December 20, 2009

Home sweet victory

Even though only seven actually got into the mix, “Every player on our team was part of this success,” head coach Tara VanDerveer said Dec. 19 after the Stanford women’s basketball team downed rival Tennessee 67-52. The Lady Vols arrived with a 9-0 record and a No. 3 national ranking, while Stanford was 8-0 and No. 2, so one undefeated team had to fall – and it wasn’t the Cardinal.

“We have a great team,” Tara told the Fast Break Club. She talked about how hard everyone works in practice, thus making everyone better. “They are mature. We create (opportunities) for each other. This team is a very unselfish team,” she said. “They’re really happy for each other when they do well.” That unselfish nature showed up on the stat sheet, which credited Stanford with 14 assists while Tennessee had only four.

“It was pretty hard to nitpick today,” Tara said, citing the team’s rebounding advantage of 44-34 over Tennessee. That was an improvement from the Duke game earlier in the week, when Duke became the only team to outrebound Stanford so far this season.

Associate head coach Amy Tucker said that after that game, Tara installed a new drill. “Tara is known for making up drills,” she said. It involved Tara and Amy shooting the ball for a player, who then had to go up for the rebound while battling assistant coaches Kate Paye and Bobbie Kelsey, both wielding heavy pads. Once the player had made the rebound, she had to go up against the pads again to try for a layup. “It was brutal,” Amy said.

Amy brought guard Jeanette Pohlen with her and opened the floor for questions. The first one asked if the gathering of both teams in a circle after the game was planned. “It was a spur of the moment thing,” Jeanette said, adding that one of the Tennessee players said a short prayer. After that, the Stanford players walked around the court to wave at the cheering crowd.

As for the game itself, “they played what we expected them to play,” Jeanette said. Amy credited Kate for her scouting job. The Stanford players understood their opponents’ favorite moves and tried to take them away. “We knew their plays” so well that the bench players were calling them out as they unfolded, Amy said.

Several fans lauded the Cardinal defense, which led to a 30-18 score in Stanford’s favor at the half. Another fan asked Jeanette what differences she saw between this year’s Tennessee team and last year’s, which defeated Stanford in Knoxville. “I saw a different team in us,” she said.

Amy then recognized Jeanette’s parents, John and Cindy Pohlen. They not only attend every game, they accompanied Jeanette and forward Kayla Pedersen to Serbia, where their USA team won a gold medal during the summer. The Pohlens also were among the parents who went on the Stanford team’s trip to Italy in September.

The Tennessee game drew the largest attendance so far this season – 6,809 – close to a full house. “The crowd and the excitement were just great,” Tara said. “Today was our day. We are very excited about our team.”

The Cardinal women will face UConn on its home court, where the crowd will be heavily pro-Husky. “We’ll be challenged (to show our poise) on the road,” Tara said.

With undefeated No.1 UConn, the reigning NCAA champion, looming only four days away, “I got work to do this afternoon,” Tara said, referring to preparing for that much-awaited clash.

Looking ahead even more, Jenny Claypool, Stanford director of championships, led off the tent by talking about the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament March 20 and 22 at Stanford. Thus Stanford will play at home, but season ticket holders can’t be sure that they’ll have their usual seats because 100 tickets have to be reserved for each of the three other teams. Tickets for those who have already bought them will be mailed after Feb. 1, she said.

Where Stanford would go for the regional, assuming it wins the first two games, won’t be known until after the brackets are announced in mid-March. Stanford fans are hoping to go to the closest regional venue, Arco Arena in Sacramento.

December 17, 2009

Good work -- now work some more

The 71-55 win over No. 7-ranked Duke was a good reason for the No. 2-ranked Stanford women’s basketball team and its fans to celebrate on Dec. 15. “This is one of the most athletic teams we’ve played,” fifth-year senior guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude told the Fast Break Club after the game.

“I’m tired. That felt like a heavyweight fight,” head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “This was a big win for our team. This is a really special team,” she said, praising Ros and fellow guard Jeanette Pohlen for their defense. “We want physical play,” she said. It will help prepare the team for not only the Dec. 19 home game against No. 3 Tennessee and the Dec. 23 away game at No. 1 UConn but also all other games, including the NCAA tournament.

“They (Duke) were probably surprised at some of the calls,” she said. She was referring to Duke’s amassing 23 fouls compared with Stanford’s 11. The disparity was especially apparent in the first half. With only 2:58 remaining, Duke had nine fouls, while the Cardinal had only two. Overall, Stanford outscored Duke 19-7 at the free throw line.

One fan asked Ros if the team had practiced boxing. She laughed and said, “You battle back. Your team sticks together and you have each other’s backs. You have to be aggressive” and take good shots without rushing. “We bought into our schemes. Bobbie did a great job scouting,” she said, referring to assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey.

While Stanford had fewer personal fouls, a good thing, it also had fewer rebounds, a bad thing. The team was outrebounded – 44-39 – for the first time this season. Even worse, Duke had 25 offensive boards compared with Stanford’s 11. “We know we have some things to work on,” associate head coach Amy Tucker said. Still, “it was a great win.”

Forward Michelle Harrison was back in uniform after missing the DePaul game because of a mild concussion. Center Sarah Boothe (foot) and guards Hannah Donaghe and Melanie Murphy (knees) were still in warmups.

Looking ahead to the Tennessee game, Tara said her players would study the videos and look for ways to improve their rebounding. They’ll need all the boards they can grab because Tennessee is “a really tough team,” Tara said.

This was the first FBC gathering in Maples, according to Amy. “We really appreciate the energy in the building tonight,” Ros said. The official attendance was 4,719, the highest so far this season. A few minutes later, Ros asked the fans to sing “Happy Birthday” to guard Lindy La Rocque, who was standing on the sidelines with teammates.

Besides celebrating the win over Duke and Lindy’s birthday after the game, fans honored the Stanford football team at halftime. Wearing red jerseys with their numbers, the team sat in the northeast corner of Maples during the first half, then gathered on the court for the fans’ cheers and high hopes for the Sun Bowl game against Oklahoma on Dec. 31. The cheers were especially loud for running back Toby Gerhart, who was runner-up in the closest Heisman Trophy voting ever. After most of the players had filed off, a few stayed to compete for bragging rights in a half-court shootout. Those rights went to kicker Nate Whitaker.

December 14, 2009

Doggone good fun at DePaul game

The Stanford women’s basketball team treated fans to another display of its prowess by defeating visiting DePaul 96-60 on Dec. 13. Besides all the game highlights, which are described in Stories of the Season, the fans welcomed the return of the agility dogs from Ace Dog Sports at halftime. Ranging from a Great Dane to a teacup poodle, the 12 dogs raced through tunnels, leapt over barriers and swiveled around poles as their owners ran with them. As they were last year, they were a huge crowd pleaser.

Besides the resounding victory, the game was notable for center Jayne Appel snaring her 1,000th rebound to join the illustrious company of Nicole Powell, ’04 and Val Whiting, ’93. Also on the plus side, freshman forward Joslyn Tinkle returned to action after missing several games with a stress reaction in her foot.

On the minus side, forward Michelle Harrison was sidelined again. She had missed several games with back spasms before returning. This time the problem was a concussion. It seems her head had an unexpected encounter with Jayne’s elbow in practice. She hopes to be back soon. Guard Hannah Donaghe (knee) and center Sarah Boothe (foot) are still unavailable.

After the game, fans ambled over to the annual Fast Break Club auction, the booster club’s biggest fundraiser.

In keeping with the theme of “Back in the Saddle,” auction volunteers wore Western garb and Dallmar Court was adorned with “Wanted” posters of each team member. For example, there were “Wanted – for long-range shootin’, Lightnin’ Lindy La Rocque, $$ Reward $$” and “Wanted – for bustin’ a move, Jeanette Pohlen, Bojangles, $$ Reward $$.”

As the players arrived, they willingly signed autographs. One enterprising young fan had Jayne sign his red victory ball.

A life-size black horse was stationed near the auctioneer’s stage. Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, said that it was delivered to the WBB office unbeknownst to the coaches, who were more than a bit taken aback when they first saw it. It took five people to get it back downstairs, she said. On the horse’s saddle was a poster with the players’ numbers.

Next to the horse stood a life-size cutout of Dale Evans (Mrs. Roy Rogers) in her younger years. Hannah and forward Kayla Pedersen posed for a picture with it. Joslyn, who hails from the Big Sky country of Montana, got into the spirit of things by donning a cowboy hat lent to her by a fan.

The first item for the live portion of the auction was a football signed by football coach Jim Harbaugh and star running back Toby Gerhart. Sarah served as the auctioneer, starting the bidding at $200. It eventually went for $700 at Sarah’s urging.

Next up was a colorful team quilt made by Beverly La Rocque, Lindy’s mother. Lindy, wearing an ice pack on her hip after being knocked to the floor by an intentional foul, did the auctioneering honors. Held up by Sarah and Jeanette, “the quilt is authentic, handmade,” Lindy said. “It has all our pretty faces on it”. She added that there would be only one this year. The bidding was so intense for last year’s quilt, which sold for $800, that her mother agreed to make another one for the same bid.

Dale Schroedel of San Francisco won this year’s quilt with a bid of $975. In the meantime, the players agreed to autograph it for her.

Guard Mel Murphy, who later sported an elf hat, auctioned off a game jersey worn and autographed by Jayne. Bidding started at $100 as Mel reminded the crowd that Jayne could be “the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft. She has a bright future.” Two bidders went back and forth, eventually raising the price to $700. At that point, head coach Tara VanDerveer stepped in and said she’d make sure that each of them got a Jayne jersey for $700.

