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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Judy. Great update. They should be arriving in Italy right now!