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.