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.

April 16, 2009

Alumni Banquet Photos

These photos were taken by Mitch Takahashi at the Alumni Banquet on April 15th. (Click to enlarge)

April 10, 2009

Standing tall in St. Louis

The 11 players returning from last year’s Stanford women’s basketball team gained so much valuable experience and had so much fun at the NCAA Final Four in Tampa that they wanted to go the Final Four in St. Louis this year. “Run it back” was their mantra, a goal readily accepted by the four freshmen.

And run it back they did, with each one of the 15 players contributing in her own way to the success of this year’s team. Yes, it was disappointing to lose to undefeated and eventual champion UConn in the semi-final game, but the players never quit and, according to head coach Tara VanDerveer, never made excuses.

The simple reality was that Stanford lost to one of the best women’s teams ever, but it wasn’t a total loss. The players still gained valuable experience and still had fun. Moreover, they saw where they need to improve as a team and as individuals to come back even better next year.

As I stood in line waiting to board the Southwest Airlines flight that would take me from St. Louis to San Francisco via Las Vegas after the games, I found myself next to the parents and grandfather of freshman guard Lindy La Rocque. They expressed their pride in Lindy and the team and talked about what Lindy plans to do this summer to prepare for next season.

The weekend had started on a celebratory note with the team taking part in several activities. Those activities included the thrill of seeing junior center Jayne Appel honored as a member of the State Farm Coaches’ All-America team on Saturday.

Then on Sunday, which had begun with heavy snow flurries, a large contingent of fans and families gathered at the team’s Millennium Hotel to give the team a proper sendoff, complete with band, tree, Dollies and cheerleaders. There were lots of hugs and cheers as the players mingled and posed for photos while taking photos of their own.

After the players left, the band, cheerleaders, tree and Dollies stayed to have dinner at the hotel. Most of them sat in the dining area watching the Louisville-Oklahoma game, but a few sat in the lounge, some eating and talking, a few napping. They needed their rest, considering how much energy they put into supporting the team.

Sophomore guard Hannah Donaghe was back with the team after missing several earlier games to recuperate from knee surgery. Junior guard JJ Hones was missing because she’s studying with a Stanford program in Spain while rehabbing from knee surgery.

One highlight of the Stanford-UConn game came at halftime when the jumbotron featured a moving tribute to Kay Yow, the beloved University of North Carolina coach who lost her battle with breast cancer earlier this season. As soon as the crowd realized who was being honored, everyone stood and clapped out of respect for her.

The score at that point was 37-24 in UConn’s favor. The final score was 83-64, a 19-point difference and one of UConn’s narrower margins of victory throughout its season. No doubt UConn hadn’t forgotten that the last team it hadn’t defeated was Stanford, which knocked it out in the Final Four last year to advance to the championship game won by Tennessee.

This year’s season-ending loss sent the team home early Monday morning. Now it’s time for them to focus on other aspects of campus life as well as next season, when 13 players with Final Four experience will be returning. That’s something to look forward to. In the meantime, we fans can cherish happy memories of a terrific group of young women who can take justifiable pride in their accomplishments as a team and as individuals.

April 3, 2009

Spirited sendoff to St. Louis

Several dozen fans as well as a dozen or so media types gathered in the plaza between Maples and Arrillaga Family Sports Center on April 2 to cheer the Stanford women’s basketball team before its departure for St. Louis – its second consecutive trip to the Final Four.

The band, cheerleaders and Dollies weren’t there because they had already left, but a recording of the band played in the background, along with a rap by sophomore guard Melanie Murphy and freshman forward Nneka Ogwumike.

Videographer Bud Anderson got the crowd warmed up while filming a commercial for the team. He said former player Heather Owen, now with the development office, had challenged him to make it in five minutes or less. He met that challenge, filming three scenes. The third one had him saying, “Go,” and the crowd responding, “Stanford” progressively louder. If Bud gets tired of videography, maybe he can take up cheerleading.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer spoke to the press. Facing several cameras and microphones, she praised assistant coach Kate Paye for her scouting report on Stanford’s semi-final opponent, unbeaten UConn. The Huskies have their big three – All Americans Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore – “so we’re going to be the big 12,” Tara said, referring to all of Stanford’s active players. “We’re going to have to play great defense, shoot well and rebound,” she said. “We have to play great transition defense.”