A chance to sit on the Stanford bench when the team hosts UConn next December sold for $500. A Final Four chair from St. Louis, autographed by the players, went for $500.

As the auction wound down, Dana Stewart, fundraising chair, announced that Tara would host a second Piano and Pie afternoon ($75 a person) at her home next spring.

Hats off to everyone who helped make this auction such a success and so much fun by soliciting donations and organizing everything. All the proceeds go toward the team. Last year’s auction, for example, helped finance the team’s trip to Italy in September.

(See Don Anderson's Photo Gallery for a slideshow of auction photos.)

November 30, 2009

Big win over Gonzaga, but coaches want more

There’s no doubt that the Stanford women’s basketball team racked up its biggest win of the regular season to date with its 105-74 drubbing of Gonzaga on Nov. 29. The halftime score, 59-38, was almost equal to the 60-41 final score against Utah two days earlier.

Nevertheless, “our post defense wasn’t very good,” associate head coach Amy Tucker told the Fast Break Club after the game. Gonzaga’s 74 points were the most allowed by the Cardinal this season, but the team has the two-week finals break to work on defense before competition resumes, Amy said.

On the other hand, Amy called it “a great offensive game,” citing the play of forwards Kayla Pedersen and Nneka Ogwumike. On her way to a 30-point game, Kayla scored the 1,000th point of her Stanford career with about 14.5 minutes to go in the first half. Nneka’s 29 points marked a career high. She also contributed 13 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. Kayla recorded seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Center Jayne Appel, the third member of Stanford’s post triumvirate, scored the first basket just 18 seconds into the game. She wound up with 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal even though she wasn’t fully recovered from illness that struck on Thanksgiving and limited her production against Utah the next day. “She was a 6’ 4” decoy in that game,” Amy said.

“Gonzaga said, ‘We’re going to run with you,’ ” Amy said, but they couldn’t keep up with the Cardinal in the second half even though “our rotation is not quite as big as we’d like.” She was referring to injuries that have sidelined forwards Sarah Boothe and Joslyn Tinkle along with guards Melanie Murphy and Hannah Donaghe.

Mel, who missed the Utah game after hurting her knee in practice, can play when it no longer hurts. However, Tara said in the post-game press conference that if it has to be scoped, she could be out four weeks or so.

Sarah, a sophomore, has been cleared to practice with contact after foot surgery last spring, but “I have a pretty good idea that she won’t play at all” this season, Amy said, adding that Sarah wants to red-shirt. If she were to come back this season, she might not get much playing time.

It’s not certain when Joslyn, who has a foot injury, can return to action. A team doctor says the freshman can test it in another week or so, Amy said.

In previous comments, coaches have said that Hannah is progressing well from knee surgery early this year, but no date has been set for her return.

The post-game gathering gave the FBC a chance to become better acquainted with freshman forward Mikaela Ruef, who started playing basketball when she was in kindergarten and received a basketball for Christmas when she was 5. Hailing from Beavercreek, Ohio, she has an older brother, Joe, at Wright State in Ohio and a younger brother, Brian, a high school junior. Both are involved in sports. The family has two boxers and two cats who “think they’re dogs,” she said.

She also has relatives on her mother’s side in the Bay Area. They include her grandmother, great-grandmother, two aunts and six cousins.

She chose Stanford because it’s a great school, has a great team, and “I love the weather out here.” She also considered Ohio State and Purdue.

She hasn’t decided on a major, but she’s taking math and physics this term. In summer school she took physics and sports psychology, getting A’s in both.

One of the differences between playing in high school and playing at Stanford is that “in high school I didn’t play much defense because I didn’t have to.” Also, “it’s hard to adjust to not being the best player,” she said, adding that she even played some point guard in junior high. High school practices were two hours long, whereas college practices are three hours, and “there’s not much standing around.” She’s working on her speed and conditioning, and assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey is helping with her shot.

Tara credited Bobbie for a good scouting job on Gonzaga. “We played about as well as we played all season,” she said. “Nneka had a monster game, and Kayla is just awesome good,” she said.

With the two-week break ahead of them and the less-than-stellar Utah game behind them, the team didn’t want Tara mad at them for two weeks. They needn’t worry. “We’re very happy with how they played,” she said.

But maybe they’ll try to hone their defense to get even better.

November 28, 2009

Basket, basket. Who’s got the basket?

Poor shooting by the Stanford women’s basketball team led to a low-scoring post-Thanksgiving win over Utah on Nov. 27. The score was only 24-11 in the first half, when the team shot 25.8 percent. The percentage rose to 41.9 in the second half, resulting in a 33.9 percent average and a 60-41 victory, the team’s 31st consecutive win at Maples.

“Today was just trying to find the basket,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer, speaking to the Fast Break Club after the game.

Senior center Jayne Appel was ailing, playing 21 minutes and scoring only two points, along with six rebounds, three assists and two blocks. “I’m surprised that she played,” Tara said. In the post-game press conference, Tara said that Jayne was sick most of the night before and received two IV bags of fluid before the game.

Also of concern to fans was the sight of guard Melanie Murphy on crutches, joining guard Hannah Donaghe (knee), center Sarah Boothe (foot) and forward Joslyn Tinkle (foot) on the sidelines. Tara said Mel hurt her knee in practice. The exact nature of her injury is unknown except that it’s not an ACL or MCL tear, Tara said.

On the other hand, forward Ashley Cimino was back in uniform and played for the first time after missing several games with a sprained ankle.

The FBC gathering was delayed because the football team was meeting in Kissick Auditorium. After the men had left, FBC members filed in and heard from alum Angela Taylor, ’93, vice president and general manager of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

Taylor spoke fondly of her Stanford days and praised the FBC as “second to none” in its support for WBB. After graduating from Stanford, she said, she was a graduate assistant at the University of Arizona, followed by a stint as an assistant coach at Texas A&M. She spent a year as an assistant at Stanford while Tara coached the USA Olympic team, then went to the WNBA’s New York office during the league’s first season. While in New York, she earned her MBA from NYU in 2002.

Her next stop was Minneapolis, where she was vice president of business operations for the Minnesota Lynx. She was “part of the team that selected Candice,” she said, referring to Stanford guard Candice Wiggins, ’08, who was drafted by the Lynx in 2008.

After going to the Mystics in 2008, she played a role in hiring Julie Plank as head coach. Julie had served as an assistant coach at Stanford from 1985 to 1995.

The Mystics are slated for the seventh pick in the first round of the 2010 WNBA draft, so Angela doesn’t expect her team will be lucky enough to get Jayne or UConn center Tina Charles, whom she called “two of the best” players in the country. She put forwards Kayla Pedersen (who led the team with 18 points Friday) and Nneka Ogwumike (who contributed 17) on her future wish list.

The WNBA is in its 14th season, but “the climate right now is very sensitive,” she said, referring to the nation’s economic malaise. The Sacramento Monarchs are looking for a new home after their owners put them up for sale. The WNBA hopes to keep going, though, and to have a team in the Bay Area, Angela said.

Also in her remarks to the FBC, Tara said, “This was not an inspired game for us. We weren’t playing as hard and as well as we wanted to.”

On the other hand, “We can learn a lot from this game.”

November 21, 2009

Joslyn's story of a bear scare

When a freshman basketball player joins the Stanford women’s team, it doesn’t take long before she has a favorite story to illustrate head coach Tara VanDerveer’s renowned dry wit. Usually it’s some admonition or word of advice. Last year, for example, guard Lindy La Rocque, now a sophomore, told the Fast Break Club that when she ventured too far from the perimeter toward the front court, Tara said something like, “Lindy, don’t you know there are alligators in there?”

Now freshman forward Joslyn Tinkle has her own favorite story, but this one is more at the coach’s expense. Joslyn, who hails from Missoula, Mont., said that as Tara was going out the door after the official home visit, Joslyn’s mother said jokingly, “Should we tell her about the bear?’ With that, Tara almost sprinted to her car, Joslyn said.

The personable Joslyn was speaking to the Fast Break Club on Nov. 19 after the Cardinal’s 99-50 victory over visiting Pepperdine – the Cardinal’s 30th consecutive home court win during the regular season. Unfortunately, Joslyn didn’t play because of a foot injury. An MRI showed that it has begun to heal, so it’s hoped that she can be back in action within a matter of weeks, said associate head coach Amy Tucker, adding that the coaches are eager to get her into the rotation of bigs. “She’s a great kid. She is a great player,” Tara added later.

Also sidelined were sophomore forward Sarah Boothe, who is recovering from foot surgery and might red-shirt, Tara said; junior forward Ashley Cimino, who has a sprained ankle but is expected back next week; and junior guard Hannah Donaghe, who continues to improve following knee surgery last season.

Commenting on the game, Tara said, “Our starting lineup and JJ (senior guard JJ Hones) really got after it.” JJ, who had knee surgery a year ago, is the first one off the bench and is considered part of the starting lineup. Even though she isn’t 100 percent, “she’s looking great,” Tara said. “It’s great to have Michelle back,” too, she said, referring to senior forward Michelle Harrison, who got her first playing time after back trouble.

The younger, smaller Pepperdine team pressed hard against the Cardinal, giving the home team a taste of what it can expect from other opponents. “We knew we’d wear them down,” but “we need to take care of the ball a little bit better,” Tara said, referring to the team’s 21 turnovers, compared with 17 for Pepperdine.

