April 24, 2014

Thanks for the memories, Part 1 of 3

During a 2013-14 season that went from coast to coast and took the players to two foreign countries, the Stanford women’s basketball team compiled a 33-4 record and went to its sixth Final Four in seven years.

This series of three articles will recall how it all unfolded.

For the players returning from the 2012-13 season, the new season began with workouts and conditioning right after the 2013 spring banquet. Senior forward Chiney Ogwumike, an international relations major, had an internship in Nigeria during the spring quarter.

Because of new NCAA rules allowing coaches some time to work with players during the summer, all returning players and the five incoming freshmen attended summer school or were in the area and available for practice. Several players helped out at head coach Tara VanDerveer’s summer hoops camps for youngsters.

Tempie, Brittany join the staff

The team had a new assistant coach, Tempie Brown, a 14-year coaching veteran who joined the Stanford staff after recently being promoted to associate head coach at Michigan State University. She replaced Trina Patterson, who went to Old Dominion University in Virginia, her home state, after two years at Stanfor

Also new to the Stanford staff was sports performance coach Brittany Keil, who came to Stanford from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where she was an assistant strength and conditioning coach. She also played basketball there.

The team’s summer climaxed with a 10-day trip to Italy, Aug. 27-Sept. 5. Visiting Rome, Florence and Venice, the players combined sightseeing and competing, playing against three Italian women’s teams.

Because of this trip, the team was allowed to practice for two hours a day during the 10 days before leaving, said associate head coach Amy Tucker.

Fans, alums enjoy open practice on Homecoming Day

Fans at home got their first glimpse of the new edition of the team during an open practice Oct. 19, Homecoming Day. This was the first time that fans saw the effect of a new rule giving teams only 10 seconds to cross the center line after gaining possession of the ball. It wasn’t a problem for the Cardinal.

Fans also got their first look at the freshmen: forwards Erica McCall and Kailee Johnson and guards Lili Thompson, Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson. Only Erica, Karlie and Kailee practiced. The other two, plus junior forwards Erica Payne and Bonnie Samuelson, were at the north end of the court working out with Brittany.

Also with the team but not participating was senior guard Toni Kokenis, who took medical retirement in July after several concussions in previous seasons. She went on to remain with the team throughout the season.

Observers also included a dozen WBB alums who were on campus for homecoming.

Competition starts with exhibition win

The next chance to see the team came with a 79-47 exhibition victory at home against Vanguard on Nov. 3. The win came even though the team was shorthanded. Briana, senior guard Sara James and junior forwards Taylor Greenfield, Erica P. and Bonnie were unavailable.

The starters were Chiney, redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef, junior point guard Amber Orrange, redshirt sophomore guard Alex Green and Kailee.

Everyone scored, but Chiney led the way with 27 points and 15 rebounds in 21 minutes. Her contributions were nearly equaled by Kailee and Erica McCall, who teamed up for 27 points (13 and 14, respectively) and 13 rebounds (nine and four, respectively).

After the game, the team gathered in front of the bench while Tara introduced each player. “This is going to be a great season,” Tara said. “We’re playing a tremendous schedule.”

On the road to the East Coast

The season started for real with an East Coast trip that took the team to Boston College on Nov. 9 and defending national champion UConn on Nov. 11.

It started on a victorious note with an 83-71 win in Massachusetts. For the record, Alex scored the first official basket of the season, and Amber was just one rebound short of a triple double with 19 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Chiney scored 30 points.

Things got tougher two days later when UConn topped the Cardinal 76-57. Amber led the team with a career-high 22 points. Chiney had 16.

Back home for two wins

Then it was back to the friendly confines of Maples Pavilion, where Stanford defeated Cal Poly 86-51 on Nov. 15.

Tara reconfigured the starting lineup somewhat, inserting Lili in place of Alex, who had started the previous two games. Otherwise, the starters were the same: Chiney, Mikaela, Amber and Kailee.

Playing only 30 minutes, Chiney scored a career-high 36 points plus 11 rebounds for her 61st career double-double. Ten of the 12 available players added to the final score. (Taylor, Erica P. and Briana were in street clothes.)

Mikaela contributed a career-high and team-high 14 rebounds plus a team-high seven assists, most of them nifty passes to Chiney.

Tara praises freshmen

The team chalked up another home win on Nov. 17, defeating UC Davis 66-48. During the Behind the Bench after the game, Tara praised the five freshmen, saying they’re all “spectacular. They’re really fabulous young players.”

Nevertheless, they’re still adapting to Stanford basketball. “We’re not running a lot of plays” because there are so many young players. “They have to learn the system and study scouting reports,” Tara said.

Fans heard from two of the freshmen, Kailee and Erica McCall, nicknamed “Bird.”

Kailee, who hails from Portland, Ore., said that although it’s too early to declare a major, she’s interested in business and might major in science, technology and society.

“All the freshmen have bonded,” said Bird, who comes from Bakersfield, where her father, Greg, is coach of the CSU Bakersfield women’s basketball team. Her older sister, DeWanna Bonner, plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.

Bird was in the starting lineup for the first time, joining Lili, Chiney, Mikaela and Amber. Briana, Taylor and Erica P. were still unavailable.

Long road trip starts in Texas, continues in Mexico

It was back on the road again, as the team traveled to Texas and recorded a victory on Nov. 23. In the starting lineup were Chiney, Mikaela, Karlie, Lili and Amber.

Texas limited Chiney in the first half and led 37-17. Then Chiney asserted herself, and the team outscored Texas 33-17 in the second half to win the game 63-54. Chiney had 18 points.

From there the team flew to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for the Hardwood Tournament of Hope during the Thanksgiving break.

The team had a lot to be thankful for, enjoying successive wins over Purdue, 86-69, on Nov. 26; Florida Gulf Coast, 83-59, on Nov. 27; and South Dakota State, 80-60, on Nov. 28.

Tara chalks up 900th career win

The Florida Gulf Coast victory marked Tara’s 900th career win. After the South Dakota State victory, the team was awarded the tournament championship trophy and Chiney was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Also noteworthy in that latter game is that the freshmen accounted for 30 points. Kailee had 10, Bird 9, Karlie 8 and Lili 3. Chiney had 29 and Amber 13.

When the team returned to Maples after its long road trip and 16 days off for finals, it defeated Gonzaga 73-45 on Dec. 14.

Home fans honor Tara

After the game, the team and fans as well as the Gonzaga players stayed to honor Tara for her earlier 900th career victory. While the video board flashed highlights of her career, the Stanford women donned red T-shirts emblazoned with “900.”

Stanford president John Hennessy and athletic director Bernard Muir unveiled a framed white Stanford jersey with Tara’s last name and the number 900. Joining Tara at center court was her mother, Rita, who had surprised her with a visit the night before.

Yet another reason to celebrate that night is that Taylor and Erica Payne returned to action for the first time this season. Briana, still rehabbing from an injury, was in uniform but didn’t play. Karlie was in street clothes.

At the beginning of the game, fans honored Nicole Powell, ’04, who was in her first year as an assistant coach at Gonzaga after playing professionally for the WNBA and overseas.

“Fans, today we welcome back one of Stanford’s all-time greats,” announcer Betty Ann Boeving said before tipoff. The video board showed highlights of her Stanford accomplishments followed by a prolonged ovation.

An earlier video honored the Stanford football team for winning the Pac-12 conference to earn the right to play in its second consecutive Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

A subsequent video featured WBB highlights. It ended, “Tradition never graduates.”

Chiney joins 2,000/1,000 club

When the team defeated New Mexico 75-41 at home on Dec. 16, Chiney marked a major milestone in her career when she became the only the fifth Stanford WBB player in history to score at record at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career.

Thus she joined an exclusive club whose members are her sister Nneka, ’12; Jayne Appel,’10; Nicole, ’04; and Val Whiting, ’93.

By the time the game was over, she had scored a total of 32 points to go with seven rebounds in 23 minutes.

Stanford upsets Tennessee; all players in uniform

There were plenty of presents under the Tree for the team and more than 6,000 fans when Tennessee came to Maples Pavilion on Dec. 21.

First, Stanford, ranked No. 6 at the time, upset No. 3 Tennessee 76-70.

