December 20, 2009

Home sweet victory

Even though only seven actually got into the mix, “Every player on our team was part of this success,” head coach Tara VanDerveer said Dec. 19 after the Stanford women’s basketball team downed rival Tennessee 67-52. The Lady Vols arrived with a 9-0 record and a No. 3 national ranking, while Stanford was 8-0 and No. 2, so one undefeated team had to fall – and it wasn’t the Cardinal.

“We have a great team,” Tara told the Fast Break Club. She talked about how hard everyone works in practice, thus making everyone better. “They are mature. We create (opportunities) for each other. This team is a very unselfish team,” she said. “They’re really happy for each other when they do well.” That unselfish nature showed up on the stat sheet, which credited Stanford with 14 assists while Tennessee had only four.

“It was pretty hard to nitpick today,” Tara said, citing the team’s rebounding advantage of 44-34 over Tennessee. That was an improvement from the Duke game earlier in the week, when Duke became the only team to outrebound Stanford so far this season.

Associate head coach Amy Tucker said that after that game, Tara installed a new drill. “Tara is known for making up drills,” she said. It involved Tara and Amy shooting the ball for a player, who then had to go up for the rebound while battling assistant coaches Kate Paye and Bobbie Kelsey, both wielding heavy pads. Once the player had made the rebound, she had to go up against the pads again to try for a layup. “It was brutal,” Amy said.

Amy brought guard Jeanette Pohlen with her and opened the floor for questions. The first one asked if the gathering of both teams in a circle after the game was planned. “It was a spur of the moment thing,” Jeanette said, adding that one of the Tennessee players said a short prayer. After that, the Stanford players walked around the court to wave at the cheering crowd.

As for the game itself, “they played what we expected them to play,” Jeanette said. Amy credited Kate for her scouting job. The Stanford players understood their opponents’ favorite moves and tried to take them away. “We knew their plays” so well that the bench players were calling them out as they unfolded, Amy said.

Several fans lauded the Cardinal defense, which led to a 30-18 score in Stanford’s favor at the half. Another fan asked Jeanette what differences she saw between this year’s Tennessee team and last year’s, which defeated Stanford in Knoxville. “I saw a different team in us,” she said.

Amy then recognized Jeanette’s parents, John and Cindy Pohlen. They not only attend every game, they accompanied Jeanette and forward Kayla Pedersen to Serbia, where their USA team won a gold medal during the summer. The Pohlens also were among the parents who went on the Stanford team’s trip to Italy in September.

The Tennessee game drew the largest attendance so far this season – 6,809 – close to a full house. “The crowd and the excitement were just great,” Tara said. “Today was our day. We are very excited about our team.”

The Cardinal women will face UConn on its home court, where the crowd will be heavily pro-Husky. “We’ll be challenged (to show our poise) on the road,” Tara said.

With undefeated No.1 UConn, the reigning NCAA champion, looming only four days away, “I got work to do this afternoon,” Tara said, referring to preparing for that much-awaited clash.

Looking ahead even more, Jenny Claypool, Stanford director of championships, led off the tent by talking about the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament March 20 and 22 at Stanford. Thus Stanford will play at home, but season ticket holders can’t be sure that they’ll have their usual seats because 100 tickets have to be reserved for each of the three other teams. Tickets for those who have already bought them will be mailed after Feb. 1, she said.

Where Stanford would go for the regional, assuming it wins the first two games, won’t be known until after the brackets are announced in mid-March. Stanford fans are hoping to go to the closest regional venue, Arco Arena in Sacramento.

December 17, 2009

Good work -- now work some more

The 71-55 win over No. 7-ranked Duke was a good reason for the No. 2-ranked Stanford women’s basketball team and its fans to celebrate on Dec. 15. “This is one of the most athletic teams we’ve played,” fifth-year senior guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude told the Fast Break Club after the game.

“I’m tired. That felt like a heavyweight fight,” head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “This was a big win for our team. This is a really special team,” she said, praising Ros and fellow guard Jeanette Pohlen for their defense. “We want physical play,” she said. It will help prepare the team for not only the Dec. 19 home game against No. 3 Tennessee and the Dec. 23 away game at No. 1 UConn but also all other games, including the NCAA tournament.

“They (Duke) were probably surprised at some of the calls,” she said. She was referring to Duke’s amassing 23 fouls compared with Stanford’s 11. The disparity was especially apparent in the first half. With only 2:58 remaining, Duke had nine fouls, while the Cardinal had only two. Overall, Stanford outscored Duke 19-7 at the free throw line.

One fan asked Ros if the team had practiced boxing. She laughed and said, “You battle back. Your team sticks together and you have each other’s backs. You have to be aggressive” and take good shots without rushing. “We bought into our schemes. Bobbie did a great job scouting,” she said, referring to assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey.

While Stanford had fewer personal fouls, a good thing, it also had fewer rebounds, a bad thing. The team was outrebounded – 44-39 – for the first time this season. Even worse, Duke had 25 offensive boards compared with Stanford’s 11. “We know we have some things to work on,” associate head coach Amy Tucker said. Still, “it was a great win.”