On the plus side, five players – JJ, junior forward Kayla Pedersen, senior center Jayne Appel, sophomore forward Nneka Ogwumike and sophomore guard Jeanette Pohlen – were in double figures. The team also knocked in nine 3-pointers.

Asked about the recently signed recruits, Tara said “we’re very excited.” Guard Sara James works hard and “is going to be great.” Toni Kokenis, a point guard, committed to Stanford as soon as she was accepted and will be a good complement to JJ when she returns for her final year (she red-shirted last season).

Forward Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka’s sister, was “very highly recruited. She is going to make an immediate impact,” Tara said.

Joslyn, who has a younger sister and a younger brother – both of them athletes -- was born in Europe and lived there for about eight years while her father played professional basketball. Now he’s the men’s basketball coach at the University of Montana in Missoula. He and Joslyn’s mother met when both played basketball there. Amy interjected that Joslyn’s mother and Joslyn’s high school coach were on the Montana team that Stanford played against in its first NCAA tournament game in 1988.

Besides Stanford, Joslyn considered Oklahoma, Texas, Duke and Georgia, making official visits to all of them. Stanford was last on the travel itinerary, and then “I was sold,” she said. In making her decision, she thought about “where I would be most happy outside of basketball.”

Now that she’s at Stanford, “I’m loving the experience. I’m super glad to be here.”

She’s finding time management to be her biggest adjustment from high school, but “everyone here is so helpful.” She jokingly said that one of the things she has learned from her new teammates is to “wear my mouth guard.” She regards being one of the bigs a challenge and sees herself backing up Kayla at the 3 spot.

Tara had this comment about the team: “We have something very special,” she said, citing the players’ unselfishness and maturity.

October 14, 2009

Wine tasting uncorks FBC season

Tales of the team’s summer adventures in Italy and talk of the women’s basketball season to come dominated the Fast Break Club’s fourth annual wine tasting Oct. 11 at Vino Locale in Palo Alto. Coaches and staff joined FBC members to enjoy the sunny, cool afternoon as well as wine, soft drinks and appetizers.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer was absent because she was giving a clinic for her sister Heidi, head coach at Occidental College, after taking part in a Nike clinic in Cleveland. However, associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coaches Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye shared their insights into the team and their memories of the Italian trip. They also thanked the FBC for helping to finance the trip through fund-raisers.

In addition to 13 players (the two freshmen couldn’t go because they weren’t officially enrolled), the four coaches, trainer Marcella Shorty and manager Kerry Blake, the Stanford entourage was joined by the parents of senior center Jayne Appel, junior guard Jeanette Pohlen and sophomore guard Lindy La Rocque.

It was Amy’s fourth trip to Italy with a Stanford team, but “it was by far the best,” she said. The weather cooperated, the sightseeing was spectacular, and they ate pizza and pasta every day. They hired a local guide at every stop to give them a one- to four-hour introduction or tour. “Then we let the kids go,” she said. “We never saw them until the next day” unless there was one of the four basketball games in the evening.

The travelers also had a chance to visit with recently graduated Jillian Harmon, who’s playing with an Italian team in Lake Como. “The girl lands on her feet,” Amy said, referring to the area’s beauty. They spent the day and had dinner with her. Because she was hungry for books, everyone left her a book, and she asked Jayne for peanut butter. She also offered to let Amy use her apartment for a visit in May.

Kate added her thanks to Amy’s and added, “It’s hard to believe that practice is less than a week from today.” (It started Oct. 14.) “The team is looking awesome,” she said.

“The most exciting thing is how much the players have improved. They’re caught the Jeanette Pohlen spirit,” Kate said. She was referring to the conditioning and skills improvement that Jeanette made in the summer after her freshman year. Her teammates seemed to say, “If she can do it, I can,” Kate said, so they worked out and improved their nutrition to return stronger, faster and leaner.

Bobbie also used the word “awesome” to describe the team. She also noted that her task in Italy was to buy the post cards that were sent to every FBC household. It took a lot of bargaining, but she had fun and would love to go back.

Amy then answered some questions about the team, starting with the freshmen. Forward Joslyn Tinkle, 6’3”, hails from Montana, where her parents played basketball at the University of Montana. In fact, when he was a freshman, her father was coached by Mike Montgomery. Several people have commented that she looks a lot like Jayne, and like Jayne, “she’s extremely talented,” Amy said.

Wing player Mikaela Ruef, 6’ 2”, is from Ohio. Amy described her as having a Vanessa Nygaard, ’98, personality. “She’s her own person.” She’ll probably play at the 3, like junior Kayla Pedersen.

“We expect great things from both of them,” Amy said, noting that they have the benefit of playing with topnotch veterans. However, in casual conversations during the afternoon, the coaches noted that having so many veterans sometimes made things hard for the freshmen during the once-weekly, two-hour practices allowed before this week. Much of what the returning players do is automatic, but sometimes the coaches had to slow things down to give the freshmen more insight into what was happening.

Asked about players’ health, Amy said that senior point guard JJ Hones, who tore her ACL for the second time last season, is doing well and has been cleared to play. She didn’t play in Italy because the coaches are being conservative with her.

They’re taking the same approach with Jayne, who had minor knee surgery after the season. Like JJ, she didn’t play in Italy, but she’s eager to get into action, Amy said.

In casual conversations, the coaches said that sophomore center Sarah Boothe is progressing well after post-season surgery for a stress fracture in her foot, but she hasn’t been cleared to play. It’s uncertain whether she’ll be red-shirted. Despite her post-surgical limitations, though, she worked hard at getting in shape by changing her diet and streamlining her body.

Junior guard Hannah Donaghe, who tore her ACL late in the season, also is progressing well, but she won’t be ready to play for some time.

All of the coaches marveled at how much every player has improved. One of the most scary improvements – at least where opponents are concerned – is in sophomore forward Nneka Ogwumike, they said. Her steadily improving play earned her a spot in the starting lineup toward the end of last season, but now she’s playing much more instinctively. She doesn’t have to think before making a move, the coaches said.

In addition to talking about Italy and the season ahead, FBC members toasted their host, Vino Locale owner Randy Robinson, and gave him a chocolate cake in honor of his 49th birthday that day. As he has done before, he donated 10 percent of the event’s wine sales to the club. “I love having this party here,” he said, adding that – like his guests – he’s an avid fan of Stanford women’s basketball and is eager for the season to start.

September 17, 2009

Candice, Nicole highlight Lynx-Monarchs game

Fans of Stanford women’s basketball had a chance to see two fondly remembered alumnae – Candice Wiggins, ’08, and Nicole Powell, ’04 – square off against each other Sept. 13. That’s when the Fast Break Club journeyed to Sacramento’s ARCO Arena to see the Sacramento Monarchs, Nicole’s team, host Candice and the Minnesota Lynx in their final WNBA games of the season.

The Monarchs led most of the way and won 88-66. Nicole topped both teams in scoring with 27 points, including five of eight 3-pointers. She also set a franchise season scoring record with 567 points. She recorded 12 rebounds for a double-double in the game, along with four assists and a steal.

Plagued by foul trouble, Candice played only 22 minutes and scored 6 points to go with five rebounds, two assists and a steal. Thus a panel of five Stanford judges had no trouble naming Nicole the winner of the Candice-Nicole rematch.

Both teams are out of playoff contention with Minnesota ranking fifth and Sacramento sixth and last in the Western Conference. Sacramento’s overall 12-22 record leaves it last in the WNBA, finishing behind the New York Liberty at 13-21 and the Lynx at 14-20. The Lynx had started out well, but were set back when leading scorer Seimone Augustus suffered a torn ACL. Another top scorer, Nicky Anosike, was sidelined with a sore knee late in the season, dashing the team’s playoff hopes.

The FBC’s evening included a pre-game dinner, the game itself and a post-game gathering to hear Nicole and Candice along with former San Francisco Chronicle sports writer Michelle Smith.

The dinner (much healthier than last year’s) started off on a high note as fans arrived to a background recording of the Stanford band playing some of its signature tunes. Introduced by emcee Otis Watson, the guest speaker was Danette Leighton, vice president of marketing and Monarchs business operations. Danette is responsible for promoting the Monarchs and Kings as well as all events at ARCO. One of her overall goals, she said, is to promote women’s basketball at the professional and college levels.

Demographics show that 60 percent of the WNBA’s fan base is female. Its leading age group is 34-45 years old, but more men are going to games, and “We have pushed hard for families” to attend, she said. Attendance at that night’s game was expected to top 10,000. Official numbers show it at 10,212, but it didn’t seem like that many because the arena is so vast.

The league is likely to add an expansion team in the East next season and in the Midwest the following season. There also are hopes of adding one in the Bay Area, she said.

As for Nicole, who has been with the team for five seasons, “We can’t say enough about Nicole,” Danette said. She noted that when team members were asked about their favorite magazines, most players cited lightweight fare like People or others. Nicole’s favorite was The Economist – “spoken like a Stanford alum,” Danette said.

Even though the Lynx and Monarchs were playing mainly for pride, they played hard. WNBA games are faster and more physical than college games. And in this case, they’re much louder than Stanford games. Unlike Stanford’s Betty Ann Boeving, the announcer is shrill. The music and background sound effects are ear-splitting. Ear plugs are strongly advised. Still, the fans are enthusiastic and supportive, spanning a wide age range from tykes to seniors.