Second, Chiney had a dominating game, playing all 40 minutes, scoring 32 points and snaring 20 rebounds. When she scored her 14th point with 6:38 to go in the first half, she surpassed Jeanne Ruark Hoff,’83, to rank seventh on Stanford’s all-time scoring list. Two days later she was unanimously named espnW’s National Player of the Week.

Third, all 15 players were in uniform for the first time this season. Because the Lady Vols remained within striking distance throughout the game, though, only nine got onto the court.

Upon entering Maples, many fans received red rally towels with “WHOSE HOUSE? C-HOUSE” in prominent white letters. This slogan comes from a football team tradition. As senior free safety Ed Reynolds explained at halftime, when the team was honored, the team chants this question and response at every game, starting softly and building to a roar.

C-House is also the name given to a Stanford football video series that began just before the 2013 season. C-House stands for Cardinal-House.

Win in Fresno concludes pre-conference schedule

Wrapping up its pre-conference schedule and the year 2013, the team traveled to Fresno State for an 86-54 win on Dec. 28. The victory upped the Cardinal record to 11-1 and kept its national ranking at No. 4 for the second straight week.

Because Sara was unable to play (as was Karlie), Taylor started in her place. She played 25 minutes and scored 18 points to go with six rebounds.

Chiney played only 23 minutes yet had 20 points and 10 rebounds for her eighth double-double of the season. She upped her career total to 2,079 points, moving her into fifth place on Stanford’s all-time scoring list. Her career rebounding total rose to 1,257, putting her just six behind Jayne for second and nine behind the Pac-12 and Stanford record of 1,266 held by Kayla Pedersen, ’11.

Briana got into the game for the first time since a three-minute stint in the UConn game. This time she played seven minutes. When she made a free throw, the first point of her collegiate career, she was roundly cheered by her teammates and fans. She had been limited by an injury.

Another highlight was the team’s season-high 12 3-pointers. Taylor and Bonnie had four each, while Amber had three and Mikaela had one.

Next: Pac-12 competition

April 21, 2014

Final farewell to this year’s team

Several hundred people gathered at the Arrillaga Alumni Center on April 17 to get one last look at the 2013-14 Stanford women’s basketball team, honor its stellar accomplishments and enjoy the annual spring banquet.

The evening began with a social hour with appetizers and beverages while fans chatted with each other and individual players, who were all dressed up.

Two of the players garnering the most attention were senior forward Chiney Ogwumike and redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef. Actually, they’re now alums, having finished their degrees at the end of the winter quarter.

Chiney, Mikaela drafted by WNBA teams

Chiney, who earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations, had the honor of being the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft on April 14. She’ll go to the Connecticut Sun, where she’ll join former teammate Kayla Pedersen, ’11. Mikaela, who completed her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering, was taken No. 31. She’ll go to the Seattle Storm, joining classmate Joslyn Tinkle, ’13.

She leaves April 24. She said she has signed a training camp contract, which doesn’t guarantee her a roster spot. WNBA teams may have extra players in training camp but must cut their rosters to 12 by the time the season starts May 16.

Also garnering attention was senior guard Sara James, who leaves for New York City on May 21 to begin a two-year graduate nursing program at Columbia University. Other former players in the Big Apple are Ashley Cimino, ’11, who works for Glossybox USA, an e-commerce firm; and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, ’10, a reporter for the WNBA’s Liberty and the NBA’s Knicks.

DeeDee Zawaydeh, administrative assistant, served as the evening’s emcee and gave the welcome as fans sat down to enjoy a buffet dinner with seemingly something for everyone. She compared basketball to dancing and cited the latest dance craze, Nae Nae, with a quick demonstration by freshman forward Erica “Bird” McCall. Bird won a Nae Nae dance contest during player festivities at the recent Final Four in Nashville.

After dinner, DeeDee concluded by saying, “Stanford is a very special place,” and introducing head coach Tara VanDerveer, who took over from there.

The season for this year’s team and coaches began with spring conditioning at 6 a.m. the day after last year’s banquet, Tara said. Having missed the 2013 Final Four after five consecutive appearances, “we rededicated ourselves to returning,” she said.

The team will start working on next season April 21 after a break for Easter, she said later.

Tara praises freshmen

After thanking a number of behind-the-scenes people who are so important to the team, she introduced this year’s five freshmen. “What a great group,” she said. One of the pleasures of coaching, she said, is seeing “how much the young women on our team grow and mature through the year.” She added that this year’s freshmen came in college-ready.

She then introduced each one, starting with guard Briana Roberson, whose playing time was limited by injury, but who proved to be the “fastest and hardest” worker on the team. The coach is looking forward to Bri’s conditioning over the summer.

Guard Karlie Samuelson, who was wearing a boot after having her minutes limited toward the end of the season, made a total of 32 3’s, ranking third on the team. She also made more than 90 percent of her free throws and proved herself to be “an excellent passer and defender.”

Guard Lili Thompson, who became a mainstay of the starting lineup, was named to the Pac-12 all-freshman team, led the Cardinal in 3-point shooting percentage and ranked third in scoring. She also was a good defender who was always assigned to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player, Tara said.

Forward Kailee Johnson played the small forward spot but dealt with injuries such as a broken nose and a foot injury. “We have confidence in Kailee,” the coach said.

Bird is “such an enthusiastic and determined player.” During practice, “she guarded the best player (Chiney) every day and never backed down … We trust your wings, Bird,” she said, adding that she’s looking forward to her and Kailee helping the team next year.

Tara foresees good things for Tess, introduces juniors

More thanks followed before introduction of the team’s only true sophomore, forward/center Tess Picknell, who “learned every day from Chiney and Mikaela.” She’s an “excellent screener and passer. … Next year is Tess’s time,” Tara said.

After more thanks, it was time for the juniors to come to the front of the room.

Forward Erica Payne “brings great energy and great enthusiasm to our team,” Tara said. Limited because of offseason surgery, Erica nevertheless ran the “phenomenal scout team.”

While at the Final Four, Erica became the first Stanford women’s basketball player to receive the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award. This award goes “to the student athlete with the highest GPA participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s 89 championships” in all three divisions, the NCAA website says. Erica’s GPA is 3.515.
Guard Jasmine Camp, a redshirt sophomore, is “one of our vocal leaders and a major leader on the scout team,” Tara said.

“We have something really special on this team,” Tara said, referring to the entire team. The players support one another. Because they’re so intelligent, players on the scout team quickly learn the other team’s tendencies and plays.

Guard Alex Green, also a redshirt sophomore, scored the season’s first basket when the team won at Boston College on Nov. 9. “It’s great to have Alex back” after she missed nearly two years, Tara said. She’s a great defender.

Forward Bonnie Samuelson was the team’s fourth-leading scorer, thanks in large part to her 62 3-pointers. Impressively, she missed only one free throw all year for a 96 percent success rate. Her biggest improvement over the year was on defense, Tara said.

Guard Amber Orrange garnered a slew of honors, including All-Pac 12, honorable mention on the All-Pac 12 academic team and finalist for the Lieberman Award, given to the nation’s best point guard. She was third on the team in rebounding and first in assists. Tara predicted that next year she’ll be a first-round draft pick.

Forward Taylor Greenfield was hurt in the off-season but nevertheless had a big game in the Tennessee victory at home Dec. 21, playing 30 minutes and scoring 11 points, including three of five 3-s.

Tara thanks coaches

Tara then thanked and introduced the coaches, starting with assistant Tempie Brown, who came on board last summer. She’s “a great addition to our staff” who brought new ideas to Stanford. “We’re glad she’s here,” Tara said.

As for assistant Kate Paye, she’s “the eternal optimist,” believing the team would do well in the NCAA tournament despite the seeding (a No. 2), first- and second-round location (Ames, Iowa) and bracket (tough). Like Tempie, she’s involved in scouting and recruiting.

Associate head coach Amy Tucker, who coaches the posts, has “had incredible success,” Tara said, citing all of the Stanford post players who got into the WNBA.

Seniors say their goodbyes

Finally it was time for the seniors, whose framed jerseys served as a backdrop to the dais.

Tara started with guard Toni Kokenis, who took medical retirement because of injuries after her junior season and who was greeted with a standing ovation.

“We missed Toni’s contributions on the floor. Toni was a constant reminder that nothing is guaranteed,” Tara said, yet she remained loyal to the team and helped her teammates.

