May 10, 2009

Thanks for the memories

Thanks for the memories – a retrospective on the 2008-09 season

Now that the 2008-09 season has ended, I find myself looking ahead to next season, trying to second-guess head coach Tara VanDerveer on the starting lineup, speculating about what the two recruits will contribute and wondering how individual players will change during the summer. I’m also hoping for successful rehabs for guards JJ Hones and Hannah Donaghe, who both had ACL surgery

In the meantime, fans can still enjoy videographer Bud Anderson’s entertaining videos from the season, and I’ve decided to touch on some season highlights from my reports.

Sept. 14, wine tasting. For the Fast Break Club, the season unofficially started with the annual wine tasting, just a few hours before the team was to have its first meeting. Everyone planned to be at the meeting except senior Morgan Clyburn, who was still in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Ike. In discussing the coming season, Tara summed it up as: “We can be big,” she said. “The team is looking very good. We’re gonna have fun.”

Those comments proved to be prescient, for the team did have fun, as evidenced by Bud’s videos as well as the 33-5 season record, an undefeated season at home and the second consecutive trip to the Final Four.

Oct. 18, open practice and barbecue. This event gave fans their first look at the team. Both recuperating from knee surgery, Jayne Appel and Michelle Harrison were limited in their activities, and Morgan (feet) didn’t participate. Ashley Cimino was away on a personal matter. After the three-hour practice, Tara introduced the players at the barbecue. One of them was senior Jillian Harmon, who had spent her summer playing with the New Zealand team at the Olympics. “I’d just like us to build on what we did last year and have fun along the way,” Jill said. (She got her wish.)

Nov. 1, exhibition against Chico State – W 123-39. Besides the lopsided score, the game was highlighted by 15 3-pointers, seven of them from freshman guard Lindy La Rocque. Everyone got into the act except for Morgan, who ultimately had to bow out of the season because of her foot surgery but who contributed in other ways, and Hannah, who was nursing a minor injury. The starting lineup was Jayne, Kayla Pedersen, Jeanette Pohlen, Jill and JJ.

Nov. 14, Minnesota – W 68-55. After an 87-41 exhibition win over Vanguard, this season opener “wasn’t pretty. It was a very physical game,” Tara said. Still, “I was excited about how hard our team played,” especially since JJ was sitting out with a stress reaction in her right foot. Rosalyn Gold-Onwude took her place in the starting lineup. This tent was a chance for fans to meet freshman Nneka Ogwumike. “The team is wonderful. I’m having fun,” she said.

Nov. 20, New Mexico – W 84-46. After a road loss to Baylor, 81-65, this was another night for 3-pointers, 12 of them, led by Lindy’s four. The game also marked JJ’s return to action, so she knocked in three 3’s. Afterward, it was freshman Sarah Boothe’s turn to meet the FBC. “I like being physical,” she said. Associate head coach Amy Tucker concurred, saying, “Sarah is by far our most physical player in practice,” and she’s learning a lot from Jayne and Kayla.

Nov. 23, Rutgers – W 81-47. Despite the lopsided win against an aggressive team and significant contributions from many players, this was a downer because JJ left the game with what turned out to be a torn ACL in her left knee, which also was injured during her freshman year. Afterward, instead of a tent, fans enjoyed the annual auction. Several players served as auctioneers, including Lindy, who oversaw the bidding for a team quilt made by her mother and a friend. It sold for $800, and another person bid $800 for another to be made by the two Las Vegas quilters.

Dec. 13, Fresno State – W 100-62. After spending their Thanksgiving vacation in Hawaii and notching wins over Purdue (78-70, OT), Iowa State (83-45) and Hawaii (83-54), the team came back for an easy win. The only suspense at the end was whether Stanford would hit the century mark. Ashley took care of that, hitting three free throws in the final 30 seconds. Freshman Grace Mashore was introduced at the tent afterward. She couldn’t play that day because of a pulled groin muscle, but she talked about how she had always wanted to go to Stanford. And now that she’s here, “I’m surprised every day. Everyone here is great at what they do,” she said.

Dec. 28, UC Davis – W 84-49. Easily completing its pre-conference schedule, the Cardinal returned from a grueling road trip (56-52 loss to Duke, 78-47 win over South Carolina and 79-69 OT loss to Tennessee) and a few days home for Christmas. Jeanette met with fans afterward. “We are absolutely ecstatic about Jeanette’s improvement over the summer,” Amy said. Her high school track coach worked with her on running and sprinting, and her family rebounded for her as she practiced shooting.

Jan. 8, Washington – W 112-35. After two wins in Arizona, the 77-point margin of victory set the record for both the Stanford women and Pac-10 women’s basketball. Among the highlights were the 47 points scored by the six bench players (Melanie Murphy had sprained big toes, Ashley had back spasms), who played more than half of the game. Grace came in with 5:40 left and promptly poured in a 3-pointer, pushing the Stanford tally to 100. She also scored the team’s final points, another 3-pointer, with 41 seconds left. Brandon Marcello, Stanford’s director of sports performance, talked at the FBC tent.