After the game, Michelle talked about the deteriorating situation at Bay Area newspapers, which are cutting staff and coverage to compensate for declining revenue. She decided to accept a buyout at the Chronicle this spring when it became apparent that the newspaper “was a little bit like the Titanic,” and she didn’t want to rearrange deck chairs.

Because she loved what she was doing – covering women’s basketball with a focus on Stanford and Cal – she has founded a Web site, LeftCoastHoops, that she hopes to have online within the next few weeks. This subscription site, which will have Pac-10 backing, she said, will offer a bigger picture of West Coast sports, “not all Stanford all the time.”

In the meantime, she’s writing for two other sites, AOL Fan House and CSN Bay Area. Some of her work will be found on WomenTalkSports, an aggregate site.

Her outlook for the Stanford women? “I think they’re going to be great,” ranking second in the nation behind the University of Connecticut. The pre-season schedule will be a good barometer of the team’s standing with tough opponents like UConn, Tennessee, Vanguard, Old Dominion, Rutgers, Duke and others. After that, “the Pac-10 will be a bit of a walk,” she said.

Next on the agenda was Candice, who thanked the fans for being there. “You don’t understand how much Stanford means to me,” she said. She then answered some questions.

On the Nike commercial that shows her boxing – It started as a photo shoot and turned out to be “the hardest thing I ever did in my life.” It was hard to look tough because “I was laughing at myself.”

On the hardest thing about playing in the WNBA – “The travel is pretty crazy. You learn to adapt. You have to adapt.”

By then a Lynx representative was urging her to wrap it up because the team bus was leaving. She still had time to pose for pictures with Nicole, who had arrived while Candice was speaking.

Like Candice, Nicole thanked the fans for being there. “It means so much to be part of the Stanford family,” she said. Part of her own family was there, too, including her parents, who were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

Nicole has been with the Monarchs for five seasons. This was the first time the team missed the playoffs in six years, but it faced its own adversity with injuries at the start of the season.

“This league is competitive” she said, and “it gets better every single year” with better players coming out of college. She cited Candice along with Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks and rookie Courtney Paris on her own team. (Unfortunately, Courtney doesn’t seem to have lost weight. She scored 6 points and pulled down 14 rebounds, but she was slow getting up and down the court.)

In October, Nicole will return to Turkey, where her team won the national championship last year. Her Stanford teammate, Kristin Newlin, ’06, is there already. “Her game is growing,” Nicole said, adding that the WNBA could be an option for Kristin in the future.

Then it was time to pose for more pictures and sign autographs before the fans left. Those who drove back to the Bay Area that night had to use their windshield wipers as an early season rain fell, but they went back happy and looking forward to a new season.

September 2, 2009

Headed for Italy but looking ahead

The 13 returning members of the Stanford women’s basketball team have convened on campus for 12 hours of practice before flying off on their much-anticipated trip to Italy on Friday, Sept. 4.

Although ostensibly preparing her veteran players for their four games in Italy, head coach Tara VanDerveer clearly has a more important agenda – preparing the team for its rigorous 2009-10 schedule and a hoped-for return to the Final Four. While going through drills to polish the triangle offense and add some new twists, Tara said she’s trying to prepare for the defenses used by some of the team’s major opponents. If defenses focus on senior post player Jayne Appel, who was the team’s go-to player last season, Tara wants the perimeter players to make 3-point shots.

“We’re identifying things that we didn’t do well last season,” she said during the first practice session the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 1. One technique that the team worked on was screening – blocking off an opponent so that a Stanford teammate can get to the basket. “We are not going to beat people one-on-one. We have to play together,” she said. “Develop a screener’s mentality. … You don’t have to be nice. Nail ’em.”

During another drill, she saw that someone had committed a turnover. “Have I told you yet how much I hate turnovers?” she asked. They’re what kept the Cardinal from going to the title game at the 2009 Final Four, she said.

Besides screening and the triangle offense, the practice covered 3-pointers and free throws. Gathering the team around her at the end of the two hours, Tara praised them for a good practice. “If we get better every practice, we’re going to have a good season. …Get better and help someone else get better,” she said.

The players were taking that advice even before hearing it, encouraging one another during the drills, complimenting good plays and asking the coaches questions if they didn’t quite understand something. Everyone looked good and worked hard.

Although all 13 returnees were in uniform, sophomore center Sarah Boothe and junior guard Hannah Donaghe were limited in what they could do. Sarah, who had surgery for a stress fracture in the spring, was wearing a walking boot. Hannah is still rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn ACL early this year. They’re both progressing well, said associate head coach Amy Tucker, but there’s no ETA on when they’ll be cleared to play.

Both of them took part in a ball-handling drill that involved dribbling two balls at once and some passing. Later, while Amy and assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey worked with the posts – Jayne, junior Ashley Cimino and sophomore Nneka Ogwumike – Sarah practiced free throws. Later Jayne, who is being careful after arthroscopic surgery on her knee after last season, began rebounding for Sarah, then switched places to practice her own FTs.

In the meantime, assistant coach Kate Paye worked with the perimeter players – the guards plus forwards Kayla Pedersen, junior; and Michelle Harrison, senior – on 3s. Later, senior guard Melanie Murphy, who had toe surgery after the season, took a break from drills and joined Jayne, Sarah and Hannah in practicing FTs.

Senior point guard JJ Hones, who tore her ACL last fall and was just recently cleared to play, took part in all of the drills and looked sharp, especially on her 3s.

Amy called the session “a great early first practice. This is a bonus” in preparing for the season. She also cited the players’ skill development over the summer and their good conditioning. Sophomore guard Grace Mashore, for example, has returned in better shape and moves better. She’s always been a good shooter.

There are two practices a day in the new practice facility just south of Maples Pavilion. Connected to Maples by an underground corridor, the facility has eight baskets to allow ample space for everyone to practice shots and other skills. A weight room adjoins the gym.

In an interview for the Stanford Bootleg, Tara said she believes that having so many baskets will improve the shooting. Because Maples had been shared with volleyball and the men’s basketball team, sometimes only two baskets were available to her team. “The new facility will really help us with our practicing. We’ll be able to get more shots up,” she said.

Even though JJ and Jayne have been cleared to play, neither will play in Italy, nor will Hannah and Sarah. “That’s just being conservative,” Amy said after the practice. Thus, with only nine players scheduled for action, “This is a good opportunity for some other people to get more playing time,” Amy said, citing Michelle, Ashley, Mel and Grace, who all saw limited time last year

Also scheduled to play are Kayla, Nneka, sophomore guard Lindy La Rocque, junior point guard Jeanette Pohlen and fifth-year guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude.

The 13 players and four coaches, plus trainer Marcella Shorty and manager Kerry Blake, will fly from San Francisco at about noon Friday, Sept. 4, and arrive in Frankfurt, Germany, about 10 a.m. local time Saturday – nine hours ahead of the West Coast. About two hours later, they’ll take a two-hour flight into Rome.

They’ll spend most of the next two days – Sept. 6 and 7 – sightseeing in Rome, highlighted by a tour of the ancient city and the Vatican. The team plays its first game at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 7, against Fortitudo Basket Pomezia.

In keeping with tradition, the players will exchange small gifts before each game. Cardinal players usually give their counterparts a Stanford pin or bracelet. Because Italy has no college teams, its club players are paid, Amy said.

From Rome, the Stanford travelers will go to Florence for two more days of sightseeing, culminated by a game against AD Basket Ducato Lucca at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9.

The next day will find them headed to a marina in Mestre, where they’ll take a boat to their hotel in Venice for more sightseeing and an 8 p.m. game against Giants Marghera.

All of Friday, Sept. 11, will be devoted to sightseeing in Venice. The next day’s destination is Como and the fourth and final game – against Sesto San Giovanni. (Jillian Harmon, ’09, plays for Comense in Como, as does Brooke Smith, ’07, but Brooke will still be with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in the U.S.)

The last full day in Italy, Sunday, Sept. 13, will find the Stanford travelers aboard a boat for a sightseeing tour of Lake Como, followed by more sightseeing on land.

Departure is scheduled for 1:25 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14, from Milan, with arrival in San Francisco at 7:10 p.m. PDT.

Incoming freshmen Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle will join their new teammates the next day to begin two hours of basketball workouts with the coaches and six hours of strength and conditioning each week until regular practices start in mid-October. Classes start Sept. 21.

NCAA rules don’t allow the two freshmen to go to Italy because they’re not considered officially enrolled until fall classes start, Amy said. Their attendance at summer school doesn’t count.

Although the itinerary says that each traveler may check two bags and have one carry-on, it suggests limiting the checked bags to just one because of the boat transfer in Venice. However, the itinerary also lists time for shopping as well as sightseeing, so perhaps packing a folding bag into one checked bag on the trip there will provide space for treasures from the shopping excursions.

Finally, Amy said the team hopes to transmit some blogs about their adventures during the trip.

August 10, 2009

No more previews of Stanford’s talented tandem

It was a grueling weekend for Stanford freshmen Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle as their Bay Pride team won its Aug. 8 game against the Lady Warriors 82-75 but lost its Aug. 9 game against San Francisco 73-65, thus being eliminated from Pro-Am contention at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco.

Joslyn scored 25 points in each game, while Mikaela added 5 on Saturday and 7 on Sunday. Joslyn also managed to stay out of foul trouble with three in each game. Mikaela had four in each game, but two of them on Sunday were intentional as BP staged a late rally against SF.