Taking the microphone, Toni said, “I never thought this day would come.” She thanked the fans for their support and added, “Stanford has given me so many opportunities.” She’ll remain on campus next year while she works on her master’s degree.

Sara is “one of our most passionate basketball players,” Tara said. She had surgery last summer that didn’t quite work, causing her to play in pain, but she’s “a tough competitor.”

Thanking the fans for their support, Sara said, “I always dreamed of playing basketball at Stanford.” She joked that when she goes to Columbia, she’ll go to the rec center and pretend she doesn’t know anything about basketball.

Introducing Mikaela, Tara told her, “I’m not sure anyone as improved as much as you.”
It started when the team went to Italy last summer and continued through the year. She wound up being fourth on the team in scoring and second in both rebounds and assists.

Mikaela said she had many people to thank for “never giving up on me.” She added, “These past five years have been the best five years of my life.” She also thanked all the teammates she has had at Stanford. “We make each other strong.” Finally, she thanked the fans, saying “You guys are the greatest.”

Although Chiney was first on the team in scoring and rebounding, setting records in both, she also was first in turnovers, Tara said. “I’ve never been so sad to see our leading turnover player graduate.”

She then went on to cite Chiney’s numerous honors and accomplishments, culminating as No. 1 pick in the WNBA and winner of the Wooden Award for best female basketball player, the first Stanford and Pac-12 player to be accorded this highest honor. Chiney “is a once in a lifetime player,” she said.

Chiney said she has had “an amazing four years here at Stanford.” She thanked Athletic Director Bernard Muir as well as her family and coaches, including Tara, who’s “so passionate about the game.”

She thanked her teammates for a “most spectacular year of basketball. We had that feeling of invincibility,” she said, adding that she hopes the returning players keep that torch burning. And even though she’s going to the state that’s home to rival UConn, “I know where my heart lies. My heart lies here,” she concluded.

Video summarizes season

Next came an annual high point of spring banquets – a video summarizing the season.

Prepared by Bud Anderson, video coordinator, it started with the Sweet 16 loss to Georgia at the end of the 2012-13 season, followed by some slogans: “Every disappointment is a blessing,” “Every off-season is an opportunity” and “Every journey has a purpose.” The latter included scenes from the team’s summer trip to Italy.

Then each player was featured, following by highlights from 2013 games, including the victory over Tennessee and Tara’s 900th career victory when the team was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for a tournament during the Thanksgiving break.

For the Pac12 season, it listed all of the team’s honors and a “Just Dance” segment, showing the players dancing in the hall before running onto the court before games.

Clips from the “Nerd Anthem” were followed by Senior Night at the last home game and the Pac 12 tournament, which ended with a semi-final loss to USC and Tara’s locker room talk to the team.

While in Iowa for the first two NCAA games, the team was shown watching on the bus and in the locker room as the Stanford men’s team vaulted into the NCAA Sweet 16.

The video went on to show highlights of the regional at Stanford, the Final Four, Chiney’s records, Chiney and Mikaela as draft picks and season statistics, including the seventh straight season with 30 wins or more – 33-4 this season.

Tara wrapped up the evening by saying it was “just a fabulous year.” She cited the team’s improvement, its leadership, its fun and its closeness, all adding up to “a really, really special year.”

Upcoming off-season is important

Strength coach Brittany Keil will work with the returning players and three incoming freshmen during the off-season, “when players make the decision to be great players,” Tara concluded.

After the formal program, the players posed for photos, signed autographs and continued to receive fans’ congratulations for a job well done.

Now fans must wait more than six long months for the next season to start. Thank goodness for the WNBA with all its Stanford grads.

April 12, 2014

We’re proud of our superb nerds

Even though the Final Four outcome was disappointing, Stanford women’s basketball players have many reasons to hold their heads high.

Playing undefeated UConn in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on April 6, Stanford lost that semi-final game 75-56, a 19-point difference.

UConn went on to defeat previously undefeated Notre Dame 79-58 – a 21-point difference – for the national championship on April 8. This was UConn’s second consecutive national championship and its ninth overall, surpassing Tennessee’s record.

Notre Dame had earned its berth in the championship game by defeating Maryland 87-61 in the game preceding Stanford’s. Notre Dame’s always stylishly dressed head coach Muffett McGraw sported sparkly high heels in Irish Green.

Stanford leads during first half

During its game, Stanford led UConn by 6 points, 16-10, about midway through the first half and kept a lead for 12 minutes, 10 seconds, the longest that UConn had been behind all season.

Stanford ended the half down by only 4 points, 28-24. By contrast, Notre Dame had only one lead, 8-6, about five minutes into the game. The score was 45-38 in UConn’s favor at the half.

UConn’s defense and size were too much for the Cardinal, but rebounding was fairly even, 35 for UConn, 33 for Stanford. UConn outrebounded the Irish 54-31.

Fouls were a problem with 16 by the Cardinal and 10 by the Huskies. Thus the Huskies were able to cash in on free throws, making 17 of 24 for 17 points. The Cardinal made a higher percentage, eight of 10, but for only 8 points. Turnovers were yet another problem, with 13 by Stanford and eight by UConn.

Junior point guard Amber Orrange led her team in scoring with 16 points, followed by senior forward and three-time All-American Chiney Ogwumike with 15 and by freshman guard Lili Thompson with 12.

During the first half, the video board showed each of the Final Four teams being asked for a favorite song. Naturally, the Cardinal named “Nerd Nation,” the rap video created by Chiney and redshirt sophomore guard Jasmine Camp as a successor to “Nerd City,” created two years ago by Chiney and her sister Nneka, ’12.

Both videos featured athletes from various Stanford sports and touted their pride at being successful in academics as well as in athletics.

Erica Payne honored for highest GPA

Symbolic of that success, junior forward Erica Payne was honored with the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award. She had the highest cumulative grade point average, 3.515, of all athletes on teams that have “reached the competition at the finals site for each of the NCAA's 89 men's and women's championships across its three divisions,” according to Wikipedia. Erica is majoring in science, technology and society.

During halftime, the crowd of more than 17,000 was treated to a performance by the Tennessee State University band. Led by three high-hatted drum majors, the approximately 100 musicians—including 18 sousaphone players -- marched onto the court and executed precise routines while playing. For their final number, they were joined by eight women dancers in sparkly red uniforms. The overall performance was a big crowd pleaser.

Prior to the Stanford-UConn game, Cardinal fans gathered for a reception at the team’s Hilton Hotel across the street. They were treated to snacks and souvenirs like pompons, rally towels, “Fear the Tree” signs and, best of all, black-rimmed nerd glasses complete with tape across the bridge.

Playing on the staircase in the atrium-style lobby, the band helped the fans, cheerleaders and Tree give a rousing sendoff to the players before they left for the arena.

Alums join fans at sendoff

Among the cheering fans were recent alums Nneka, Grace Mashore and Lindy La Rocque, ’12; and Jeanette Pohlen, ’11; along with Kerry Blake, ’11, who was the team manager for four years.

Nneka and Jeanette are playing in the WNBA.

After serving as a coaching intern for the Georgetown University women’s team, Grace is about to get her master’s degree in sports industry management. She’s job hunting and hopes to become a coach or go into sports business.

Lindy, who has been a coaching intern with the University of Oklahoma women’s team, will continue in that capacity for another year while she completes her master’s degree in intercollegiate athletic administration.

Also at the reception was Brittney Griner, a 2013 Baylor graduate who plays in the WNBA. The 6’8” Brittney posed for photos with several Stanford players. During her visit to Nashville, she autographed copies of her recent book, “In My Skin: My Life on and off the Basketball Court.”

Prior to the Stanford-UConn game, the video board showed women’s basketball coaches in all three divisions who had reached significant milestones during the season, starting with those who had logged their 100th career win. The video ended with Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, who passed the 900-win mark during the team’s trip to Mexico in November.

After the game, the team gathered for one last huddle before waving to the fans and heading for the locker room. They were joined by medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis, who had attended all of the team’s practices, home games and a number of away games throughout the season.

Later, long-faced fans walked across the street in the rain to gather at the team hotel to welcome the team back shortly before 11 p.m.

Tara, Chiney speak to fans

“The outcome was not what we had wanted,” Tara said. However, “I’m exceedingly proud of our team.” She acknowledged the four seniors: Chiney, Toni, guard Sara James and forward Mikaela Ruef before concluding, “We’re so excited about the season we had.”

