April 28, 2014

Thanks for the memories, Part 3 of 3


Having become the Pac-12 season champion and earning a first-round bye as well as the top seed, the Stanford women’s basketball team headed north to Seattle for the conference tournament at KeyArena.

Stanford’s first game was a 69-54 victory over No. 9 seed Colorado on March 7. Colorado did well during the seesaw first half, which ended with the Buffaloes on top 23-21. It was the only the fifth team to be ahead of the Cardinal at the half this season.

The second half was a different story as Stanford made the necessary adjustments and gradually pulled ahead, leading by as many as 19 points with just over five minutes to go.

Four starters were in double figures, led by senior forward Chiney Ogwumike with 19 points plus 11 rebounds for her 23rd double-double of the season.

Freshman guard Lili Thompson contributed 16 points, while junior forward Bonnie Samuelson had 15 points. Redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef had 10 plus 16 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season.

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 throws, 70 percent. Stanford had 15 fouls, but Colorado made only six of nine FTs. Stanford’s 15-point advantage at the line matched its margin of victory.

Team makes unexpected exit after upset by USC

Prior to the March 8 game against No. 5 seed USC, several dozen fans gathered at the team’s Westin Hotel for an informal chalk talk by assistant coach Tempie Brown and a sendoff for the team.

Speaking of the previous USC game in LA when Stanford was down by 19 points before coming back to win 64-59 on Feb. 21, Tempie said, “It was a really great comeback. Our kids showed a lot of guts and determination.” Stanford went on to defeat USC 86-59 in Maples on Jan. 27.

The outcome was different this time. USC won 72-68 and kept Stanford out of the championship game for the first time ever. It was only the third tournament loss since 2002.

The game was close during the first half, ending in a 32-32 tie.

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.

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 USC was ahead 41-36.

Its largest lead was 10 points with 14:30 to go, but Stanford pulled ahead 60-57 at the 5:06 mark. However, USC scored 7 unanswered points to go ahead 67-60 with 1:23 to go. Stanford narrowed the margin to 70-68 with just 26.6 seconds left, but USC scored 2 more points to clinch the 72-68 upset.

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

The only other players in double figures were Lili with 13 and junior guard Amber Orrange with 11.

In all, the Cardinal shot only 31.9 percent, its lowest of the season.

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

On to the NCAA tournament

Because of the early exit from the Pac-12 tournament, the players had two weeks to rest, recover and regroup before the NCAA tournament.

When the brackets were announced March 17, the team was somewhat surprised at its No. 2 seed and perhaps even more surprised that it would have to travel to Ames, Iowa, for the first two games.

Nevertheless, junior forward Taylor Greenfield was pleased because she’s from Huxley, Iowa, only about 10 miles from Ames. Therefore her family and friends could easily come to see her play.

The first game was March 22, when Stanford defeated the 15th-seeded University of South Dakota 81-62.

Stanford had four players in double figures: Chiney with 23, Bonnie with 18, Lili with 11 and Amber with 10.

Two days later, on March 24, Stanford defeated No. 10 seed Florida State 63-44. Once again, Chiney led with 21, followed by Lili with 14 and Bonnie with 11. Fans were glad to see Mikaela in her usual spot in the starting lineup after she had suffered a hard fall in the South Dakota game.

Medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis was at both games, playing flugelhorn with the band.

Home Sweet 16 home

As previously scheduled, Stanford hosted the third and fourth regional rounds, giving the Cardinal a chance to play for the home crowd again.

Because it was an NCAA event, Maples had some new wrinkles, most notably a new floor with a large NCAA logo in the center and the Stanford ‘S’ on either side of the center court line.

Defeating No. 3 seed Penn State 82-57 on March 30, Stanford turned in one of its best performances of the season. It’s no surprise that Chiney led all players with 29 points and 15 rebounds for her 25th double-double of the season.

Amber added 18 points, while Lili and Mikaela had 11 each. Mikaela also had 13 rebounds for her own double-double. Lili also was credited with tenacious defense, limiting Penn State’s best player, Maggie Lucas, to a mere 6 points.

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. Toni 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.

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.

Other grads at the game were Ros Gold-Onwude,’10; Melanie Murphy, ’11; Vanessa Nygaard and Heather Owen,’98; and Brooke Smith, ’07.

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

Triumphant farewell before the Final Four

In a game filled with nail-biting moments, Stanford won its Elite Eight game over North Carolina 74-65 on April 1.