Jan. 10, Washington State – W 102-53. The starters got a lot of rest again as the bench helped the Cardinal coast to another 100+ points. Lindy talked to the FBC afterward, noting that she had committed to Stanford as a junior because “I wanted an academic type of school.” Her father, who is retired but who was a teacher and the boys basketball coach at Lindy’s high school in Las Vegas, was at the game with her sister, a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma. Her mother, a teacher, was home dogsitting. As for Lindy’s arcing 3-point shot, she’s just applying what she learned in physics class: “You need that high arc to get the ball in the basket.”

Jan. 29, USC – W 81-53. With the Cardinal back home after two wins in Oregon and a tough loss to Cal, 57-54, Kiyoe Hashimoto, assistant dean of admissions, told the FBC how hard it is to get into Stanford. She also stressed that Stanford doesn’t leave any slots open for athletes. Therefore, every athlete, no matter how talented, must first be admitted before joining a team. These standards make the team’s accomplishments even more impressive – just like that night’s win. Sarah had a career-high 16 points to go with six rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block. It was all the more special for her because her mother was there seeing her play in a Stanford uniform for the first time.

Feb. 1, UCLA – W 68-51. FBC’s post-game guest was Jayne, who was held to an uncharacteristic 6 points in the face of relentless hounding by UCLA. What was characteristic was her unselfish play, as she and Jeanette led the team with six assists each. Tara noted, “I see big improvements since we played Cal.” Nevertheless, “we don’t have a big margin for error. There are no gimmes.”

Feb. 14, Cal – W 58-41. After two road wins in Washington, the Cardinal showed little love for Cal on Valentine’s Day. It was a physical game that saw Jeanette head to the locker room for stitches on her forehead after a collision with Cal’s Natasha Vital. But it was Lindy who made what probably will be regarded as her signature play for the rest of her career. She dove under a Cal player to go after a loose ball and then – still on her stomach – pitched it to Jill, who went in for the easy layup. Also noteworthy was Ros’s tough defense against Alexis Gray-Lawson, who had scored 37 points in Cal’s earlier win. This time she tallied only 4.

Feb. 19, Oregon State – W 72-43. In the Cardinal’s 26th consecutive home victory, Tara had high praise for players like Jeanette, who wore a sweat band over her injured forehead, and Nneka, who wore a mask after sustaining a broken nose in practice. Hannah also was injured in practice on Jan. 18, sustaining a season-ending ACL tear. Videographer Bud entertained fans after the game, leading a round of a “Family Feud” Cardinal trivia game and showing how he creates a video, using Tara at the piano as an example.

Feb. 21, Oregon – W 68-49. After the game, the entire team joined in Fan Appreciation Day. It was highlighted by photographer Don Anderson’s winning the FBC’s Fan Spirit Award. After the team left, Tara praised the fans for sticking with a tough game. When the Ducks were ahead 12-6 about 7 minutes into the game, she pulled the starting lineup and sent in the top five bench players. Led by Sarah and Nneka, they went on a 25-2 run before Tara gradually returned the starters to action. Nevertheless, “I have great confidence in our team. They’re a great bunch of young women,” she said.

Feb. 23 – Shoot-a-thon. The annual fund-raiser was an informal event as the players went through their paces. Grace won the general competition with 269 points out of a possible 300. Sarah was second with 266. Lindy was the top 3-point shooter, knocking in 15 within 30 seconds. Kayla was the first to make a half-court shot. In a surprise move, Morgan took part and showed she hadn’t lost her touch. She tied for third (with Jill and Ashley) with 262 points and made 10 3-pointers.

March 5, Arizona – W 70-67. After two relatively easy wins in LA, this was a nail-biter. “We were fortunate. It was a tough matchup for us,” Tara said, crediting Arizona for improving since its earlier loss to the Cardinal. She also praised Jeanette, who led the team with a career-high 21 points, most of them coming from a career-high five of eight 3-pointers. Kayla contributed 16, including two 3-pointers. “Kayla’s on a roll,” the coach said, citing her back-to-back 20-point games against the LA schools. Afterward, Krista Rappahahn, ’06, talked about being a first-year med student at Stanford and playing on an intramural basketball team.

March 7, Arizona State – W 77-68. It was an afternoon of mixed emotions. The win vaulted Stanford into sole possession of the Pac-10 season title, gave it the No. 1 seed for the Pac-10 tournament and marked the 750th in Tara’s career. On the other hand, it was Jill and Morgan’s last appearance at Maples, so they were honored at Senior Day. KZSU announcer Jake Kelman and practice player Matt McEvoy also were recognized after the game. Before the game, Tara gave flowers to ASU’s seniors. Both Jill and Morgan were joined by their parents and their brothers. Morgan’s grandmother also was there. At the tent, the seniors’ teammates told fond stories about them. Tara lauded her victorious team, citing Jayne’s 29 points, 10 rebounds, one assist and two blocks and Jeanette’s 19 points, five rebounds, five assists, one block and one steal.

