March 18, 2009

Random observations from LA

The Cardinal made it all seem so easy as the team cruised to the Pac-10 title by defeating each of its three opponents by at least 25 points. The wide margins of victory gave head coach Tara VanDerveer a chance to rest the starters and allot valuable playing time to the bench. It was heartening that all 12 players saw action and did well in the three games.

Before the first game on Friday, I happened to go to the Wilshire Grand Hotel to see where the team was staying. As luck would have it, the bus was there, ready to take the players to the Galen Center. Also there were the band, the tree, the cheerleaders and the Dollies, ready to give the team a rousing send-off.

The sophomores, juniors and seniors had been through this before, most notably in Spokane and Tampa last year – at least in my experience. But it was all brand new to the four freshmen, who seemed thrilled – jumping up and down and hugging each other on the hotel stairs outside as the band played.

The scene was similar before the championship game on Sunday, but this time the Fast Break Club, family members and other fans were there to cheer the team along with the band, tree, cheerleaders and Dollies. As the players, coaches and support staff came down the escalator in the lobby, fans formed an aisle and cheered. Freshman Nneka Ogwumike stopped to sign the backs of two girls’ T-shirts.

The USC players also were going to their bus, so they were cheered, too, as was head coach Mark Trakh, who cringed but smiled.

Once again the Cardinal players assembled on the front steps as the band played and cavorted. Most of the players just smiled and clapped to the music, but senior Morgan
Clyburn and junior JJ Hones joined the Dollies in a do-si-do and sophomore Jeanette Pohlen and senior Jillian Harmon performed some very cool dance moves. Finally, it was time for “All Right Now” as the players filed into the bus and departed.

On Saturday, the Fast Break Club had a pre-game social at McKay’s restaurant in the Radisson Hotel next to the Galen Center. Led by grad Heather Owen, working in the sports development department, this event was highlighted by the presence of six other alumnae: Clare Bodensteiner, Vanessa Nygaard, Sarah Dimson, Tara Harrington, Katie Denny and Chelsea Trotter.

Although I don’t have actual numbers to back this contention, it seemed that Stanford had the largest contingent of fans at the games. The USC section seemed a bit sparse for the first games, perhaps because the school’s men were busy winning their Pac-10 title a few miles away at Staples Center. The USC crowd was larger for the women’s title game after the No. 6 seed had pulled off surprise wins, including a controversial 2-point upset victory over Cal the night before.

Next up for the Cardinal: UC Santa Barbara in San Diego for the start of NCAA play.

These photos of the sendoff to the championship game were taken by Dave Cortesi (click to enlarge):

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