjected that she and assistant coach Tempie Brown, who work with the bigs, “have a lot of fun with our post players. I’m really pleased with our young players.”

Asked about academics, Shannon said her favorite class has been sign language. Her most challenging is human biology.

Nadia’s favorite has been African American history, while her most challenging is Breaking Codes and Finding Patterns this quarter.

Tara pleased with everyone

When Tara arrived, she said she was pleased with how the team finished with its young players. She lavished praise on everyone, especially the seniors for their leadership.

She noted that although Utah is one of the top 10 rebounding teams in the nation, it had only 28 rebounds, while Stanford had 45.

She’s hoping that a record seven Pac-12 teams will get bids to the NCAA tournament, but she doesn’t know where Stanford will go.

Its expected high seed would normally allow it to host the first two rounds, which start March 17. However, Pac-12 gymnastics championships are slated for Maples on March 18, precluding basketball.

Cal is next. The Cardinal will cross the bay to face the Bears at 8 p.m. Feb. 16 and will host Cal at 5 p.m. Feb. 19. Since it’s the last home game, it’s also Senior Day. Both games will be shown on the Pac-12 Network.

(Photos by Scott Strazzante, San Francisco Chronicle)