March 13-15, Pac-10 tournament in LA. The Cardinal notched three wins in three days, topping Arizona 77-46, UCLA 73-47 and USC 89-64 to capture the tournament crown. The wide margins of victory gave Tara a chance to rest the starters and allot valuable playing time to the other seven players. Preceding the Arizona game, the freshmen got their first taste of a Cardinal tournament send-off as the band, cheerleaders, tree and Dollies entertained the team in front of the Wilshire Grand Hotel and a few fans and family cheered. The freshmen reacted enthusiastically, jumping up and down and hugging each other.

The scene was repeated before the championship game against USC, but this time the crowd was much larger, augmented by the FBC. The veterans weren’t immune from the excitement, as Morgan and JJ joined the Dollies in a do-si-do and Jeanette and Jill performed their own dance.

The FBC had a get-together the previous night, enjoying refreshments at McKay’s restaurant in the Radisson Hotel next to the Galen Center. Led by grad Heather Owen, who is working in the sports development department, the event was attended by six other alumnae: Clare Bodensteiner, Vanessa Nygaard, Sarah Dimson, Tara Harrington, Katie Denny and Chelsea Trotter.

March 21 and 23, first round of the NCAA tournament at San Diego State. The Cardinal, seeded No. 2 in the Berkeley regional, again coasted to victory, defeating UC Santa Barbara 74-39 and San Diego State 77-49. Both games were marked by stiff defense. At one point in the UCSB game, the Stanford women, wearing white and stretching out their long arms, looked like a white picket fence separating their opponents from the basket.

After the second game, San Diego fans were asking, “Who was that masked woman?” The focus of their question was Nneka, who poured in 27 points and 13 rebounds, both career highs. Thanks to the strong inside game, the Cardinal didn’t have to worry about the lack of 3-point production – only one – a season low. This game also was preceded by the traditional send-off, where Cardinal fans were buzzing about Ball State University’s (Indiana) upset over defending national champion Tennessee the night before.

March 28 and 30, regional at Cal. It all looked so easy with the Cardinal prevailing 84-66 over Ohio State and 74-53 over Iowa State. Jayne led the way with 25 points in the first game. More than half of them came in the second half, which started with Stanford ahead only 37-35. As ESPN commentator Mary Murphy put it, Jayne put on her ballerina shoes to dance in the paint.

Jayne put on a really big dance against Iowa State, pouring in a school record 46 points, eclipsing the 44-point mark shared by Candice Wiggins, ’08, and Kate Starbird, ’97. She also recorded 16 rebounds, three blocks and two assists. (JJ missed these games and the rest of the events because she went to Spain with a Stanford international studies program. Hannah was absent because of her knee surgery, but she made the trip to the Final Four.)

FBC members filled one bus for the first game, joining others at a pre-game reception at Raleigh’s on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Two busloads went to the second game. On the way back, one group sang a hearty “Meet Me in St. Louis.” The Cardinal were going to the Final Four for the second time in a row.

April 2, send-off to St. Louis. Fans gathered outside Maples to cheer the team as it departed for the Final Four. After videographer Bud led the crowd in some cheers for a video, Tara praised the team for its accomplishments despite the spate of injuries and spoke of the upcoming challenge against UConn. She was optimistic, noting, “This is one of the best teams I’ve ever coached at Stanford.”

April 5, Final Four, UConn, L 83-64. It was a disappointing end to an exciting season as the Cardinal fell to undefeated UConn in the NCAA semi-final game. UConn would go on to win the title by defeating Louisville, which had knocked out Oklahoma and the Paris sisters. Still, the fans never wavered after giving the team a rousing send-off as it left the Millennium Hotel and headed to Scottrade Center for the game. While at the hotel, the fans and families also enjoyed a reception. The night before, Jayne was honored as a member of the State Farm Coaches’ All-America team – another of her honors for the season.

April 15, awards banquet. It was no surprise when Jayne was named most outstanding player at the annual event, attended by 240 people. Nor was it surprising that Jill was named most outstanding defensive player and Jeanette the most improved player. The team chose Sarah as winner of the Lizard Lung Award, a good-natured honor accorded to the most gullible freshmen. It was presented by Jeanette, who had won it last year.

The event honored the entire team as well as the people who work behind the scenes to help it succeed. “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 farther than this one did. Good things came out of our losses” to Tennessee, Duke, Baylor and Cal during the regular season. None of them made it to the Final Four. This team decided to “choose maturity in the face of adversity,” she said.

She listed some of the team’s accomplishments, including the most rebounds ever, topping last year’s record by 60 and averaging 13.3 more per game than its opponents. The team’s 716 assists were second in Stanford annals. This was the first time ever that the team had two 30-win seasons in a row. The final record was 33-5, plus the two exhibition wins.

After introducing her coaching staff – Amy, Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye -- Tara introduced each player, touting each one’s accomplishments, concluding with the two seniors. Even though Morgan couldn’t play because of her feet, she provided “a mature voice and served as a mentor to our younger players,” the coach said. As for Jill with her “hustle, grit and fearlessness, we will be hard-pressed to replace you in our starting lineup.”

Yes, that’s where the speculation starts. I won’t hazard any guesses for publication. I’ll leave that to those who know best, the coaches.