Except for Amber’s opening basket, the Cardinal trailed throughout the first half as UNC’s physical defenders bottled up Chiney. The half ended with UNC ahead 36-30, and Chiney had only 4 points. She hadn’t made her first basket until the 14:47 mark.

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, 63-62, at the 3:50 mark, but Stanford’s clutch plays assured the victory.

Chiney finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds for her 26th double-double of the season.

Mikaela had a career-high 17 points plus nine rebounds. Nine of her points came from three 3-pointers, the most of her collegiate career. She made numerous other contributions that weren’t on the stat sheet but that were crucial to the win.

Amber had 14 points, while Bonnie had 13 and Lili had 10.

As it was in the win over Penn State, 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, Toni instigated and led the “Go! Stanford!” cheer from her seat. She did so again in the second half when Stanford took its first one-point lead.

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

With Stanford ahead 54-46 at the 9:38 mark in the second half, freshman forward Kailee Johnson jumped up and down to incite the crowd from her spot on the bench.

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

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

An NCAA official presented the regional championship trophy to Tara, who handed it off to Chiney.

When the all-regional team was announced, its five members included one each from North Carolina and South Carolina plus Amber, Chiney and Mikaela, who was named the regional’s most outstanding player.

Then it was time to cut down the net before preparing for a trip to Nashville and the team’s sixth Final Four in seven years.

UConn prevails again

As the bracket would have it, Stanford’s first opponent was undefeated defending national champion UConn. The Huskies had downed Stanford 76-57 in Storrs, Conn., on Nov. 11, the Cardinal’s second game of the season.

The outcome on April 6 in Bridgestone Arena was almost identical as UConn prevailed 75-56, a 19-point difference again.

UConn went on to defeat previously undefeated Notre Dame 79-58, a 21-point difference, for the national championship on April 8. It was UConn’s ninth overall championship, surpassing Tennessee’s record. Notre Dame had advanced to the final game by defeating Maryland 87-61 in the game preceding Stanford’s.

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

However, UConn edged ahead 28-24 at the end of the first half and just kept going from there.

UConn’s defense and size were too much for Stanford, but rebounding was fairly even with 35 for UConn and 33 for Stanford.

Fouls were a problem, with 16 by the Cardinal and 10 by the Huskies. The Huskies got 17 points from FT’s, while Stanford got only 8. Turnovers were yet another problem, with 13 by Stanford and eight by UConn.

Amber led the team with 16 points, followed by Chiney with 15 and Lili with 12.

Junior forward Erica Payne received the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award, the first Stanford women’s basketball player to do so. The 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.

Prior to the game, fans gathered for a reception at the team’s Hilton Hotel across the street from Bridgestone Arena.

They included recent alums like Nneka, Lindy and Grace Mashore, ’12; and Jeanette Pohlen, ’11; along with Kerry Blake,’11, who was the team’s manager for four years.

After the game, the team gathered for one last huddle before waving to the fans and heading for the locker room, joined by Toni.

Later, long-faced fans returned to the hotel in the rain to welcome the team shortly before 11 p.m.

“The outcome was not what we had wanted,” Tara said. However, “I’m exceedingly proud of our team.”

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.”

One last farewell to the team

The mood was decidedly more upbeat as several hundred people gathered at the Arrillaga Alumni Center for the annual spring banquet April 17.

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

Two of the players garnering the most attention were Chiney and Mikaela. Chiney, who earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations at the end of the spring quarter, was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft on April 14. She’ll go to the Connecticut Sun, where she’ll join Kayla.

Mikaela, who completed her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering at the end of the spring quarter, was taken No. 31 in the draft. She’ll go to the Seattle Storm, joining classmate Joslyn Tinkle, '13.

Another focus of 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.

After a buffet dinner, Tara presided over the program. Noting that returning players would begin spring conditioning April 21, she thanked the many people who help the team and fans behind the scenes.

She also introduced each player, starting with the freshmen and going on to the rest of the team class by class, ending with the seniors.

Along the way, she cited individual accomplishments, such as Lili’s being named to the Pac-12 all-freshman team and Erica’s Elite 89 award. She noted that Bonnie made 62 3-pointers and missed only one free throw all year for a 96 percent success rate at the line.

Amber’s honors included All-Pac 12, honorable mention on the Pac-12 academic team and finalist for the Lieberman Award, given to the nation’s best point guard.

When the seniors came to the front, their framed jerseys served as a backdrop to the dais.

Tara praised Toni for staying with the team and helping her teammates.

She called Sara “a tough competitor” and lauded Mikaela for her improvement since her freshman year. She cited Mikaela’s being named the Stanford regional’s most outstanding player.

