December 28, 2010

Surpassing expectations against Xavier

It’s safe to say that most people were expecting a close game when the Stanford women’s basketball team hosted Xavier on Dec. 28. After all, Stanford had beaten Xavier by only 2 points in March, thus keeping the Musketeers out of the Final Four in March. So surely Xavier would want revenge and would figure to be tough with the loss of only one starter from last season.

So much for expectations. Stanford routed Xavier 89-52 and outplayed the visitors in every aspect of the game. “This was a statement game for our team,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told the Fast Break Club after the game.

Maybe the short holiday break was good for the Cardinal. More likely, the team learned a lot from its two road losses against DePaul and Tennessee before Christmas. And surely the coaches had prepared the team well and had a good game plan. The Cardinal knew all of Xavier’s plays and followed the game plan, Tara said. “I liked how our team came out and was the aggressor,” she said.

“That game plan was on the money,” said Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, as she awaited the coaches’ post-game arrival.

Not to be overlooked in all the statistics is that this was Tara’s 801st career win. She reached the 800 mark at the University of San Francisco on Dec. 22. Winning 800 games “is an amazing accomplishment,” Eileen said.

Stanford fans will have a chance to celebrate that milestone in a big way during the Arizona State game on Jan. 8 when more of Tara’s colleagues and others are on campus. Many of them are already in or on their way to Miami for the football team’s Orange Bowl game on Jan. 3.

Besides the victory over Xavier, it was gratifying to see the entire team at Maples. Many fans had wondered if everyone would be able to get back because of the blizzard that struck the East Coast. Associate head coach Amy Tucker said after the post-game gathering that everyone had left early enough to miss the worst of the weather.

The starting lineup featured senior Kayla Pedersen, junior Nneka Ogwumike and freshman Chiney Ogwumike in the forward spots along with senior Jeanette Pohlen and junior Lindy La Rocque in the guard positions. By the end of the game, all 12 healthy players saw action, and nearly everyone scored. Even with most or all of the starters on the bench as time dwindled, the scoring margin grew. It went from +18 (46-28) at the 17:10 mark, to +21, +26, +30, +31 and finally +37 at the buzzer.

Some other telling stats: The Cardinal shot 49.3 percent for the game while holding Xavier to 30 percent. Stanford’s 3-point advantage was 38.1 percent (eight of 21) vs. 11.1 percent (two of 18). Contributing to the 3-point advantage were Jeanette and Lindy with two each, plus Kayla, junior guard Grace Mashore, senior forward Ashley Cimino and sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle with one each.

The Cardinal had 19 assists to Xavier’s four, 44 rebounds vs. 41, 13 steals vs. four, five blocks vs. two, and only eight turnovers vs. 17. Xavier had the advantage in fouls, 11 to Stanford’s 16, but Stanford made 13 of its 16 free-throw attempts for 81.3 percent, while Xavier made 14 of 23 for 60.9 percent.

Amy’s guests at the post-game gathering were Vanessa Nygaard, ’98, and her 6-month-old daughter, Emerson. Vanessa, who is coaching the girls basketball team at the private Windward School in Los Angeles, said the Cardinal “looked great today.”

“We’re nothing but pleased with this game,” Amy said. “This is a nice little tune-up” for the UConn game on Dec. 30. To continue its tune-up, the team was scheduled to watch video at 6:15 p.m. after the Xavier game.

December 25, 2010

Love fest at USF

With the crowd of 3,441 watching as the seconds ticked off the clock, red signs began popping up everywhere. “800” they said on one side. “Congratulations Tara – S” they said on the other. Thus with the Stanford women’s basketball team’s 100-45 victory over the University of San Francisco on Dec. 22, head coach Tara VanDerveer recorded the 800th win of her storied career.

The signs were a grace note on the accolades that USF gave the Cardinal coach. She also received the game ball and flowers from head coach Jennifer Azzi and associate head coach Katy Steding, both in their first year at USF. More significantly, they were in the first class that Tara recruited to Stanford after she arrived on the Farm in 1985. They went on to help Stanford win its first national championship in 1990. They also played for Tara on the undefeated U.S. Olympics team that won the gold in 1996.

Thus the gathering in the USF gym included a number of women who helped Tara rack up her 800 wins. Besides Jennifer, Katy and the present Cardinal team, they included her two assistant coaches, Stanford graduates Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye.

Then there was the woman who was associated with Tara the longest time on the road to 800 – associate head coach Amy Tucker. She played for Ohio State for two of Tara’s five years as head coach there, was a graduate assistant coach for her for a year and an assistant coach there for another year. When Tara left Ohio State for Stanford in 1985, Amy was hired as an assistant coach.

That tie-in was indirectly symbolized in the bottled water given to the three dozen Stanford fans who rode the booster bus to San Francisco. Pasted on each one was a label saying, “800 … 800 … 800 -- A toast to Tara’s 800th win!! – Cheers – Amy Tucker Fan Club.” Bus riders also were treated to brownies made by Marian Cortesi.

The cheers for Tara started as soon as she walked into the gym prior to the players’ coming in. She and Jennifer spent a long time talking on the sidelines as photographers gathered around them taking pictures.

