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.

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