SF also had defeated BP earlier in the summer season. Sunday’s game was relatively close at the half as SF led 37-35. However, too many turnovers and ill-advised shots put BP too far behind to catch up despite the late rally. When BP’s athletic Nicolia Simmons of USF fouled out, the team’s chances dimmed, for she had been a solid team anchor along with the Stanford women.

Stanford fans in the small but loud BP cheering section got a preview of what could lie ahead for the next four years as SF’s Gennifer Brandon, a 6’3” Cal freshman, showed her considerable talents against Stanford’s two 6’3” freshmen. Cal freshman Talia Caldwell and junior Rachelle Federico were also on the SF roster. Then there was Cal’s Natasha Vital, whose point guard skills couldn’t be matched by either of the BP point guards. Her free-throw shooting also proved vital in the closing minutes.

Saturday’s game was surprisingly close even though the Lady Warriors had only five players to BP’s nine. In fact, the start of the game was delayed for 25 minutes as the LW waited for its fifth player to arrive. One reason why the game was so close is that Cal’s Alexis Gray-Lawson poured in 42 points, more than half of LW’s total of 75.

The cheering section for BP on Saturday included Stanford center Jayne Appel and guard JJ Hones, who are in summer school. The two seniors looked good, and both are looking forward to the team’s trip to Italy next month and the start of the season.

Mikaela’s parents and maternal grandparents were in the stands for both games. Her grandmother, who lives in Burlingame, sported a Stanford Grandma T-shirt. Mikaela’s mother said how pleased she is that her daughter and Joslyn have bonded as teammates and as friends. That rapport could serve the team well for the next four years.

August 4, 2009

Bay Pride falls short despite 21 from Mikaela

Incoming freshman Mikaela Ruef led her team with 21 points, including two 3-pointers, but they weren’t enough as Bay Pride fell 90-78 to San Francisco in the San Francisco Bay Area Pro-Am on Aug. 2 at Kezar Pavilion, San Francisco. Fellow Cardinal freshman Joslyn Tinkle had an atypical afternoon with only 8 points.

Bay Pride finished round-robin competition with a 4-2 record (the other loss came before Joslyn and Mikaela arrived), tying for second among the seven teams. The team will play the Lady Warriors, which it previously defeated 87-80, at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8. The winner of that game and an earlier playoff game will meet at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9. The championship game is at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15, at Kezar Pavilion, 755 Stanyan St. at Waller on the far east end of Golden Gate Park.

In the Aug. 2 game against San Francisco, Joslyn went to the bench with three fouls with 9:54 to go in the first half. With only seven Bay Pride players dressed, however, she played the entire second half despite picking up another foul. One of the 15 or so Stanford fans at the game remarked that associate head coach Amy Tucker will have to make another “Thou shalt not foul” sign for Joslyn’s locker. Maybe Joslyn can pick up some pointers from senior center Jayne Appel, who found such a sign on her locker after facing her own fouling problems during her freshman year.

Even though the lids of the Kezar baskets seemed to be closed to Joslyn and several of her teammates, she had scored quite a few points in previous outings, as well as snaring a good share of rebounds, as she did Sunday. In the meantime, Mikaela has shown steady progress from game to game. Against San Francisco, she ran the floor well, played tough defense, grabbed rebounds, stole the ball and dished out assists.

Still, having to play all 40 minutes was tough for her. In addition, the coaching and other aspects in this recreational league are hardly representative of what lies ahead for the two Stanford women. There’s too much run and shoot, resulting in too much one and done at Kezar. Nevertheless, they got a taste of the caliber of competition thanks to the presence of Cal guard Natasha Vital. She was the game’s high scorer with 28. Incoming Cal freshmen Gennifer Brandon, Talia Caldwell and Rachelle Federico also are on the San Francisco roster.

Another challenge for Bay Pride was that USF’s Nicolia Simmons, one of the team’s top players, along with Joslyn and Mikaela, injured her ankle during the game but continued to play until fouling out during the second half.

Shortly before the end of the game, Cal’s Alexis Gray-Lawson arrived for the next game. Chatting with some of the Stanford fans, she commented that it will seem strange to play against Stanford juniors Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen. They were her teammates on the USA team that won the gold medal at the recent World University Games in Serbia. Alexis also said that Jeanette was even better this summer than during the 2008-09 season. That has to strike fear in the hearts of opponents and cheer in the hearts of Cardinal fans, especially since Jeanette won the most improved player award at the team’s honors banquet this spring.

July 24, 2009

Destination – Italy

Spectacular sights and fabulous food await the Stanford women’s basketball team on its trip to Italy in September.

Except for incoming freshmen Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle, who are barred by NCAA rules, the entire team will make the trip. They’ll be joined by the four coaches – Tara VanDerveer, Amy Tucker, Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye – along with trainer Marcella Shorty and manager Kerry Blake.

Amy gave a rundown on the itinerary during a recent interview in her office:

Aug. 31 – Arrive on campus for physicals.

Sept. 1-3 – Practice.

Sept. 4 – Afternoon flight from San Francisco to Germany and then to Rome.

Sept. 5 – Arrive in Rome, settle in, take a walking tour.

Sept. 6-7 – Sightseeing in Rome, including several hours at the Vatican and “eating as much gelato as possible,” Amy said.

Sept. 8 – Bus to Florence.

Sept. 9 – Sightseeing in Florence, including visits to the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, known as the Il Duomo, and the Uffizi Gallery, considered one of the finest art museums in the world. “It’s a great walking city,” Amy said. “The kids will have a great time.”

Sept. 10-11 – Sightseeing in Venice. Because of the team hotel’s location, the luggage will arrive by water taxi.

Sept. 12-13 – Sightseeing in Lake Como, where the team hopes to reunite with recently graduated Jillian Harmon, who’s playing with Lake Como’s professional team.

Sept. 14 – Go to Milan and fly home.

During the visit, the team expects to play three games against Italian club teams, but the details hadn’t been finalized by the time of the interview. Club teams can be any age group, but the players might be older than the Stanford women, Amy said.

Amy has visited Italy several times, but as far as she knows, it will be the players’ first venture there. Italy is a great place to visit because of the “sightseeing, good food – it’s about as good as it gets,” she said. “The kids are very, very excited.”

Immediately upon returning to campus, the basketball regimen starts. The team is allowed to assemble Sept. 15 and to begin two hours of basketball workouts with the coaches and six hours of strength and conditioning each week.

Classes start Sept. 21. Regular practices begin in mid-October. Competition starts with an exhibition game against Vanguard Nov. 1.

July 22, 2009

Whither the Cardinal?

Summer ’09 has found the Stanford women scattering across the nation and around the world.

The entire team, except for freshmen Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle, who are barred by NCAA rules, will go to Italy in September. (More on that in another article.)

Here’s a roundup of what they’ve been doing in the meantime, according to associate head coach Amy Tucker.

Mikaela, from Ohio, and Joslyn, from Montana, both forwards, are attending summer school, working out on campus and playing in the San Francisco Pro-Am league, where their abilities have caught the eye of Cardinal fans.

Sophomore guard Grace Mashore is at home in Virginia working out.

Fellow guard Lindy La Rocque also has spent much of her summer working out at home in Nevada, but she was to return to campus for hoops camp sessions July 22 to 29.

Sophomore center Sarah Boothe is at home in Illinois rehabbing from surgery for a stress fracture in her foot. She’s making good progress, but it’s uncertain when she’ll be able to play. “We will tend to be conservative” to avoid further problems, Amy said. The injury forced Sarah to withdraw from the USA’s U-19 team entering the FIBA world championship tournament in Thailand this month. She was disappointed, but “she’s keeping a positive attitude,” Amy said.

Sophomore forward Nneka Ogwumike of Texas left for the U-19 tournament July 17. “She’s going to have a great time,” Amy said.

Junior forward Kayla Pedersen of Arizona and guard Jeanette Pohlen of California returned home from Belgrade, Serbia, in mid-July after helping the USA team win gold at the World University Games. The two “were major factors on the team,” said Amy, citing conversations with their coaches. Like Lindy, Jeanette returned to campus to help at hoops camp.

Junior forward Ashley Cimino is at home in Maine and working out. She missed spring workouts because of a sore Achilles tendon. Amy said she assumes Ashley is OK.

Junior guard Hannah Donaghe of California is attending summer school while continuing to rehab from ACL surgery. She’s doing well and getting stronger, but she’s not ready to play, Amy said.

Senior center Jayne Appel of California also is in summer school and rehabbing from minor knee surgery after the season. She’s been running and doing strength exercises. “She’ll be ready to play when we need her,” Amy said, citing the conservative approach. She’s joining Jeanette and Lindy at hoops camp

Senior guard JJ Hones is attending summer school after spending the spring term with a Stanford international studies program in Spain, where “she had a great time,” Amy said. Like Hannah, she’s rehabbing from ACL surgery, but she’s further along because she was injured before Hannah. JJ is running and is expected to be cleared to play soon, but she won’t actually start playing until supervised practices this fall, Amy said.

JJ and Jayne stopped by Amy’s office during the interview. Both looked good and seemed to be in good spirits.

Senior guard Melanie Murphy is home in New York recuperating from toe surgery. She’s also recovering from a recent bout of tonsillitis.

Senior forward Michelle Harrison is home in Utah rehabbing from minor surgery to remove a cyst from her knee. She had been bothered by it during the season, but it wasn’t diagnosed right away. Now that it’s gone, she feels much better, Amy said.

Fifth-year guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude of New York is working in sports marketing for Nike in Los Angeles. She also worked for Nike on an internship last summer in Oregon.