“This team has battled through injuries,” she said. She was referring to senior forward Morgan Clyburn’s loss for the entire season because of foot surgery, junior point guard JJ Hones’ loss in the Rutgers win when she went down with an ACL, and later sophomore guard Hannah Donaghe’s loss with an ACL in practice. Several others were limited at various times because of lesser injuries. JJ will miss the Final Four because she’s studying with a Stanford program in Spain this term, but Morgan will be there, as she has been throughout the tournament. Hannah missed the previous tournament games, and she wasn’t at the rally because of limited mobility following her knee surgery, but she’ll be with the team in St. Louis, said team spokesman Aaron Juarez.

As the players assembled outside Maples, Tara spoke to the fans. “Our team is excited to be going to St. Louis. We’re playing a great opponent, but we’ll be ready.” She congratulated the team on its achievements and thanked the fans for their support.

She said senior captain Jillian Harmon was supposed to speak, but she had to go back for her shoes, which were more important, so Morgan filled in. Like Tara, she thanked the fans for their backing. Jill did the same when she returned a few moments later – shoe box in hand.

“We’ll go take care of UConn,” Tara said. “Sometimes being undefeated is who you schedule.” Referring to her deliberate effort to play top teams like Duke, Baylor and Tennessee, all of whom defeated the Cardinal, Tara said, “We learned from our mistakes.” She concluded, “This is one of the best teams I’ve ever coached at Stanford. We want to come back national champions.”

The players then graciously mingled with the fans until they went back into Maples to get ready to board the bus waiting to take them to the airport.

More sign ideas:
Impound the Huskies
Harness the Huskies

April 1, 2009

Merry march to the Arch

It wasn’t the most tuneful rendition of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” but the sentiment was deeply heartfelt Monday night as fans on the booster bus sang it on the way back from the Stanford women’s impressive Berkeley regional win over Iowa State. The 74-53 victory at Cal’s Haas Pavilion meant that the Cardinal were going back to the NCAA Final Four for the second year in a row.

Taking the bus was the way to go. We didn’t have to fight traffic or worry about parking. Instead, people on my bus (fans filled two buses Monday) got to savor a DVD of the Saturday night victory, sip wine or beer served by gracious facilitator Heather Kauer of the Stanford athletic staff and munch on snacks that some fans thoughtfully passed around.

When I got home that night, I immediately called to confirm the Southwest flight to St. Louis that I had tentatively booked a day earlier. The agent said he had just booked a St. Louis flight for the grandfather of a Stanford sophomore. Prompted with names, he said she was forward Kayla Pedersen. The grandfather bragged about her and said, “We’re going to the Final Four.”

On Tuesday, my cousin in Evanston, Ill., called to say how impressed she was after watching the game on TV. She’s becoming a Cardinal fan because forward Sarah Boothe’s uncle Dennis Boothe is a longtime friend and because she knows I’m an avid fan. She also grew up in Indiana, where basketball is the state religion.

During the game, which saw center Jayne Appel score a Stanford record 46 points to eclipse the 44-point record shared by Candice Wiggins, ’08, and Kate Starbird, ’97, (Jayne also tallied 16 rebounds, three blocks and two assists) I noticed that the man sitting next to me was wearing his red T-shirt inside out. Since he was wearing a Stanford hat, I knew he was a fellow fan, but it seemed impolite to say anything about his shirt.

Then, with 3:29 left in the game and the score 66-47 in favor of Stanford, he put his shirt on the right way to reveal its message: “Road to the Final Four, Stanford, 2009.” A cautious fellow, he said, “I wanted to make sure.”

Jayne had already put on a show in the 84-66 victory over Ohio State on Saturday, scoring 25 points. More than half of those points came during the second half, which started with the Cardinal ahead only 37-35. Jayne had had a less than stellar first half, but I had a strong feeling that she would come through in the second half, and sure enough, she did. As ESPN commentator Mary Murphy put it, Jayne put on her ballerina shoes to dance in the paint. She had a lot of help from her teammates, too, as she’s always quick to point out.

Fans filled only one bus for the Ohio State game, but they joined dozens more who got to Berkeley on their own for a reception at nearby Raleigh’s on Telegraph Avenue. It was a pleasant late afternoon on the patio, where fans could help themselves to various appetizers and soft drinks or buy other food, wine and beer.

The team wasn’t quite complete for the regional because guards JJ Hones and Hannah Donaghe were missing. JJ, who had knee surgery in December, is spending this term with a Stanford international study program in Spain. Hannah is recovering from recent knee surgery.

Now Stanford is slated to meet UConn in the semi-final game on Sunday. As we all know so well, the last team to beat UConn was Stanford – in the semi-final game of last year’s Final Four in Tampa. Therefore, I’ve come up with some suggestions for fans who like to make signs:

Twice is nice. Beat UConn.
Cardinal – U can beat UConn.

Any other ideas are welcome. We’ll meet in St. Louis.