Speaking for the team, Chiney said, “We are so thankful to have fans like you. … We competed so hard… The biggest privilege of my life is the ‘S’ on the front of my jersey.”

She has played with “great individual human beings ... Our investment in the future is what we’re really proud of,” she concluded.

Nicole Powell helps Special Olympics

Besides the tournament itself, a highlight of my trip to Nashville was the chance to spend a day with my cousin and her husband, who have lived there for more than 50 years.

They gave Anne and me the grand tour, which included a stop at Lipscomb University where their daughter, director of competitions for Tennessee Special Olympics in Nashville, had organized a basketball clinic. Among the instructors were Nicole Powell, ’04; and Baylor’s Odyssey Sims.

The next day, I ran into my cousin’s daughter; her husband, a trainer with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans; and their two grade-school daughters going to the game. By luck, a friend had offered them tickets at the last minute. I took them to the hotel to get pompons and a “Fear the Tree” sign. When I talked to my cousin a day later, she said that the family had stayed for both games and that the girls were thrilled by the whole experience.

Some other highlights

Our trip to Nashville started with a flight from San Francisco to San Diego on April 4. Also waiting for that flight were the women’s rowing teams from Stanford and St. Mary’s, who were going to an event in San Diego. While waiting to board, the Stanford women quietly studied with their books or laptops.

After the team’s open practice at the arena April 5, Sara led everyone, including Tara and strength and conditioning coach Brittany Keil, in a line dance that was captured on video.

The next day I was checking my e-mail in my hotel’s business center. At the other computer was a high school junior from Tennessee who said she has been a Stanford fan ever since she saw the team play at the University of Tennessee two years ago. She had attended the Final Four teams’ autograph session the previous day and was impressed that the Stanford players were the friendliest.

She plays basketball and would like to go to Stanford. Chiney advised her to keep her grades up.

After all, no one can be admitted to Stanford without meeting stringent academic standards. There are no exceptions for athletes.

April 3, 2014

Triumphant farewell before Final Four

In a game filled with nail-biting moments, the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated the University of North Carolina in an Elite Eight game at Maples Pavilion on April 1.

The victory means that the team will be heading to its sixth Final Four in seven years.

Except for the opening basket by junior guard Amber Orrange, the Cardinal trailed throughout the first half as UNC’s physical defenders constantly bottled up senior forward Chiney Ogwumike. About halfway through that half, Stanford trailed 9-22 after UNC had connected on five consecutive 3’s.

When the half ended, the Cardinal had narrowed the gap, but the score still was 30-36 in UNC’s favor, and Chiney had only 4 points. She hadn’t made her first basket until the 14:47 mark.

Cardinal pulls ahead in second half

Stanford finally took a 43-42 lead with 15:32 to go in the second half, thanks to a basket by Chiney. Stanford stayed ahead for the next few minutes. UNC took its final lead, 62-63, at the 3:50 mark, but Stanford’s clutch plays assured the victory.

Chiney finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds for her 26th double-double of the season. She also had one assist, two blocks and one steal in 37 minutes.

She had lots of help, starting with redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef, who had a career-high 17 points to go with nine rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes. Nine of Mikaela’s points came from three 3-pointers, the most of her collegiate career. Mikaela made numerous other contributions that weren’t shown on the stat sheet but that were crucial to the win.

Amber finished with 14 points, two rebounds, four assists and one steal in just under 40 minutes. Her fellow starting guard, freshman Lili Thompson, had 10 points, four rebounds, three assists, one block and two steals in 38 minutes.

Coming off the bench and completing the list of players in double figures, junior forward Bonnie Samuelson had 13 points, four rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes.

The Cardinal finished with nine 3’s. Both Mikaela and Bonnie had three, while Amber had two and Lili had one.

Stanford outrebounded UNC 34-32 and had 14 assists to UNC’s 10. Both teams had 13 turnovers.

Packed crowd keeps cheering

As it was in the win over Penn State two days earlier, the atmosphere in packed Maples was electrifying, the din deafening.

When the team fell behind 7-16 with 14 minutes to go in the first half, medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis instigated and led the “Go! Stanford!” cross-court chant from her seat in the stands behind the scorers’ table. She did so again in the second half when Stanford took its first one-point lead.

Toni had been on the floor with the team until the tipoff, then moved into her seat. She also joined the team for the post-game celebration and net-cutting ritual.

With Stanford ahead 54-46 at the 9:38 mark of the second half, freshman forward Kailee Johnson jumped up and down to incite the crowd.

During the second half, the fan cam focused on a group of students with a sign reading, “Lili 4 Prez,” a reference to her statement that she’d like to become the U.S. president someday. Another sign read, “All the Way with Chiney.”

Some other lighter moments in the game featured a timeout dance-off by the Tree and UNC’s mascot, Rameses, which looks like a big horn sheep with blue horns.

During another timeout, the Tree was held aloft by three cheerleaders.

Ecstatic celebration erupts

When the final buzzer sounded, the screaming bench players rushed onto the court to hug their teammates and jump in elation.

Everyone got hats and gray T-shirts reading “NET WORTHY” above an ‘S’-emblazoned ball going through the basket.

As the celebration continued, the PA system blasted out “Feel the Moment,” the song that went with the video that had preceded starters’ introductions before regular season games. The crowd happily clapped along.

An NCAA official presented the regional championship trophy to head coach Tara VanDerveer, who handed it off to Chiney. She and her fellow seniors – Mikaela, Toni and guard Sara James – knelt in front as the team posed with the trophy.

Tara spoke briefly, thanking the fans for their support, congratulating North Carolina for its game and concluding, “We’re going to Nashville.”

Chiney followed up with “This is the most special place to play basketball.”

When the all-regional team was named, its five members included one each from North Carolina and South Carolina (the No. 1 seed defeated by No. 4 UNC). Amber, Chiney and Mikaela completed the list, with Mikaela deservedly named the regional’s most outstanding player.

The team gathered in a circle at center court, clapping as the band played “All Right Now.”

Down comes the net

Then it was time to cut down the net. Following tradition, each player took her turn climbing the ladder and snipping off a small section. Each was cheered as she did so, but some of the loudest cheers came when Toni ascended the ladder.

After the players came WBB staff members and the coaches. Tara finished the job and tossed the final section to Mikaela.

After her turn at the net, Chiney ran over to the sidelines to hug her older sister Nneka, ’12. In the meantime, Tara was on the other side of the court talking to Stanford president John Hennessy.

After a victory lap around the court, the players ran to their locker room to continue their celebration as a lot of happy fans headed to their cars.

Next up for the 33-3 team is a return matchup against undefeated UConn, the defending national champion, on April 6 in Bridgestone Arena, Nashville. In its second game of the season on Nov. 11, Stanford lost to the Huskies 57-76 on their home court in Storrs, Conn.

The team has come a long way since then.

March 31, 2014

Team wins to play another day

Penn State was no match for the Stanford women’s basketball team, which defeated Penn State 82-57 and sent the Nittany Lions home on March 30.

A near-capacity crowd, some in nerd glasses, had Maples Pavilion roaring from start to finish as the Cardinal turned in one of its best performances of the season.

It’s no surprise that senior Chiney Ogwumike led all players with 29 points and 15 rebounds for her 25th double-double of the season. She added three assists, two steals and one block to her stat line in 35 minutes.

She had lots of help, starting with junior point guard Amber Orrange, who pitched in with 18 points, three rebounds and one assist in 39 minutes.

Freshman guard Lili Thompson and redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef had 11 points each. Mikaela had her own double-double with 13 rebounds plus five assists and two steals and a lot of little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

Lili added had three assists and a steal. Perhaps her greatest contribution was her tenacious defense, which limited Penn State’s best player, Maggie Lucas, to a mere 6 points.

Maples takes on a new look

Even though this Sweet Sixteen matchup was essentially a home game for Stanford, it had some new wrinkles, such as a brand new playing floor featuring a large NCAA logo in the center plus a Stanford ‘S’ on either side of the center court line.

The bands for the two teams sat in opposite upper corners. The table on the east side of the court was expanded to the length of the court to accommodate the usual TV people plus NCAA officials, scouting coaches and others.