Recently graduated forward Jillian Harmon of Oregon will be playing professionally in Lake Como, Italy, where she’ll be reunited with center Brooke Smith, ’08. Brooke, who also plays for the Phoenix Mercury, will join her after the WNBA season ends. Amy is hoping that Jill will be in Lake Como when the Cardinal team is there.

Jill’s classmate, forward Morgan Clyburn of Texas, is sticking close to campus and is happy to do so. She has been hired by a biotech company in Palo Alto.

Amy and her fellow coaches – head coach Tara VanDerveer and assistant coaches Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye – have been on the road a lot, especially this month, one of the busiest for recruiting the high school class of 2010. They’re also compiling a list of 2011 prospects in preparation for the first allowed recruiting contacts Sept. 1.

Notch up another win for Joslyn and Mikaela

Once again, incoming Stanford freshmen Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela Ruef led their San Francisco Pro-Am team to victory on July 19, defeating the Lady Warriors 87-80. Joslyn recorded a team-high 22 points along with six rebounds. Mikaela chipped in 19 points and pulled down a team-high 17 rebounds. She also made three of her four 3-point shots. USF’s Nicole Simmons was second in scoring with 21.

The victory left Bay Pride with a 4-1 record, best of the seven women’s teams. Its only loss came in its first game, before the Stanford players’ arrival on campus.

Giving Joslyn and Mikaela a preview of the kind of play they can expect to see in at least two games in the coming collegiate season, Cal’s Alexis Gray-Lawson led all scorers with 29 points.

She also displayed some savvy moves, the kind of veteran play that helped her gain a berth on the USA team that won gold in the recent World University Games in Serbia. That team also got big boosts from Stanford guard Jeanette Pohlen and forward Kayla Pedersen. Center Jayne Appel had to drop out of tryouts for the team because of minor knee surgery.

The Pro-Am game was moved from its usual venue, Kezar Pavilion in Golden Gate Park, to the Potrero Recreation Center because of a broken basket at Kezar. I found out about the switch when I arrived at Kezar at about 15 minutes before game time and saw the sign on the door. After negotiating my way across town in stop-and-go traffic and finding a parking place on Potrero Hill, I missed the first 10 minutes of the game. I’m wondering if others just gave up and went home after seeing the sign, for there were fewer Stanford fans than at previous games.

One new fan who found her way there was Mikaela’s mother, who chauffeured Mikaela and Joslyn. Mikaela has an aunt, grandmother and great-grandmother in San Francisco and the Peninsula, according to associate head coach Amy Tucker.

July 6, 2009

Tantalizing taste of 2009-10

It was only a glorified scrimmage between two less-than-polished teams, but Cardinal fans got a tantalizing look at what’s to come when Bay Pride beat Golden State 81-66 in the women’s division of the Bay Area Pro-Am on July 5 at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco.

The drawing card for the approximately two dozen Stanford fans at the game was incoming freshmen Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela Ruef. (Krista Rappahahn, ’06, is on the Bay Pride roster but wasn’t there to play.) Both 6'3" and blonde, Joslyn and Mikaela could pass for sisters in looks. The two post players also share some similarities in playing style, though Joslyn seems to have the advantage at this point. She finished with a game-high 29 points, while Mikaela had 7. Mikaela, whose defensive skills need some polish, was hampered by foul trouble, picking up three in the first half and another fairly early in the second.

On the other hand, her scoring included a 3-pointer in the second half, as well as several rebounds. It also seemed that she and Joslyn were tuning into each other more often in the second half — something that will serve them well at Stanford.

Joslyn has some nifty moves under the basket, and — like Mikaela — she isn’t afraid to shoot from the outside. Both of her 3-pointers came consecutively early in the second half, pushing her team ahead after the score was tied 37-37 at the break. Her first play of the second half was a steal, which also helped her team pull away. She’s also a good shot blocker. Both she and Mikaela run the floor well.

I chatted with them briefly after the game and found both to be friendly and upbeat. They’re happy to be at Stanford but disappointed that NCAA rules won’t allow them to join the team on its trip to Italy in September. Joslyn looked on the bright side, though, saying she and Mikaela can go home for the month between summer and fall terms.

They’re working out with center Jayne Appel and guards JJ Hones and Hannah Donaghe in the weight room, Joslyn said. The three upperclassmen are all rehabbing from knee surgery, so they can’t scrimmage right now.

Bay Pride, now 2-1, plays again at 2 p.m. July 11, at 4 p.m. July 19 and at 1 p.m. Aug. 2. Playoffs are Aug. 8 and 9 with the championship game Aug. 15. Kezar is at 755 Stanyan St. at Waller on the far east end of Golden Gate Park. There’s paid parking next door. Kezar’s amenities are minimal at best, but it’s fun to watch this part of Stanford’s future.

May 10, 2009

Thanks for the memories

Thanks for the memories – a retrospective on the 2008-09 season

Now that the 2008-09 season has ended, I find myself looking ahead to next season, trying to second-guess head coach Tara VanDerveer on the starting lineup, speculating about what the two recruits will contribute and wondering how individual players will change during the summer. I’m also hoping for successful rehabs for guards JJ Hones and Hannah Donaghe, who both had ACL surgery

In the meantime, fans can still enjoy videographer Bud Anderson’s entertaining videos from the season, and I’ve decided to touch on some season highlights from my reports.

Sept. 14, wine tasting. For the Fast Break Club, the season unofficially started with the annual wine tasting, just a few hours before the team was to have its first meeting. Everyone planned to be at the meeting except senior Morgan Clyburn, who was still in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Ike. In discussing the coming season, Tara summed it up as: “We can be big,” she said. “The team is looking very good. We’re gonna have fun.”

Those comments proved to be prescient, for the team did have fun, as evidenced by Bud’s videos as well as the 33-5 season record, an undefeated season at home and the second consecutive trip to the Final Four.

Oct. 18, open practice and barbecue. This event gave fans their first look at the team. Both recuperating from knee surgery, Jayne Appel and Michelle Harrison were limited in their activities, and Morgan (feet) didn’t participate. Ashley Cimino was away on a personal matter. After the three-hour practice, Tara introduced the players at the barbecue. One of them was senior Jillian Harmon, who had spent her summer playing with the New Zealand team at the Olympics. “I’d just like us to build on what we did last year and have fun along the way,” Jill said. (She got her wish.)

Nov. 1, exhibition against Chico State – W 123-39. Besides the lopsided score, the game was highlighted by 15 3-pointers, seven of them from freshman guard Lindy La Rocque. Everyone got into the act except for Morgan, who ultimately had to bow out of the season because of her foot surgery but who contributed in other ways, and Hannah, who was nursing a minor injury. The starting lineup was Jayne, Kayla Pedersen, Jeanette Pohlen, Jill and JJ.

Nov. 14, Minnesota – W 68-55. After an 87-41 exhibition win over Vanguard, this season opener “wasn’t pretty. It was a very physical game,” Tara said. Still, “I was excited about how hard our team played,” especially since JJ was sitting out with a stress reaction in her right foot. Rosalyn Gold-Onwude took her place in the starting lineup. This tent was a chance for fans to meet freshman Nneka Ogwumike. “The team is wonderful. I’m having fun,” she said.

Nov. 20, New Mexico – W 84-46. After a road loss to Baylor, 81-65, this was another night for 3-pointers, 12 of them, led by Lindy’s four. The game also marked JJ’s return to action, so she knocked in three 3’s. Afterward, it was freshman Sarah Boothe’s turn to meet the FBC. “I like being physical,” she said. Associate head coach Amy Tucker concurred, saying, “Sarah is by far our most physical player in practice,” and she’s learning a lot from Jayne and Kayla.

Nov. 23, Rutgers – W 81-47. Despite the lopsided win against an aggressive team and significant contributions from many players, this was a downer because JJ left the game with what turned out to be a torn ACL in her left knee, which also was injured during her freshman year. Afterward, instead of a tent, fans enjoyed the annual auction. Several players served as auctioneers, including Lindy, who oversaw the bidding for a team quilt made by her mother and a friend. It sold for $800, and another person bid $800 for another to be made by the two Las Vegas quilters.

Dec. 13, Fresno State – W 100-62. After spending their Thanksgiving vacation in Hawaii and notching wins over Purdue (78-70, OT), Iowa State (83-45) and Hawaii (83-54), the team came back for an easy win. The only suspense at the end was whether Stanford would hit the century mark. Ashley took care of that, hitting three free throws in the final 30 seconds. Freshman Grace Mashore was introduced at the tent afterward. She couldn’t play that day because of a pulled groin muscle, but she talked about how she had always wanted to go to Stanford. And now that she’s here, “I’m surprised every day. Everyone here is great at what they do,” she said.

Dec. 28, UC Davis – W 84-49. Easily completing its pre-conference schedule, the Cardinal returned from a grueling road trip (56-52 loss to Duke, 78-47 win over South Carolina and 79-69 OT loss to Tennessee) and a few days home for Christmas. Jeanette met with fans afterward. “We are absolutely ecstatic about Jeanette’s improvement over the summer,” Amy said. Her high school track coach worked with her on running and sprinting, and her family rebounded for her as she practiced shooting.

Jan. 8, Washington – W 112-35. After two wins in Arizona, the 77-point margin of victory set the record for both the Stanford women and Pac-10 women’s basketball. Among the highlights were the 47 points scored by the six bench players (Melanie Murphy had sprained big toes, Ashley had back spasms), who played more than half of the game. Grace came in with 5:40 left and promptly poured in a 3-pointer, pushing the Stanford tally to 100. She also scored the team’s final points, another 3-pointer, with 41 seconds left. Brandon Marcello, Stanford’s director of sports performance, talked at the FBC tent.