Forward Michelle Harrison was back in uniform after missing the DePaul game because of a mild concussion. Center Sarah Boothe (foot) and guards Hannah Donaghe and Melanie Murphy (knees) were still in warmups.

Looking ahead to the Tennessee game, Tara said her players would study the videos and look for ways to improve their rebounding. They’ll need all the boards they can grab because Tennessee is “a really tough team,” Tara said.

This was the first FBC gathering in Maples, according to Amy. “We really appreciate the energy in the building tonight,” Ros said. The official attendance was 4,719, the highest so far this season. A few minutes later, Ros asked the fans to sing “Happy Birthday” to guard Lindy La Rocque, who was standing on the sidelines with teammates.

Besides celebrating the win over Duke and Lindy’s birthday after the game, fans honored the Stanford football team at halftime. Wearing red jerseys with their numbers, the team sat in the northeast corner of Maples during the first half, then gathered on the court for the fans’ cheers and high hopes for the Sun Bowl game against Oklahoma on Dec. 31. The cheers were especially loud for running back Toby Gerhart, who was runner-up in the closest Heisman Trophy voting ever. After most of the players had filed off, a few stayed to compete for bragging rights in a half-court shootout. Those rights went to kicker Nate Whitaker.

December 14, 2009

Doggone good fun at DePaul game

The Stanford women’s basketball team treated fans to another display of its prowess by defeating visiting DePaul 96-60 on Dec. 13. Besides all the game highlights, which are described in Stories of the Season, the fans welcomed the return of the agility dogs from Ace Dog Sports at halftime. Ranging from a Great Dane to a teacup poodle, the 12 dogs raced through tunnels, leapt over barriers and swiveled around poles as their owners ran with them. As they were last year, they were a huge crowd pleaser.

Besides the resounding victory, the game was notable for center Jayne Appel snaring her 1,000th rebound to join the illustrious company of Nicole Powell, ’04 and Val Whiting, ’93. Also on the plus side, freshman forward Joslyn Tinkle returned to action after missing several games with a stress reaction in her foot.

On the minus side, forward Michelle Harrison was sidelined again. She had missed several games with back spasms before returning. This time the problem was a concussion. It seems her head had an unexpected encounter with Jayne’s elbow in practice. She hopes to be back soon. Guard Hannah Donaghe (knee) and center Sarah Boothe (foot) are still unavailable.

After the game, fans ambled over to the annual Fast Break Club auction, the booster club’s biggest fundraiser.

In keeping with the theme of “Back in the Saddle,” auction volunteers wore Western garb and Dallmar Court was adorned with “Wanted” posters of each team member. For example, there were “Wanted – for long-range shootin’, Lightnin’ Lindy La Rocque, $$ Reward $$” and “Wanted – for bustin’ a move, Jeanette Pohlen, Bojangles, $$ Reward $$.”

As the players arrived, they willingly signed autographs. One enterprising young fan had Jayne sign his red victory ball.

A life-size black horse was stationed near the auctioneer’s stage. Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, said that it was delivered to the WBB office unbeknownst to the coaches, who were more than a bit taken aback when they first saw it. It took five people to get it back downstairs, she said. On the horse’s saddle was a poster with the players’ numbers.

Next to the horse stood a life-size cutout of Dale Evans (Mrs. Roy Rogers) in her younger years. Hannah and forward Kayla Pedersen posed for a picture with it. Joslyn, who hails from the Big Sky country of Montana, got into the spirit of things by donning a cowboy hat lent to her by a fan.

The first item for the live portion of the auction was a football signed by football coach Jim Harbaugh and star running back Toby Gerhart. Sarah served as the auctioneer, starting the bidding at $200. It eventually went for $700 at Sarah’s urging.

Next up was a colorful team quilt made by Beverly La Rocque, Lindy’s mother. Lindy, wearing an ice pack on her hip after being knocked to the floor by an intentional foul, did the auctioneering honors. Held up by Sarah and Jeanette, “the quilt is authentic, handmade,” Lindy said. “It has all our pretty faces on it”. She added that there would be only one this year. The bidding was so intense for last year’s quilt, which sold for $800, that her mother agreed to make another one for the same bid.

Dale Schroedel of San Francisco won this year’s quilt with a bid of $975. In the meantime, the players agreed to autograph it for her.

Guard Mel Murphy, who later sported an elf hat, auctioned off a game jersey worn and autographed by Jayne. Bidding started at $100 as Mel reminded the crowd that Jayne could be “the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft. She has a bright future.” Two bidders went back and forth, eventually raising the price to $700. At that point, head coach Tara VanDerveer stepped in and said she’d make sure that each of them got a Jayne jersey for $700.

A chance to sit on the Stanford bench when the team hosts UConn next December sold for $500. A Final Four chair from St. Louis, autographed by the players, went for $500.

As the auction wound down, Dana Stewart, fundraising chair, announced that Tara would host a second Piano and Pie afternoon ($75 a person) at her home next spring.

Hats off to everyone who helped make this auction such a success and so much fun by soliciting donations and organizing everything. All the proceeds go toward the team. Last year’s auction, for example, helped finance the team’s trip to Italy in September.

(See Don Anderson's Photo Gallery for a slideshow of auction photos.)