Videos came from the NCAA rather than Stanford, but the announcer was Stanford stalwart Betty Ann Boeving.

Bags and purses were checked before fans could enter Maples. Bottled water was confiscated.

Lili scores first

Lili scored the game’s first basket on a back-door cut, and the team was off and running. Except for a brief 4-point lead by Penn State about halfway through the first half, Stanford stayed on top, leading 44-30 at the half and expanding that margin to 28 points near the end of the second half.

The Cardinal had a 41-33 edge in rebounds and a 14-6 advantage in assists. The team had fewer turnovers, nine to Penn State’s 15, but Penn State had four blocks to Stanford’s one.

For the game, the Cardinal shot 46.9 percent to Penn State’s 36.2. Stanford led in free-throw percentage, 81 to 68.8. Penn State had four 3-pointers to Stanford’s five: two by junior forward Bonnie Samuelson and one each by Lili, Amber and junior forward Taylor Greenfield.

WBB grads cheer for Cardinal

Among those watching the game were some WBB grads. Five of them – Nneka Ogwumike, Lindy La Rocque and Sarah Boothe, ’12; Kayla Pedersen, ’11; and Jayne Appel, ’10 – sat a few rows up from the scorers’ table. Medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis joined them after rebounding for the team during warmups.

Many fans as well as present players’ parents stopped by to chat with them. The entire arena erupted in loud cheers when the video board showed them.

When redshirt sophomore guard Jasmine Camp came out to get the balls for the team’s entrance onto the floor, she saw them in the stands and gave them a happy greeting.

After the game, they went to the locker room to celebrate with the team and coaches, who include another Stanford grad, assistant coach Kate Paye,’95.

Nneka, Kayla and Jayne all play in the WNBA and played overseas during the league’s off-season. Kayla plays for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, which has the first pick in the April 14 draft. Therefore, it’s possible that she and Chiney will become teammates again. Chiney is widely predicted to be the top pick in the draft.

Lindy has been a graduate assistant with University of Oklahoma the women’s basketball program. She’ll remain there for another year while completing her master’s in intercollegiate athletic administration in hopes of becoming a coach, she said.

Sarah recently returned to her Chicago area home after playing professionally in Poland. After dealing with foot problems during some of her time at Stanford, she said she was fully healthy and was able do well in Poland. She’s looking into graduate schools such as De Paul.

At various times they were joined by Ros Gold-Onwude, ’10; and Melanie Murphy, ’11. Seated elsewhere were Vanessa Nygaard and Heather Owen, ’98; and Brooke Smith, ’07.

Many stay for battle of the Carolinas

Although some fans left after the game, many stayed for the second game to see whether No. 1 seed South Carolina or No. 4 seed North Carolina would be the No. 2 seed Cardinal’s next opponent. North Carolina won that assignment, topping the Gamecocks 65-58.

While all four Stanford coaches stayed to scout the game, the players watched only part of it before leaving at halftime.

The game itself was interesting, and so were the teams’ mascots. South Carolina’s, the puffed out Cocky Gamecock, was the more amusing.

North Carolina’s Rameses, which looks something like a bighorn sheep, was the more puzzling since the team is known as the Tar Heels. According to Wikipedia, Rameses represents the live Horned Dorset Sheep that’s the latest in a line of such sheep that have served as the UNC mascot for some 90 years.

Stanford fans will get another look at Rameses and the UNC team in an Elite Eight matchup at 6 p.m. April 1.

March 12, 2014

Reign ends in Seattle rain

March 8 provided a new experience and some unusual ones for the Stanford women’s basketball team and its fans.

The new experience was decidedly unpleasant as the team lost only its third Pac-12 tournament game since 2002, falling 72-68 to USC at KeyArena in Seattle. The loss also meant that the Cardinal wouldn’t play in the championship game for the first time ever.

Just the fact of losing was unusual, since the team had a 29-2 season record heading into the game, having lost only to Washington and the nation’s highest ranked team, UConn.

Also unusual was that it rained hard all day in Seattle. March rainfall has been above average there, according to news reports. Californians were wishing that some of that rain would fall their way to alleviate their drought.

After a bye, Stanford beats Colorado

The tournament began well with Stanford having the top seed and enjoying a first-round bye. Competition for the Cardinal began March 7 with a 69-54 victory over Colorado.

Colorado did well during the seesaw first half, which ended with the Buffaloes on top 23-21. It was only the fifth team to be ahead of the Cardinal this season.

The Cardinal then made the necessary adjustments during halftime and gradually pulled ahead, leading by as much as 19 points with just over five minutes to go.

Four Stanford starters were in double figures, led by senior forward Chiney Ogwumike with 19, plus 11 rebounds for her 23rd double-double of the season. She also had one assist, two blocks and one steal.

Freshman guard Lili Thompson contributed 16 points to go with three rebounds and one steal. Junior forward Bonnie Samuelson was right behind her with 15 points, four rebounds and one assist.

Completing the foursome was redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef with 10 points plus 16 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the year. She added five assists, two blocks and one steal to her stat line.

Both teams had six 3-pointers. Stanford’s came from Bonnie with three, Lili with two and Chiney with one – only her third of the season.

Colorado called for 28 fouls

In an indication of the game’s physicality, Colorado had 28 fouls, the most called on a Cardinal opponent this season. Stanford cashed in by making 21 of 30 free-throw attempts, or 70 percent. Stanford had 15 fouls, giving Colorado only nine free throws, with six of them, or 66.7 percent, going through the hoop. Stanford’s 15-point advantage at the free-throw line matches the team’s margin of victory.

Spectators during the game included family members such as Chiney’s older sister, Nneka, ’12, as well as Tara’s mother, Rita. Nneka left for San Francisco after the game to serve as a Pac-12 studio commentator during the following day’s games, thus making her TV broadcasting debut. Nneka plays for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks and recently returned from playing professionally in China.

Medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis also was in the Stanford cheering section.

During the game, fans were entertained by the antics of Doppler, mascot for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, which plays in KeyArena. During one timeout, he gave pizzas to some fans.

During another, he competed in a bowling game against Stanford’s Tree and Colorado’s buffalo. The Tree won by cleverly rolling over to knock down all the pins.

Tempie gives chalk talk

Prior to the USC game on March 8, several dozen fans gathered at the team’s Westin Hotel for a chalk talk by assistant coach Tempie Brown and a sendoff for the team.

Tempie alluded to the previous USC game in LA when Stanford was down by 19 points before coming back to win 64-59 on Feb. 21. “We wanted to have a little bit of fun,” she said, “but we came back with great defensive adjustments and hit shots.”

“It was a really great comeback. Our kids showed a lot of guts and determination,” she said, adding that Stanford had defeated USC 86-59 at home on Jan. 27.

She credited assistant coach Kate Paye for a good scouting report. “We’re ready for their press,” she said, adding that there would be some new wrinkles in the team’s game plan and that “the energy at the shoot-around was sky high.”

Referring to the Colorado game the previous night, she said, “They played a junk defense against us,” meaning that the Buffaloes used a nontraditional defense with a mix of zone and man-to-man designed to limit Chiney.

It was a very physical game, but “we hung in there. We wore them down in the second half,” Tempie said.

Because Stanford didn’t know whether it would play fifth-seeded USC or fourth-seeded Arizona State, the coaches prepared for both. “Tara’s a mastermind,” Tempie said, referring to head coach Tara VanDerveer. “We’ll take on anybody.”

She praised USC’s first-year head coach Cynthia Cooper.

She also was complimentary of redshirt sophomore guard Alex Green, who came off the bench for 17 minutes to score 2 points and contribute one rebound and two assists. However, her stat line doesn’t reflect her hustle and tenacious defense. “Alex did a great job,” Tempie said.

Overall, the Colorado win was “a great team effort,” Tempie concluded.

The sendoff itself was decidedly low key because the band, cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree weren’t there. Because the hotel was hosting a gala for Make-A-Wish Foundation, hotel managers wanted less congestion and activity at the street entrance.

Nevertheless, fans lined up on either side of the exit doors to cheer each player, coach and staff member as she descended on the escalator and walked toward the waiting bus, which left at 4 p.m., two hours before game time.

Fans then went to a gathering at the Tap House Grill near the hotel to socialize and dine before the game.