Jan. 10, Washington State – W 102-53. The starters got a lot of rest again as the bench helped the Cardinal coast to another 100+ points. Lindy talked to the FBC afterward, noting that she had committed to Stanford as a junior because “I wanted an academic type of school.” Her father, who is retired but who was a teacher and the boys basketball coach at Lindy’s high school in Las Vegas, was at the game with her sister, a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma. Her mother, a teacher, was home dogsitting. As for Lindy’s arcing 3-point shot, she’s just applying what she learned in physics class: “You need that high arc to get the ball in the basket.”

Jan. 29, USC – W 81-53. With the Cardinal back home after two wins in Oregon and a tough loss to Cal, 57-54, Kiyoe Hashimoto, assistant dean of admissions, told the FBC how hard it is to get into Stanford. She also stressed that Stanford doesn’t leave any slots open for athletes. Therefore, every athlete, no matter how talented, must first be admitted before joining a team. These standards make the team’s accomplishments even more impressive – just like that night’s win. Sarah had a career-high 16 points to go with six rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block. It was all the more special for her because her mother was there seeing her play in a Stanford uniform for the first time.

Feb. 1, UCLA – W 68-51. FBC’s post-game guest was Jayne, who was held to an uncharacteristic 6 points in the face of relentless hounding by UCLA. What was characteristic was her unselfish play, as she and Jeanette led the team with six assists each. Tara noted, “I see big improvements since we played Cal.” Nevertheless, “we don’t have a big margin for error. There are no gimmes.”

Feb. 14, Cal – W 58-41. After two road wins in Washington, the Cardinal showed little love for Cal on Valentine’s Day. It was a physical game that saw Jeanette head to the locker room for stitches on her forehead after a collision with Cal’s Natasha Vital. But it was Lindy who made what probably will be regarded as her signature play for the rest of her career. She dove under a Cal player to go after a loose ball and then – still on her stomach – pitched it to Jill, who went in for the easy layup. Also noteworthy was Ros’s tough defense against Alexis Gray-Lawson, who had scored 37 points in Cal’s earlier win. This time she tallied only 4.

Feb. 19, Oregon State – W 72-43. In the Cardinal’s 26th consecutive home victory, Tara had high praise for players like Jeanette, who wore a sweat band over her injured forehead, and Nneka, who wore a mask after sustaining a broken nose in practice. Hannah also was injured in practice on Jan. 18, sustaining a season-ending ACL tear. Videographer Bud entertained fans after the game, leading a round of a “Family Feud” Cardinal trivia game and showing how he creates a video, using Tara at the piano as an example.

Feb. 21, Oregon – W 68-49. After the game, the entire team joined in Fan Appreciation Day. It was highlighted by photographer Don Anderson’s winning the FBC’s Fan Spirit Award. After the team left, Tara praised the fans for sticking with a tough game. When the Ducks were ahead 12-6 about 7 minutes into the game, she pulled the starting lineup and sent in the top five bench players. Led by Sarah and Nneka, they went on a 25-2 run before Tara gradually returned the starters to action. Nevertheless, “I have great confidence in our team. They’re a great bunch of young women,” she said.

Feb. 23 – Shoot-a-thon. The annual fund-raiser was an informal event as the players went through their paces. Grace won the general competition with 269 points out of a possible 300. Sarah was second with 266. Lindy was the top 3-point shooter, knocking in 15 within 30 seconds. Kayla was the first to make a half-court shot. In a surprise move, Morgan took part and showed she hadn’t lost her touch. She tied for third (with Jill and Ashley) with 262 points and made 10 3-pointers.

March 5, Arizona – W 70-67. After two relatively easy wins in LA, this was a nail-biter. “We were fortunate. It was a tough matchup for us,” Tara said, crediting Arizona for improving since its earlier loss to the Cardinal. She also praised Jeanette, who led the team with a career-high 21 points, most of them coming from a career-high five of eight 3-pointers. Kayla contributed 16, including two 3-pointers. “Kayla’s on a roll,” the coach said, citing her back-to-back 20-point games against the LA schools. Afterward, Krista Rappahahn, ’06, talked about being a first-year med student at Stanford and playing on an intramural basketball team.

March 7, Arizona State – W 77-68. It was an afternoon of mixed emotions. The win vaulted Stanford into sole possession of the Pac-10 season title, gave it the No. 1 seed for the Pac-10 tournament and marked the 750th in Tara’s career. On the other hand, it was Jill and Morgan’s last appearance at Maples, so they were honored at Senior Day. KZSU announcer Jake Kelman and practice player Matt McEvoy also were recognized after the game. Before the game, Tara gave flowers to ASU’s seniors. Both Jill and Morgan were joined by their parents and their brothers. Morgan’s grandmother also was there. At the tent, the seniors’ teammates told fond stories about them. Tara lauded her victorious team, citing Jayne’s 29 points, 10 rebounds, one assist and two blocks and Jeanette’s 19 points, five rebounds, five assists, one block and one steal.

March 13-15, Pac-10 tournament in LA. The Cardinal notched three wins in three days, topping Arizona 77-46, UCLA 73-47 and USC 89-64 to capture the tournament crown. The wide margins of victory gave Tara a chance to rest the starters and allot valuable playing time to the other seven players. Preceding the Arizona game, the freshmen got their first taste of a Cardinal tournament send-off as the band, cheerleaders, tree and Dollies entertained the team in front of the Wilshire Grand Hotel and a few fans and family cheered. The freshmen reacted enthusiastically, jumping up and down and hugging each other.

The scene was repeated before the championship game against USC, but this time the crowd was much larger, augmented by the FBC. The veterans weren’t immune from the excitement, as Morgan and JJ joined the Dollies in a do-si-do and Jeanette and Jill performed their own dance.

The FBC had a get-together the previous night, enjoying refreshments at McKay’s restaurant in the Radisson Hotel next to the Galen Center. Led by grad Heather Owen, who is working in the sports development department, the event was attended by six other alumnae: Clare Bodensteiner, Vanessa Nygaard, Sarah Dimson, Tara Harrington, Katie Denny and Chelsea Trotter.

March 21 and 23, first round of the NCAA tournament at San Diego State. The Cardinal, seeded No. 2 in the Berkeley regional, again coasted to victory, defeating UC Santa Barbara 74-39 and San Diego State 77-49. Both games were marked by stiff defense. At one point in the UCSB game, the Stanford women, wearing white and stretching out their long arms, looked like a white picket fence separating their opponents from the basket.

After the second game, San Diego fans were asking, “Who was that masked woman?” The focus of their question was Nneka, who poured in 27 points and 13 rebounds, both career highs. Thanks to the strong inside game, the Cardinal didn’t have to worry about the lack of 3-point production – only one – a season low. This game also was preceded by the traditional send-off, where Cardinal fans were buzzing about Ball State University’s (Indiana) upset over defending national champion Tennessee the night before.

March 28 and 30, regional at Cal. It all looked so easy with the Cardinal prevailing 84-66 over Ohio State and 74-53 over Iowa State. Jayne led the way with 25 points in the first game. More than half of them came in the second half, which started with Stanford ahead only 37-35. As ESPN commentator Mary Murphy put it, Jayne put on her ballerina shoes to dance in the paint.

Jayne put on a really big dance against Iowa State, pouring in a school record 46 points, eclipsing the 44-point mark shared by Candice Wiggins, ’08, and Kate Starbird, ’97. She also recorded 16 rebounds, three blocks and two assists. (JJ missed these games and the rest of the events because she went to Spain with a Stanford international studies program. Hannah was absent because of her knee surgery, but she made the trip to the Final Four.)

FBC members filled one bus for the first game, joining others at a pre-game reception at Raleigh’s on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Two busloads went to the second game. On the way back, one group sang a hearty “Meet Me in St. Louis.” The Cardinal were going to the Final Four for the second time in a row.

April 2, send-off to St. Louis. Fans gathered outside Maples to cheer the team as it departed for the Final Four. After videographer Bud led the crowd in some cheers for a video, Tara praised the team for its accomplishments despite the spate of injuries and spoke of the upcoming challenge against UConn. She was optimistic, noting, “This is one of the best teams I’ve ever coached at Stanford.”

April 5, Final Four, UConn, L 83-64. It was a disappointing end to an exciting season as the Cardinal fell to undefeated UConn in the NCAA semi-final game. UConn would go on to win the title by defeating Louisville, which had knocked out Oklahoma and the Paris sisters. Still, the fans never wavered after giving the team a rousing send-off as it left the Millennium Hotel and headed to Scottrade Center for the game. While at the hotel, the fans and families also enjoyed a reception. The night before, Jayne was honored as a member of the State Farm Coaches’ All-America team – another of her honors for the season.

April 15, awards banquet. It was no surprise when Jayne was named most outstanding player at the annual event, attended by 240 people. Nor was it surprising that Jill was named most outstanding defensive player and Jeanette the most improved player. The team chose Sarah as winner of the Lizard Lung Award, a good-natured honor accorded to the most gullible freshmen. It was presented by Jeanette, who had won it last year.

The event honored the entire team as well as the people who work behind the scenes to help it succeed. “The joy of coaching is not just winning,” Tara said. “It’s more about how we do things. I’ve never seen a team come farther than this one did. Good things came out of our losses” to Tennessee, Duke, Baylor and Cal during the regular season. None of them made it to the Final Four. This team decided to “choose maturity in the face of adversity,” she said.