Chiney, a three-time All-American, was first on the team in scoring and rebounding, setting Stanford and Pac-12 records in both. Her other honors included the Wooden Award for best female basketball player. She was the first Stanford and Pac-12 player to be accorded the honor.

After a video with highlights from the season, Tara wrapped up the evening by saying, it was “just a fabulous year.”

April 25, 2014

Thanks for the memories: Part 2 of 3


It wasn’t always easy, but the Stanford women’s basketball team won the Pac-12 season championship with only one blip along the way, ending with a 17-1 record in the conference and a 28-2 record overall before the Pac-12 tournament.

Conference play began at home on Jan. 3 when the Cardinal defeated the University of Oregon 96-66.

Less than eight minutes into the game, senior center Chiney Ogwumike snared the 1,267th rebound of her career to move into first place on Stanford’s and the Pac-12’s all-time rebounding list. In doing so, she eclipsed former teammate Kayla Pedersen, ’1l. Earlier in the game, she passed another Cardinal great, Jayne Appel, ’10. In a previous game, she passed her sister Nneka, ’12.

When the record was announced, the crowd of nearly 3,500 accorded her a standing ovation. She received another with 5:34 to go in the game, when she returned to the bench to cheer her teammates.

She finished the game with 33 points, the fifth time she had scored 30 or more points in the season, plus 14 rebounds to register her ninth double-double of the season.

The only other player in double figures was junior forward Bonnie Samuelson, who came off the bench for 17 minutes to score a career-high 21 points, most of them on 6 of 9 shooting from beyond the arc.

Bonnie led the team’s rain of 12 3’s. The others came from junior forward Taylor Greenfield and freshman guard Lili Thompson with two each, while redshirt sophomore guard Jasmine Camp and freshman guard Karlie Samuelson had one each.

All 15 players were available for only the second time in the season, and all 15 played.

Also noteworthy was that the Ducks came into the game with the nation’s highest scoring average of 105.3 points per game. They left with their lowest total of the season.

Chiney gets Pac-12 honors

With Chiney leading the way with 31 points, 13 rebounds and a team- and career-high six assists, the team beat visiting Oregon State 89-67 on Jan. 5.

Another stellar performance came from Lili, who poured in a career-high 19 points and made three of four of her 3’s.

Altogether, the team made seven, or 70 percent, of its 3’s. Taylor had two, while Bonnie and senior guard Sara James had one each.

At halftime fans were treated to a performance by the always popular agility dogs from Ace Dog Sports.

During the Behind the Bench, Karlie and fellow freshman guard Briana Roberson were on hand to answer questions.

On the road to Utah, Colorado and the Arizona schools

The next two weekends found the Cardinal traveling, first to Utah, where the team won 87-61 on Jan. 10.

Chiney’s game-leading 30 points included her first 3-pointer of the season.

Then the team was off to the Rockies, where Colorado fell 87-77 on Jan. 12. Stanford’s 55 first-half points were the most it had scored in a half during the season.

After some less than noteworthy results at the free-throw line in some past games, the Cardinal shot a season-high 87.5 percent (21 of 24).

Karlie had career-highs in points, 19, thanks to five 3’s plus four free throws. Chiney made her second consecutive 3-pointer of the season and finished with 34 points and 16 rebounds, leading to her sixth Pac-12 Player of the Week honor.

After a few days back on the Farm, the team flew to Arizona and a 96-52 victory on Jan. 17.

This game was highlighted by a barrage of 15 3-pointers made of 32 attempted. They came from Karlie with four; Taylor and Bonnie with three each; and junior guard Amber Orrange with two. Chipping in with one each were Lili, Sara and freshman forward Kailee Johnson.

The team’s travels ended with an 80-56 victory over Arizona State on Jan. 20.

Back to the Bay Area

Despite what appears to have been a lopsided score, 72-55, over UCLA at home on Jan. 24, it was far from an easy win.

UCLA had only eight healthy players, but they were well prepared in trying to keep Chiney in check and limiting the perimeter attack. At slightly more than halfway into the first half, for example, the Bruins were ahead 15-14 and Chiney had scored only 2 points.

The score seesawed throughout the first half, which ended in the Cardinal’s favor, 36-35. It stayed close partly into the second half until the Cardinal widened its lead and Chiney went to work. Despite being on the bench for about two minutes with her fourth foul, she came back to finish the game with 21 points and 15 rebounds.

Also in double figures were Lili with 15, freshman forward Erica “Bird” McCall with 12, and Sara with 11.