USC and Stanford tie after first half

The first half of the USC game was close, with each team enjoying no more than about a 3-point advantage and ending in a 32-32 tie as the half ended.

Only about one minute had elapsed in the second half when Bonnie went down hard, landing on her back and staying on the floor for several minutes before going to the locker room with the assistance of trainer Marcella Shorty.

Fans were relieved to see her return to the bench at about the 17:28 mark and get back into the game at the 16:07 mark, when Stanford trailed 41-36.

USC’s largest lead was 10 points with 14:30 to go in the second half. Stanford pulled ahead by 3 points, 60-57, at the 5:06 mark.

However, USC scored 7 unanswered points to go ahead 67-60 with 1:23 minutes to go. Stanford narrowed the margin to 2 points, 70-68, with just 26.6 seconds left, but USC scored 2 more points to clinch the 72-68 victory.

Chiney ties with Candice for scoring record

Chiney made 30 points, upping her career total to 2,629 and tying her with Stanford’s Candice Wiggins, ’08, for the Pac-12 record for career points.

Chiney also pulled in 21 rebounds, raising her Pac-12-leading career record to 1,515. However, she was held scoreless during the final seven minutes and missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game at 71-71 with three seconds to go. USC made one more free throw to ice the game.

Overall, the Cardinal shot only 31.9 percent, its lowest of the season. Its previous low was 32.3 percent Nov. 23 when it defeated Texas 63-54 in Austin.

The only other players in double figures were Lili with 13 and junior guard Amber Orrange with 11. Bonnie was close with 9 points.

USC made eight of 16, or 50 percent, of its 3-point attempts. Stanford made only four of 14 for 28.6 percent. Bonnie, Lili, Amber and junior forward Taylor Greenfield had one each.

Playing its fourth game in four days, USC went on to win the tournament, defeating third-seeded Oregon State 71-62 on March 9.

USC’s upset of Stanford wasn’t the only surprise of the tournament. Second-seeded Cal lost 91-83 to seventh-seeded Washington State in a second-round game March 7.

With Stanford’s early exit from the Pac-12 tournament, the players could take two weeks to rest, recover and regroup before the NCAA tournament. The Cardinal will learn its NCAA seeding and placement when selections are announced March 17, which also marks the start of winter quarter finals. Spring quarter classes start March 31.

March 3, 2014

A time for a trophy, tributes, tears and a victory, too

With more than 5,600 fans in Maples Pavilion, the night of March 1 was emotion-packed as the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated Washington State 84-64 and honored its four seniors.

Even before the game started, the significance was evident as one fan, Lily Wong, gave large mounted photos of the foursome to members of the Amy Tucker Fan Club. As the band entered, several members sported tie dye or wore T-shirts honoring Toni Kokenis, the medically retired senior guard who plays flugelhorn with the band when she’s not involved with her team.

Her family and those of the other three honorees – forward Chiney Ogwumike, guard Sara James and redshirt senior Mikaela Ruef – were packed into the family section. Sara’s mom, Kelly, said some 30 or 40 other relatives and friends were at the game to honor her.

Three Trees perform

All 15 Cardinal players were warming up, while WSU had 11. Shortly before the game started, a virtual grove of three Trees danced on the court. It was later announced that one of them was the retiring 2013-14 Tree, Calvin Studebaker, while another was his successor, Will Funk. The third Tree, actually more of a tallish stump, wasn’t named.

In the meantime, a bloc of girls from BAWSI – Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative – sat in an upper corner chanting “Stanford, Stanford,” and waving the red foam trees emblazoned with the Stanford ‘S’ that had been given to fans.

BAWSI’s purpose is “to harness the power of female athletes to impact society and give them an opportunity to connect through authentic, intentional service,” its website says. It tries to do this “by providing opportunities to serve young girls who weren’t being exposed to organized sports, or physical education classes, and to reach girls in communities where obesity and diabetes were prevalent.”

After a video of highlights from the Feb. 27 home victory over Washington, head coach Tara VanDerveer presented flowers to the WSU seniors.

Then it was time to introduce the starting lineup, a ritual involving an upbeat video, “Feel the Moment,” with highlights from this season. This was its last showing, for even if the Cardinal return home for an NCAA regional, as expected, it won’t be a Stanford event. Instead the NCAA will run the show.

Stanford’s starting lineup featured Chiney, Mikaela, junior forward Bonnie Samuelson, freshman guard Lili Thompson and junior point guard Amber Orrange. They put Stanford up 5-0 less than two minutes into the game and, together with their teammates, stayed ahead throughout the game. WSU kept trying to come back to no avail.

Chiney scores career-high 37 points

Chiney and company made sure of that as Chiney scored a career-high 37 points to go with 13 rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in 36 minutes. Even though Chiney had four fouls as the clock ticked down, Tara kept her in long enough to reach her record. With slightly more than two minutes left, Chiney went to the bench, the crowd gave her a standing ovation, and the band chanted, “We love you.”

A few seconds later, with Stanford’s lead at 82-62, all starters were on the bench, leaving their teammates to retain the 20-point lead.

Amber finished the game with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes. Bonnie also was in double figures with 10 points plus four rebounds and one assist in 26 minutes.

Her point total included two of the team’s four 3-pointers. The other two came from freshman guards Briana Roberson and Karlie Samuelson. However, the team had attempted 23 shots from beyond the arc, thus making only 17.4 percent.

The team did better with total field goals, making 31 of 69 for 44.9 percent. Its biggest success came at the free throw line with 18 of 20 for 90 percent. Rebounding also was good with 51, compared with WSU’s 34.

On the other hand, the Cardinal had 18 turnovers to WSU’s 13, and five steals to WSU’s nine.
Stanford’s athletic trainers were honored with a video and trip to center court during a first half timeout while WBB’s trainer, Marcella Shorty, waved to the crowd from her usual spot with the team’s huddle. She has been with the team for 12 years.

WJM Band, a trio of fifth graders, played rock music for the halftime entertainment. The band had earlier played the national anthem at a game. According to its website, the boys (no last names or other details given) donate their earnings to local charities like Second Harvest Food Bank.

At the end of the game, after the team had tossed the traditional victory balls to the crowd, the players joined the cheerleaders, Dollies, Trees and band for “Hail, Stanford, Hail.”

Pac-12 honors championship team

Then the festivities began. The players received Pac-12 championship T-shirts, and Chris Dawson, Pac-12 associate commissioner, presented the championship trophy to Chiney.

Everyone posed in front of a Pac-12 banner proclaiming the 2014 women’s basketball champions.

After a video honoring the seniors, each one was escorted to center court with her family to receive flowers from Tara while announcer Betty Ann Boeving enumerated the player’s accomplishment.

Toni, wearing her No. 31 home jersey, was first, joined by her mother and other relatives.

Next came Sara with her parents, brother and his fiancée.

Mikaela was escorted by her parents and grandparents.

Chiney was last. With her were her parents, older sister Nneka, ’12, younger sisters Olivia and Erica, and others.

Seniors tell post-graduation plans

The Behind the Bench also was devoted to the seniors, who sat in a semi-circle with their parents. The team sat behind them.

While waiting for Tara and Chiney to return from media interviews, associate head coach Amy Tucker said each senior could answer one question.

Toni, who will earn her degree in sociology this spring, said she’s staying at Stanford to pursue a master’s degree in the same subject. She’s also starting a nonprofit, We A.R.E. Project, intended to give all student athletes a voice in seeking equality in athletics. It is an offshoot of We A.R.E. (Athletes Reaching Equality) Pride that Toni and Cal WBB player Mikayla Lyles started earlier this season to generate awareness for LGBT inclusion in sports.

Even though Toni couldn’t play this season, Amy said, she remained with the team and scored a double-double – “energy and enthusiasm” – every day.

Sara, who will be going to Columbia University in New York City immediately after graduation to study to become a nurse practitioner, said she’s pursuing that goal rather than becoming a doctor because she wants to have more time with patients and have a family.

Mikaela, after earning her bachelor’s degree in management science and engineering last spring, will graduate with a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering this spring. She said she’s not sure what she wants to do next, but “whatever I do, I plan to be good at it.” As for playing basketball at Stanford, “I love being a part of this team,” she said.

Amy allowed another question for Toni, who was asked how much she missed playing this year. “‘A lot,’ would be a simple answer,” she said. “I miss being on the court with my teammates.”

