October 21, 2008

Open practice and barbecue

More than 140 Fast Break Club members got a preview of the 2008-09 edition of the women’s basketball team at the open practice and barbecue Oct. 18. There was a lot to generate optimism for the season, which Head Coach Tara VanDerveer called “one of our most competitive ever” during remarks at the barbecue.

It was difficult to get a decisive fix on the team because not all of the bigs were participating. Sophomore Ashley Cimino was away on a personal matter, Coach Amy Tucker said later in an e-mail.

Three others – senior Morgan Clyburn (feet) and juniors Jayne Appel and Michelle Harrison (knees) – are recuperating from surgery, so their participation was limited. To their credit, however, they went through the opening stretches, worked out individually on the sidelines and joined in shooting practice. They were involved physically as much as possible, and emotionally 100 percent, or so it appeared. Jayne and Michelle are expected to be cleared for full practice shortly, but it’s not certain when Morgan can return, Tara said.

Amy’s e-mail pointed out that because this was an open practice, it wasn’t typical for this point in the season. “We played more full court than usual,” she wrote. “We will drill more early and break down our offense and defense.”

The three-hour practice began with the players stretching and going through flexibility and strength exercises, followed by running and shooting. In another phase, they divided into groups with Coach Kate Paye working with the guards and Coach Bobbie Kelsey and Amy working the forwards. Everyone took a water break every 20 minutes or so.

In one exercise, one player would dribble up the court while another tried to steal the ball. This was an area where experience showed as veteran guards like senior/redshirt junior Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, junior JJ Hones and junior/redshirt sophomore Melanie Murphy outfoxed their partners.

After a four-on-four scrimmage, it was time to run sprints, followed by more scrimmages, shooting exercises and fast-break exercises. Play stopped several times as the team formed a circle to hear Tara’s comments, which didn’t carry up to fans in the stands. Time was set aside for free throws and three-pointers. If this practice was any indication, fans can look forward to many of the latter from a variety of players, and yes, freshman Lindy La Rocque does have a keen eye for threes.

Two male practice players took part in the scrimmages, playing the post positions and challenging the women with their rebounding and shooting. Still, several plays by the women drew applause from the fans.

It was an intense, focused practice with no slacking off. One could sense that this is a team on a mission to do as well as or better than last year, which saw the Cardinal advance all the way to the NCAA national championship game.

After the practice, the players showered, dressed and joined the fans enjoying the barbecue at Jimmy V’s. Then, in keeping with tradition, Tara introduced them, starting with the freshmen:
  • Lindy – “She’s a three-point shooter with great energy and great hustle.”
  • Forward Nneka Ogwumike – She was a captain and the leading scorer on the USA under-18 team that played in Argentina this summer. “She’s a rebounder, too,” but “I told her no back flips,” Tara said, referring to Nneka’s participation in gymnastics until she got too tall.
  • Forward/center Sarah Boothe – She was Nneka’s teammate on the USA team. Because they add so much depth to the post rotation, Amy can take the “Thou shalt not foul” sign off Jayne’s locker.
  • Guard Grace Mashore – “She’s making good adjustment” to the college game and has good players to help her.
Going onto the sophomores:
  • Guard Hannah Donaghe -- “She’s working real hard.”
  • Guard Jeanette Pohlen – “I’m really proud of how hard Jeanette worked in the off-season.”
  • Forward Kayla Pedersen – “She never was a freshman anyway. She’s extremely competitive, a bright player.”
And the juniors:
  • Mel – She’s healthy after suffering a torn ACL early last season.
  • Michelle – She’s a sophomore-junior after missing most of last season with a torn ACL. She sustained a torn meniscus during the summer, but “she’s in great shape” and should be practicing in a few days.
  • JJ – “Already I’m seeing JJ doing things I’ve never seen her do.” She’s also in better shape than she was at this time last year, when she returned from a torn ACL during her freshman year.
  • Jayne – “She’s halfway through her Stanford career,” and should be practicing shortly. “She’s an absolutely phenomenal player and an equally phenomenal person.”
And finally the seniors:
  • Ros – “We don’t know yet whether she’s a senior or a junior.” (She missed most of her sophomore year with a torn ACL.) Either way, “she’s a positive leader.”
  • Morgan – “It’s incredible the type of surgery she’s gone through, yet she has retained a positive attitude” and has been able to do a little more each day.
  • Forward Jillian Harmon – “Our Tall Fern,” the coach called her, referring to Jill’s playing with New Zealand’s team at the Beijing Olympics this summer.

Tara then turned the microphone over to Jill, who answered questions. The first came from Tara, who asked about her goals for this year. “I’d just like us to build on what we did last year and have fun along the way,” Jill said.

Regarding her Olympics experience, “I lucked out on that one,” she said, adding that she had a chance to visit relatives in New Zealand. She said she was impressed by the international players’ conditioning. “They’re all in such great shape.” The forwards are as fast as the guards.

She enjoyed seeing internationally renowned athletes like Roger Federer. Some of the events she got to see were the men’s and women’s gold medal basketball games, the men’s 100-meter track final and, for the first time, handball.

Tara then spoke some more, noting that “every game will be intense competition” this season. “We want to play more up-tempo.”

The team will miss the recently graduated Cissy Pierce and Candice Wiggins, she said. Candice, who rewrote the record books for scoring, can’t be replaced, but “the lessons (from her style of play) were not wasted on this team.”

Candice attended the practice and barbecue because she’s on campus this fall to complete her course requirements. She’s also recuperating from surgery to repair a torn meniscus sustained late in the WNBA season.

The Stanford players came back in good shape, the coach said, and they’re working well together. As for the Final Four, “We want it again,” she said. “What last year’s team can teach this year’s team is that we wanted to keep playing together. We were … committed to each other.”

Noting that she plans to write letters and take tickets to her neighbors, the coach asked FBC members to “bring some new people to the games” and show them this great team.

One other item of note: FBC members who hadn’t been on campus since last season were surprised to find that the part of the parking lot south of Maples and the lot across the street to the west are closed for construction.

Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, said that shuttles will be available and that she’ll send specifics to everyone. Information also has been posted at the Stanford women’s basketball site.

Here are more pictures, and you can find still more in Don Anderson's photo gallery.