The officiating crew ended plays with a whistle 29 times. Some of the whistles, as well as the lack thereof, drew boos from the crowd of 4,434. A woman who used loud, foul language to express her displeasure was ejected.

The next game was a little easier, as USC fell 86-59 on Jan. 27 at Maples. All 15 Cardinal players got into the game and made positive contributions, if only a rebound or assist. Kailee played for four minutes without the face mask she had worn since her nose was broken in the New Mexico game on Dec. 16.

Chiney had 30 points and 12 rebounds. Redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef had 11 points and 10 rebounds for her third double-double of the season. She also made her second 3-pointer of the season.

Battles of the Bay

It wasn’t just the relatively late hour that wearied many Cardinal fans at home but the relatively close score, 70-64, over Cal on Jan. 30.

Stanford had led by as many as 30 points with 13:35 to go in the second half. That’s when Cal began closing the gap and outscored Stanford 39-27 for that half. However, Stanford had led 43-25 after the first half.

Free throws helped, too, with Stanford making 11 of 16, or 68.8 percent, compared with Cal’s six of 12, or 50 percent.

Chiney had only 11 points in the first half, while Karlie had 12. She electrified the crowd by hitting a 3 in the last second of that half. She finished the game with 14 points, second only to Chiney’s 23.

Many members of the band as well as a number of fans wore black T-shirts reading “We A.R.E. Pride.” The initials stand for Athletes Reaching Equality, an initiative started by medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis and Cal guard Mikayla Lyles.

Its purpose is to “promote safe and supportive communities for LBGT athletes as well as to raise awareness of LGBT issues in sports,” according to the Stanford Daily.

Four days later, on Feb. 2, the second round of the Battle of the Bay got under way at Cal, but this time things were easier for the Cardinal, who won 79-64.

One difference is that officials in the second game were quicker to blow the whistle, calling 27 fouls on Cal and 16 on Stanford. The Cardinal didn’t have its first foul until 8:38 in the first half, when Cal already had seven.
Stanford cashed in by making a season-high 24 of 30 free throws, 80 percent. Cal made 12 of 21, or 57.1 percent.

Karlie was 7-for-7 at the charity stripe. She made six of her FTs as time began to run out and Cal deliberately fouled her. She finished second on the team with 16 points.

Chiney had 29. Her performance in the two Cal games led to her seventh Pac-12 Player of the Week honor.

Tripping up on the Washington trip

Journeying north, Stanford defeated Washington State 77-69 on Feb. 7. Chiney led the team with 36 points and 17 rebounds. Taylor and Amber also were in double figures with 11 each.

Then came the season shocker: Washington defeated the Cardinal 87-82 on Feb. 9. All five Huskies starters were in double figures, compared with three Stanford starters and one bench player. Chiney had 23, while Mikaela had 16 and Lili had 13. Bonnie came off the bench for 14.

The loss 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.

Back on the winning track

Therefore, when the team returned home to host Arizona State on Feb. 14, it ratcheted up its defense against the No. 15 Sun Devils and won 61-35. It held the opponent to a mere 1 point from a free throw until 11:51 in the first half. That’s when the first ASU shot went in, making the score 14-3.

The Cardinal had its largest lead, 55-23, at 8:32 in the second half, with mostly bench players on the court. Chiney was already done with 20 points and 13 rebounds for her 19th double-double of the season.

One oddity is that the Cardinal made none of its four 3-point shots. ASU was 1 for 12 on 3’s.

Cardinal in the pink

Soundly defeating Arizona 74-48 at home Feb. 16, the Cardinal clinched a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament. That victory, combined with the earlier one over ASU, elevated Stanford to No. 5 from No. 6 in the AP poll.

A footnote to this victory is that the Wildcats had only six players in uniform. Stanford had 14, with all of them getting into the game. Karlie didn’t play because of a sore foot, but she could have if needed. She felt it would be better to give her foot a chance to heal, said head coach Tara VanDerveer, praising the maturity of her decision.

Despite the odds, 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, ending the first half with a 48-19 advantage. The Wildcats outscored the Cardinal 29-26 in the second half, when bench players were getting major minutes.

Perhaps the biggest advantage for Stanford was 3’s, with Bonnie living up to her nickname, “Lights Out,” by going 5 for 8 and finishing with a team-high 17 points.

Altogether, the team made 13 of 24 treys for 54.2 percent. Besides Bonnie’s five, Amber added three, while Taylor and Lili had two each and Kailee had one.

Playing a season-low 22 minutes, Chiney had 15 points and nine rebounds.