“She came to practice every single day” and supported her teammates, Amy said. Toni added that she hopes to coach youth teams someday.

When Tara joined the group, she started by saying, “This was a really big game.” Seattle will be tough, she said, referring to the Pac-12 tournament March 6-9.

During the four years that the class of 2014 played, the team lost only two games at home, Tara said.

Tara, players praise seniors

Speaking of Mikaela, Tara said, “We’re glad that she’s back this year.” She’s one of the top rebounders in the conference.

Representing the team, freshman forward Kailee Johnson said, “Mikaela is a great leader on this team” and Kailee’s mentor.

Mikaela’s mother, Katie, thanked the fans for being her family away from home.

Junior forward Erica Payne used Sara’s nickname, Sej, when she said, “Sej is a ball of energy… and one of my best friends on this team.”

Sara’s father, Mike, said, “Sara is so lucky that she was able to attend Stanford” and receive so much support. “I have never been prouder. Through all the highs and lows, she’s always the same person. She always puts the team ahead of herself.”

Tara noted that “Sara’s always the first one in the gym.”

As for Toni, “She’s been a great part of this team,” Tara said.

Redshirt sophomore guard Alex Green call Toni “such a special friend,” so fun, energetic and creative. “I’m truly inspired by Toni. She encourages others to be comfortable with themselves.”

Toni’s mother, Marie, hobbled by a broken ankle sustained when bowling, said Tara’s mother, Rita, is a great recruiter. When Toni was visiting the campus during her junior year of high school, the two women chatted, and she always talks with Rita when she sees her.

She joked that “some of Toni’s best games were against my alma mater,” UCLA.

Toni introduced her aunt, who has attended all of her games, her sister and other relatives and friends. She thanked the fans and band for their support.

Chiney will graduate with a degree in international relations this month so that she can go on to the WNBA, following in Nneka’s footsteps. She’s widely expected to be a high draft pick. She wants to “take basketball as far as I can go” and to do community work.

An emotional Jasmine Camp, redshirt sophomore guard, said Chiney “has been one of my best friends,” like a sister. “She brings life to everything she does. We can’t replace you.”

Chiney introduced her family and said, “It’s been a special four years.” She’s not crying “because I’m so overwhelmed with happiness.”

Her mother, Ify, thanked fans, saying, “The support has been overwhelming” for the entire team. “It was a difficult decision (for Nneka and Chiney) to choose Stanford and leave Texas,” but it was the best decision she and their father, Peter, ever made. She thanked the coaches for all they did for her daughters.

“It’s been a great journey,” Peter said. Addressing the team, he said, “If Tara asks you to do something, do it because she’s never failed yet.”

“Our team did a great job tonight,” Tara said, but “this was just a warmup.” The team will have the next two days off and practice two days before flying to Seattle on March 6 for a hoped-for three games through March 9.

February 28, 2014

‘Beat us twice? No way,’ Cardinal say

That’s right. There was no way the Stanford women’s basketball team would allow the Washington Huskies a second chance to defeat the No. 5 team in the country and the No. 1 team in the Pac-12.

The Huskies had pulled off an 87-82 victory in hosting the Cardinal three weeks ago in Seattle. However, Stanford turned the tables with an 83-60 win Feb. 27 at home, where 2014 had already been added to the Pac-12 list on the championship banner

Washington was a bit short-handed with only nine players in uniform, while all 15 Stanford players were available for action. The starting lineup featured senior forward Chiney Ogwumike, redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef, junior forward Bonnie Samuelson, freshman guard Lili Thompson and junior guard Amber Orrange.

Starters contribute 71 points

By the end of the game, they had tallied 71 points, led by Chiney with 32 to go with 11 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal in 32 minutes. Bonnie was next with 14 points, one rebound and one assist in 23 minutes.

Lili chipped in 11 points, four rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes. Also finishing in double figures was Amber, who had 10 points plus five rebounds, four assists and two steals in 31 minutes. Mikaela made her biggest contribution under the boards with a game-high 14 of the team’s 50 rebounds. She also had 4 points, five assists and one steal in 28 minutes.

The team shot 47.1 percent for the game and made nine of 24, or 37.5 percent, of its 3-point shots. Bonnie led the way from behind the arc with four, while Lili had three. Amber and freshman guard Karlie Samuelson each had one.

Free-throw shooting was less than stellar with 10 of 17, or 58.8 percent.

Stanford started out strong, jumped to a 13-2 lead at the 15:52 point of the first half and never looked back. The first half ended 45-32.

Bonnie’s 3’s start second half

Bonnie got the second half off to a good start with two consecutive 3’s, plus one by Lili in the first 2 minutes. The lead swelled to as much as 30 points with under 7 minutes to go in the second half. Shortly after that, the starters were done for the night, leaving the rest of the game to their teammates.

Although the women’s basketball team was the night’s central focus, some other members of the Stanford family received accolades. During one timeout in the first half, the wrestling team took a bow. Sporting the university’s best-ever 17 wins, the team will host the Pac-12 tournament starting March 2.

Next up was women’s gymnastic coach Kristen Smyth, who had just earned her 200th win at Stanford. While she, her son and daughter were cheered at center court, several members of her team were in the bleachers, where they lined up and lifted their shirts to spell out “200 wins” one red letter at a time on their bare midriffs.

Nneka cheers from sidelines

When the roving camera focused on Chiney’s older sister, Nneka, ’12, in the family section, the crowd again erupted in cheers. Nneka was there with their parents and two younger sisters. After the game, Nneka interviewed Chiney for the Pac-12 Network, but before it was over, Chiney turned the tables and interviewed Nneka, who was seeing Chiney play in person for the first time this season after returning from playing in China.

In honor of Black History Month, three women from Stanford’s Sigma Gamma Rho sorority performed during halftime, followed by a group of youngsters from Destiny Arts Center of Oakland.

The Stanford Women’s Community Center was featured with a video and two representatives during the second half.

Senior Night is March 1, when Stanford plays Washington State to wrap up the regular season. Fans are hopeful that this won’t be the last time to see Chiney, Mikaela, guard Sara James and medically retired guard Toni Kokenis at Maples because Stanford hosts an NCAA regional tournament March 30 and April 1.

February 18, 2014

Cardinal in the pink

Soundly defeating Arizona 74-48 at home on Feb. 16, the Stanford women’s basketball team clinched a bye in the upcoming Pac-12 tournament and moved closer to finishing the season atop the conference standings.

That victory, combined with the 61-35 defeat of Arizona State at home two days earlier, helped the Cardinal rise to No. 5 from No. 6 in the weekly AP poll.

Although there was much to celebrate after the Arizona game, it should be noted that the Wildcat ranks were greatly depleted with only six players in uniform. On the Stanford side of the court, 14 of 15 players got into the game.

The only unavailable player was freshman guard Karlie Samuelson, who had a sore foot. Head coach Tara VanDerveer told fans after the game that Karlie could have played if needed, but Karlie felt it would be wiser to give her foot a chance to get better. “Karlie is having a fabulous year,” Tara said, praising the maturity of her decision.

Wildcats play with heart

Even with so few players, Arizona played with heart and went ahead or kept the game close for the first few minutes. Then the Cardinal took over and never looked back. The score was 48-19 at the half. The Wildcats actually outscored Stanford 29-26 in the second half, when bench players were getting major minutes. However, the first-half advantage was too much for Arizona to overcome.

Arizona matched up well in several statistics, such as turnovers, giving the ball up only nine times compared with Stanford’s 15, 11 of which came from Arizona steals. Arizona cashed in on the turnovers by scoring 21 points, compared with Stanford’s 10. Stanford had four steals.

The opponent also had fewer fouls, 12 to Stanford’s 19. That latter number should be tempered with the Arizona players’ realization that no one could afford to get into foul trouble. Most of Stanford’s fouls were called on bench players who don’t always get much playing time.

Stanford did much better in assists, 21-8. Junior guard Amber Orrange led the way with nine assists to go with 9 points and five rebounds in a team-high 24 minutes.

Treys make the day

Perhaps the biggest advantage for Stanford was 3-pointers. Junior forward Bonnie Samuelson lived up to her nickname, “Lights Out,” by going 5-for-8 from the beyond the arc. She also scored just inside the arc for a team-high 17 points and added a block in just 16 minutes.