She listed some of the team’s accomplishments, including the most rebounds ever, topping last year’s record by 60 and averaging 13.3 more per game than its opponents. The team’s 716 assists were second in Stanford annals. This was the first time ever that the team had two 30-win seasons in a row. The final record was 33-5, plus the two exhibition wins.

After introducing her coaching staff – Amy, Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye -- Tara introduced each player, touting each one’s accomplishments, concluding with the two seniors. Even though Morgan couldn’t play because of her feet, she provided “a mature voice and served as a mentor to our younger players,” the coach said. As for Jill with her “hustle, grit and fearlessness, we will be hard-pressed to replace you in our starting lineup.”

Yes, that’s where the speculation starts. I won’t hazard any guesses for publication. I’ll leave that to those who know best, the coaches.

April 18, 2009

Meet the team – Awards Banquet, Part Two

The Stanford women’s basketball team’s annual awards banquet April 15 at the Stanford Faculty Club honored the entire team and coaches as well as the most outstanding players. Attended by 240 people, it also recognized those who work behind the scenes.

In addition, fans could chat with the players, coaches and staff and see the players dressed up rather than in their uniforms. They all looked beautiful.  (see photos)

Head coach Tara VanDerveer served as emcee. After thanking university administrators and staff for their support, she introduced the team by class, starting with the freshmen:
  • Forward Sarah Boothe – She shot 52 percent from the field and ranked third on the team in blocked shots. “She's tough,” never missing a practice.
  • Guard Lindy La Rocque – “Lindy already has a defining play, the Lindy lunge.” Tara was referring to Lindy’s diving under a Cal player to retrieve a loose ball and, while lying on her stomach, passing it to senior forward Jillian Harmon for an easy layup in the victory at Maples. Lindy also was second on the team in 3-point shooting. Lindy’s father was at the dinner.
  • Guard Grace Mashore – “Grace is working hard to contribute to the team’s success.”
  • Forward Nneka Ogwumike – “Nneka had a fabulous freshman year,” leading the Pac 10 in field goal percentage and being named to the conference’s all-freshman and all-tournament teams.
After thanking the medical and training staff, Tara introduced the sophomores:
  • Forward Ashley Cimino – She adds depth to the post rotation and is “a very intelligent player.”
  • Guard Hannah Donaghe – She was doing well until being sidelined by a torn ACL. Recuperating from surgery, Hannah had a heavy-duty brace on her leg.
  • Forward Kayla Pedersen – Another intelligent player, she was the team’s second leading rebounder. She played both the 3 and 4 positions and was named MVP of the Pac-10 tourney, among other honors.
  • Guard Jeanette Pohlen – Not only was she the most improved player this season, she was the most improved player Tara has ever coached at Stanford, the coach said. She ranked second all time (to guard Candice Wiggins, ’08) in total minutes played in the season. Her improved stats were highlighted by 83 3-pointers this year versus 18 last year. “Now the challenge is to one-up yourself,” Tara said. Jeanette’s parents were there.
After more thank-yous, Tara turned to the juniors:
  • Center Jayne Appel – Besides being the team’s most outstanding player, “You also improved a lot,” Tara told her. Her list of records and honors is long, but one that is particularly noteworthy is that she was second on the team in assists – probably the best record of any post player in the nation. She battles under the boards, yet displays maturity and unselfishness – “a real team-first player.” Jayne’s parents also were there.
  • Forward Michelle Harrison – After missing most of last season with a torn ACL, she returned healthy this year. “We’re all thankful for that,” Tara said, noting that Michelle often played with the scout team in practice.
  • Guard Melanie Murphy – She also missed most of last season with a torn ACL, and she had some minor injuries this year. Nevertheless, she worked hard and contributed to the team’s success.
  • Guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude – The turning point in her season came in the Cal win when she held Alexis Gray-Lawson to a mere 4 points at Maples after Lawson had burned the Cardinal with 37 in the Bears’ 3-point victory in Berkeley. Tara added that the red-shirt junior (who missed most of the 2006-07 season with an ACL) is working on her master’s in sociology.
Next Tara recognized radio KZSU announcer Jake Kelman, “the voice of Stanford basketball,” who is graduating, and San Francisco Chronicle reporter Michelle Smith, who is taking a voluntary buyout after 14 years of covering women’s basketball. Michelle is “knowledgeable, professional and gifted,” Tara said, adding that both Michelle and Jake are “so passionate about what they do.” Tara also honored the team managers and male practice players.

Finally she turned to the seniors:
  • Forward Morgan Clyburn – Morgan couldn’t play this season following extensive foot surgery at the end of last season. She tried hard to come back, “but her feet didn’t cooperate.” Even though she couldn’t contribute on the court, she provided “a mature voice and served as a mentor to our younger players.”
  • Jill – “It’s been a thrill to coach Jill,” the team’s outstanding defensive player. Tara was referring to Jill's nickname, “Jill the Thrill.” She listed Jill’s accomplishments, including playing for New Zealand at last year’s Olympics. Even as a freshman, Jill successfully guarded Seimone Augustus, the outstanding Louisiana State guard who now plays with the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, Candice’s team. As someone who plays with “hustle, grit and fearlessness, we will be hard-pressed to replace you in our starting lineup,” Tara said.
Jill and Morgan thanked the fans and everyone else for their support. Morgan added that she appreciated being included in everything even though she couldn’t play. Their teammates expressed their love and appreciation for the two seniors in notes included in the program.

With Jill the only active player leaving, with junior point guard JJ Hones expected to return from her ACL injury (she is studying with a Stanford program in Spain this term) and with two promising recruits coming in, fans have a lot to look forward to.

The team will face major challenges right away, playing Pepperdine, Gonzaga, DePaul, Duke, Tennessee and Utah at home and traveling to UConn, Rutgers, UC Davis, Fresno State and Old Dominion. So even though there are no more games this season, the returning players were expected to show up at the track the next day at 7 a.m. Tara also spoke to them in a circle after the dinner.

April 17, 2009

They’re the most – Awards Banquet, Part One

Junior center Jayne Appel has been named most outstanding player for the Stanford women’s basketball team’s 2008-09 season. Jayne was honored at the team’s annual awards banquet April 15 at the Stanford Faculty Club.

At the event, attended by more than 200 people, head coach Tara VanDerveer also announced that senior forward Jillian Harmon was named most outstanding defensive player and that sophomore guard Jeanette Pohlen was named most improved player.

On a lighter note, the team chose freshman forward Sarah Boothe as winner of the Lizard Lung Award. This award goes to the freshman deemed most gullible, said Jeanette, who was the presenter because she won it last year. Although Sarah is generally a quiet person, sometimes her teammates shake their heads in wonder, asking, “Did she really just say that?” Jeanette said. She also recalled the time that Sarah wore two entirely different shoes to practice. She returned to the locker room to change them after her teammates told her.

According to associate head coach Amy Tucker, the story behind the Lizard Lung Award is that a player who was being treated for a blister asked what the trainer was using. It’s “called Lizard Lung because it has a soft, jelly-like texture. When the player asked where it came from, the trainer said lungs of a lizard, and the player believed it. There you go,” Amy said in an e-mail the next day. “Other people were in the running” for the award this year, Tara said at the banquet.

Besides honoring Jayne, Jill and Jeanette, the banquet was an occasion to honor the entire team and its accomplishments, culminating in its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Final Four tournament in St. Louis in April. “The joy of coaching is not just winning,” Tara said. “It’s more about how we do things. I’ve never seen a team come any farther than this one did.

“Good things came out of our losses” to Tennessee, Duke, Baylor and Cal during the season. None of them made it to the Final Four. This team decided to “choose maturity in the face of adversity,” she said. Humor played a big part, too.

Tara related that just before the team began to practice for its first game in the NCAA Tournament, she asked, “How many teams are still practicing?” The answer was 64. After the team won that game and began its next practice, she again asked, “How many teams are still practicing?” The answer was 32. The ritual continued with the numbers dwindling -- 16, then eight. Finally, as the team prepared for its first practice against UConn in the Final Four, Tara asked the same question. “Five,” said junior guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude. She explained that the fifth team was Tennessee, the defending national champion that was knocked out in the first round by underdog Ball State University of Indiana. After that loss, coach Pat Summitt ordered her team to continue practicing.

Stanford’s journey to the Final Four has been documented in a new video created by Bud Anderson, director of videography. Premiering at the dinner, it amusingly and movingly shows season highlights both on and off the court, starting with the first practice on Sept. 15. “It brings back a lot of tremendous memories,” Tara said. Photographs by Don Anderson also were shown before and during the dinner.

Following a social hour, office manager DeeDee Zawaydeh started the festivities with a list of pet peeves. One of them was that people sometimes call Stanford an elite team, meaning the term to be derogatory. “We hold to a higher standard.” That’s why Stanford is elite, she said, adding, “What’s not to love about this team?”

After dinner, Tara began ticking off some of the team’s accomplishments. “This was our best rebounding season ever,” topping last year’s record by 60 and tallying an average 13.3 more rebounds per game than its opponents. With a total of 716 assists, the team ranked second in Stanford annals. And this was the first time in school history that the team had back-to-back 30-win seasons.

Tomorrow: Meet the team

Note: The photos of Jayne, Jillian and Jeanette were taken by Mitch Takahashi. You can find photos of all the players in the next post.