Because it was Breast Cancer Awareness Day, pink was evident throughout Maples.

After the game, Lili attended the Behind the Bench for a traditional freshman introduction. The youngest of three girls and three boys, she introduced her parents, brother and a 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.

As for a major, she’s leaning toward science, technology and society. Asked about her once-stated aim to become president, she said, “Aim high. That’s what I say.”

Off to SoCal

Journeying south, Stanford defeated the University of Southern California 64-59 on Feb. 21, but it was a far from easy victory.

The team came back from a 19-point deficit (13-32 in the first half) to tie its biggest comeback in its history and to tie for eighth-largest comeback in NCAA Division I. Stanford previously overcame a 19-point deficit on Nov. 25, 2007, against Temple in the U.S. Virgin Islands and won the game 63-54.

Finishing with 27 points and seven rebounds, Chiney posted her 23rd 20-point game of the season. Bonnie recorded her sixth game in double figures, scoring 14 points and going 8 for 8 from the FT line. The latter was a career high.

Lili missed the game because of a sprained ankle. Karlie started in her place.

When Stanford visited UCLA on Feb. 23, Tara altered the starting lineup. Joining regulars Chiney and Amber were Bird, Bonnie and freshman guard Briana Roberson. It was the first start for Bonnie and Briana, the second for Bird.

The team finished with a 65-56 victory that clinched its 14th consecutive Pac-12 regular season title.

Payback time against Washington

When Washington came calling on Feb. 27, there was no way the Cardinal would allow it a chance to repeat its victory three weeks earlier.

Instead, Stanford turned the tables with an 83-60 win at home, where 2014 had already been added to the Pac-12 list on the championship banner.

The Huskies were short-handed with only nine players in uniform, while all 15 Cardinal players were available. The starting lineup featured Chiney, Mikaela, Bonnie, Lili and Amber.

Together they scored 71 points, led by Chiney with 32 plus 11 rebounds. Bonnie scored 14 points while Lili had 11 and Amber had 10. Mikaela made her biggest contribution under the boards with a game-high 14 of the team’s 50 rebounds. She also had 4 points.

Shortly after the lead swelled to as much as 30 points with under 7 minutes to go in the second half, the starters were done for the night, turning the game over to their teammates.

The crowd included Chiney’s family, including Nneka. She was seeing Chiney play in person for the first time this season after returning from playing professionally in China.

Senior Night, the last regular season home game

With more than 5,600 fans in Maples Pavilion, March 1 was emotion-packed as the team defeated Washington State 84-64 and honored its four seniors on Senior Night.

Even before the game started, the occasion was evident as several members of the band sported tie dye or wore T-shirts honoring Toni, who played flugelhorn with the band when she wasn’t involved with the team.

Also before the game, Tara presented flowers to the WSU seniors. Then it was time to introduce the starters, a ritual featuring an upbeat video, “Feel the Moment,” with highlights from the season. The starters were Chiney, Mikaela, Bonnie, Lili and Amber.

Chiney scored a career-high 37 points to go with 13 rebounds. Even though she 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, she went to the bench, the crowd gave her a standing ovation, and the band chanted, “We love you.”

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

After the game, the team tossed the traditional victory balls to the crowd, then joined the cheerleaders, Dollies, Trees (there were three that night) and band for “Hail, Stanford, Hail.”

Then the festivities began. The players received Pac-12 championship T-shirts, and a Pac-12 official presented the championship trophy to Chiney.

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

Toni, wearing her No. 31 home jersey, was first, followed by Sara, Mikaela and Chiney.

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

Toni, who will earn her degree in sociology, 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, intending to give all student athletes a voice in seeking equality. “She came to practice every day” and supported her teammates, said associate head coach Amy Tucker.

Sara, a human biology major, will go to Columbia University immediately after graduation to study in its master’s degree program for becoming a nurse practitioner.

Mikaela, after earning her bachelor’s degree in management science and engineering last spring, will receive her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering this spring. At the time, she wasn’t sure what she’d do next. As it turned out, she was drafted by the WNBA’s Seattle Storm a few weeks later.

After earning her degree in international relations, Chiney was widely expected to be a high WNBA draft pick (which she was, going No. 1 to the Connecticut Sun in April).

Then several players stepped forth to represent the team in honoring the seniors. Kailee spoke about Mikaela. She was followed by Erica P. talking about Sara. Redshirt sophomore guard Alex Green saluted Toni, and redshirt sophomore guard Jasmine Camp honored Chiney.

Each senior’s parents also spoke, and Tara had good things to say about each one.

Next: The Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments






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.
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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.