Altogether, the team made 13 of 24 treys for 54.2 percent. Besides Bonnie’s five, Amber added three, while junior forward Taylor Greenfield and freshman guard Lili Thompson had two each. Freshman forward Kailee Johnson completed the barrage with one.

Playing a season-low 22 minutes, senior forward Chiney Ogwumike scored 15 points to go with nine rebounds and one assist.

Lili had 9 points, three rebounds, four assists and one steal in 18 minutes, while Taylor had 6 points, one rebound and one assist in 13 minutes. Completing the starting lineup, redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef had 2 points, three rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes.

With about 10 minutes to go in the game, all of the starters were on the bench and the score was 65-31. For a time, all four available freshmen – Lili, Kailee, guard Briana Roberson and forward Erica “Bird” McCall – were on the floor together.

Team marks Breast Cancer Awareness Day

Because it was Breast Cancer Awareness Day, pink was evident throughout Maples. Stanford’s white uniforms were trimmed in pink, and the socks were pink. During several breaks, pink T-shirts were tossed into the stands courtesy of the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center, a game sponsor.

In keeping with a tradition begun in 2010, when then-senior Jayne Appel’s dad wore a pink tutu, it was Mikaela’s father’s turn to don the pink netting. It had been passed from Jayne’s dad to Jeanette Pohlen’s in 2011 and to Lindy La Rocque’s in 2012.

Sara James’s dad wore it last year when she was a junior because the fathers of that year’s two seniors – Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela – lived too far away to get to every game. However, Mikaela came back after redshirting, and her dad has attended many home games, so the honor was his. Next year the tutu presumably will go to the father of one of this year’s juniors.

During one break, the video board featured several Stanford players who said they were playing for relatives who have had cancer. After that, cancer survivors and their caretakers were asked to stand – a substantial number.

Thanks to a Dollies reunion that weekend, fans were treated to the regular five Dollies plus two sets of four Dollies from past years. All of them danced with the precision fans have come to expect from those women.

Lili introduces herself

After the game, fans were invited to a Behind the Bench. After Eileen Roche, the team’s director of basketball operations, made some brief comments, associate head coach Amy Tucker arrived with Sara, Mikaela and Lili. The two seniors were there to thank the fans for their support, while Lili was there for the traditional freshman introduction.

Lili, the youngest of three girls and three boys, introduced her parents, brother, sister and toddler niece. As a Texan, she had known Amber, Chiney and redshirt sophomore Alex Green before coming to Stanford. Her parents have since moved to San Jose. She also attended Tara’s hoops camp one summer.

One of the key differences between playing in high school and playing in college is the great closeness she has experienced on this Stanford team, she said.

Although she doesn’t have to declare a major until her junior year, she said she’s leaning toward science, technology and society. Asked about her once-stated aim to become president of the U.S., she responded, “Aim high. That’s what I say.”

The professional player she admires most is Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. She started playing basketball when she was 3 years old. At the time, her dad coached a team of 4-year-olds, so she got to play despite her age.

She chose Stanford because it offered the best combination of the two things she wanted most in a college – outstanding academics and athletics.

“Recruiting isn’t a science,” said Amy, who coordinates the team’s recruiting. “Lili has been a really pleasant surprise.”

Tara praises her team

Amy handed the microphone over to Tara, who started by saying, “We had some really excellent play from different people.” The game was “an opportunity for different people to get experience.”

Among the bench players she singled out was freshman guard Briana Roberson, who “did well,” recording 4 points, two rebounds and a steal in 20 minutes. Fans were impressed with her hustle on the court.

As for the starters, “Amber had a great weekend,” Tara said, referring to both games against the Arizona schools.

Tara commented that post players coming off the bench are learning that things aren’t as easy as Chiney and Mikaela make them look.

“I take Chiney out when the game is in hand,” she said. She doesn’t want to risk injuries because health is most important to her. “I’m not big into statistical stuff,” she said.

Likewise, even though Bonnie was doing so well, Tara took her out because the game was in hand and she didn’t want her to get hurt.

After the loss at Washington the previous weekend, the team worked on defense and on attacking the zone.

“We want more contributions from more people,” Tara said. Still, “It’s really hard to get 15 people game time.” Every day she and her staff talk about what combinations of players work best. She expects that the usual rotation will be eight or nine players.

The team travels to Southern California next weekend before returning to Maples to wrap up the regular season against the Washington schools the following weekend. Then it’s on to Seattle and the Pac-12 tournament.

February 16, 2014

Back on the winning track

After a disappointing 87-82 loss at Washington the previous weekend, the Stanford women’s basketball team returned home to rout Arizona State 61-35 on Feb. 14.

The loss to unranked Washington dropped the Cardinal to No. 6 from No. 3 in AP’s national rankings. It also caused the team to look at what went wrong. Part of the problem was attributed to lack of defensive intensity.

Therefore, the team ratcheted up its defense against No. 15 ASU, holding the opponent to a mere 1 point from a free throw until 11:51 in the first half. That’s when the first Sun Devil shot went in, making the score 14-3. By the end of the first half, Stanford led 32-12 and never looked back.

The home team had its largest lead, 55-23 -- 32 points -- at 8:32 in the second half. By then the Cardinal were represented mainly by bench players. Senior forward Chiney Ogwumike was already done for the night after leading the team with 20 points and 13 rebounds to go with one assist, one block and two steals in 27 minutes. It was her 19th double-double this season.

No success with 3-pointers

At the Washington game, the Cardinal attempted 41 3-pointers but made only nine, or 22 percent. This time, the team shot only four times from beyond the arc with zero success. The last time it made no 3’s was in its 62-53 victory at Cal on Jan. 8, 2013. ASU was only 1 for 12 on 3’s.

This time the emphasis seemed to be twofold. One was to get the ball to Chiney, who shot 10 for 12, or to the other posts, leading to 38 total points in the paint. The other was to drive to the basket to score or draw a foul.

Junior point guard Amber Orrange was the leader in that regard, scoring a total of 14 points to go with three rebounds, three assists and five steals in her team-high 30 minutes. The five steals matched her career high and led to some nifty fast-break scores

Freshman guard Lili Thompson also found her way to the basket, scoring 8 points plus two rebounds and one assist in 28 minutes. Ever-reliable redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef contributed 5 points along with seven rebounds, three assists and one steal in 22 minutes.

As was the case in Washington, head coach Tara VanDerveer altered the starting lineup, inserting junior forward Taylor Greenfield in place of senior guard Sara James. Sara didn’t play at Washington and logged four minutes against ASU.

Stat lines mostly favor Stanford

Stanford outrebounded ASU 41-35; had more assists, 10-3; more steals, 9-5; and more blocks, 1-0. ASU made four of its 13 free throws for 30.8 percent, while Stanford made five of 10 for a mediocre 50 percent. Turnovers were somewhat problematic, too, with 17 by Stanford and 15 by ASU.

Perhaps because it was Valentine’s Day, attendance was a bit low at 3,450. The Tree marked the occasion with red trim on its black top hat.

Instead of a singer for the national anthem, Estelina Kovacs, who is hearing impaired, interpreted the words in sign language while an instrumental recording played.

At the half, fans were treated to two dances by the San Juan Sensations, a competitive dance team of 8- to 12-year-old girls from San Juan Dance in Los Altos. The first dance, which was by four of the older girls, was a combination of ballet and modern with some impressively limber and graceful movements. Five younger girls were featured in a less challenging, more hip routine.

University strives to be the best in recycling

Before and during the game, fans were told about Stanford’s participation in RecycleMania, a national contest involving several hundred colleges and universities vying to produce the least waste by recycling, reusing and composting.

Several timeout activities featured trivia questions about recycling. The cheerleaders tossed recycling T-shirts into the stands during one break. Sponsored by Sustainable Stanford, new recycling bins were evident throughout Maples Pavilion.

Next on the schedule is a home game against Arizona on Feb. 16. A win in that game or a loss by Oregon State will clinch a first-round bye for Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament in March.

At this point, Stanford appears to be close to the No. 1 seed in the tournament with a 12-1 conference record. ASU, Cal and USC are tied for second with 9-4 records. The top four teams get a bye.

After playing a home game against Arizona on Feb. 16, the Cardinal visit the SoCal schools next weekend before returning home the following weekend to host the Washington schools and complete the regular season.