Fans were briefly concerned upon realizing that freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike wasn’t in uniform. It was later learned that she had tweaked her ankle in practice that morning, so she was being held out as a precaution. She seemed to have no trouble high-fiving everyone on the bench every time one of her teammates made a 3-pointer.

She made that high-five trip along the bench 11 times, thanks to four 3’s by freshman guard Sara James, two by senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and one each by junior guards Lindy La Rocque and Grace Mashore, freshman guard Toni Kokenis, and sophomore forwards Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela Ruef.

Jeanette, Lindy, Joslyn, senior forward Kayla Pedersen and junior forward Nneka Ogwumike started the game, but Tara substituted fairly often. By the end of the game, all 11 available players had seen at least seven minutes of action and all 11 scored. Conversely, no one played more than 24 minutes (Kayla, Sara).

Kayla led all scorers with 16 points plus a career-high 20 rebounds. It seemed as if every time the ball missed the basket, she was there to rebound it or, better yet, to score if it was an offensive rebound. Nneka, Joslyn and Sara scored 14 points each. Lindy led the team in assists with eight. She also nailed the 3 that pushed the score to 100.

After receiving the game ball and flowers, Tara had some brief remarks. “800 is a lot of games,” she said, adding, “USF, you have a great coach. Jennifer and Katy were a big part of those wins.” The USF website says they accounted for 101 of them.

“I love coaching our team” and working with the coaches and administration at Stanford, Tara said. She then received hugs from each of her present players, who were waving the red signs.

Those 800 wins pay tribute to not only Tara’s prowess as a coach but also her ability to inspire and lead young women. Alumnae who played for her at Stanford have gone on to successful careers, some in professional basketball and/or coaching. Moreover, they have made significant contributions to their communities by becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals as well as community leaders and volunteers. Many credit her as their greatest inspiration.

Through it all, Tara maintains a low-key public persona. She’s always quick to praise opposing teams and coaches and to thank fans for their support. After the USF game, she went to the USF locker room to encourage the players, who never gave up even when greatly outmatched by Stanford. After all, Stanford wasn’t chalking up very many wins until she arrived.

Now look at the record – 800 and counting. Congratulations, Tara!

December 21, 2010

Cheering from afar

Although they were some 2,000 miles from Knoxville, Tenn., on Sunday, Dec. 19, the 30 or so fans at Mike’s Cafe in Menlo Park did their best to cheer on the Stanford women’s basketball team in its game against Tennessee.

The good vibes almost worked as the Cardinal tied the game at 70-70 at the closing buzzer, but the tide turned in the five-minute overtime, ending in an 82-72 win for the Lady Vols.

Tennessee’s win also deprived head coach Tara VanDerveer of her 800th coaching victory. However, fans can take consolation in the possibility that they can be there in person to see Tara reach that milestone at USF on Dec. 22.

This was the first FBC viewing party at Mike’s, which is on Middlefield Road just north of Willow Road. Some may recall that it had been Late for the Train restaurant.

Mike’s offers a varied menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, main courses, desserts and drinks. Fans who bought a second drink received their first drink for free. The Stanford group occupied tables at the far end of the room, where several TVs were tuned to the game. The weather cooperated with a welcome break in the rain.

Once again the starting lineup changed. There were the usuals – senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and three forwards: senior Kayla Pedersen, junior Nneka Ogwumike and freshman Chiney Ogwumike – plus a new starter, junior guard Lindy La Rocque. It was good to see Kayla back in action after she had missed the De Paul game while recovering from hurting her head in the Fresno State game. Her leadership and steadiness were missed in the 20-point loss at De Paul on Dec. 16.

By the end of the game, only eight of the 12 Stanford players saw action. Besides the starting five, they included freshman guard Toni Kokenis, sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle and redshirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe. Senior forward Ashley Cimino did the high-five honors after the eight 3-pointers – six by Jeanette and one each by Joslyn and Kayla.

Several fans at Mike’s said they were recording the game. I was among them, so I watched it after I got home that evening. It was easier to hear the commentators and convenient to fast-forward through the commercials.

It also gave me a second chance to watch the action and take heart. The team was playing in front of a crowd of more than 14,000 -- most of them knew all the words to “Rocky Top” -- yet the Cardinal managed to come from behind and almost pull out the win. It was a good learning experience that will serve the team well as the season continues.

December 12, 2010

Doggone fun for everyone but Fresno

It was the annual Dog Lovers Day as the Stanford women’s basketball team hosted the Fresno State Bulldogs on Dec. 12, and all the dogs shone except for the visitors, who lost 77-40.

Honoring Humane Society Silicon Valley, the afternoon was devoted to Cardinal dogs. Fans and players submitted photos of their favorite canines, which were shown on the video board. Then there were some hilarious videos of dogs and videos of the coaches and some staffers morphing into dogs. To top it all off, agility dogs from ACE Dog Sports made their third annual appearance at halftime. Dogs ranging in size from tiny Molly, a teacup poodle, to Zoe, a Great Dane, showed their stuff leaping hurdles and going through tunnels – all to the delight of the crowd.

The crowd also was delighted with the agility of the team, especially the Ogwumike sisters, who combined for 35 points and 18 rebounds. Freshman Chiney had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the first double-double of her college career, while junior Nneka had 17 points and five rebounds. Both forwards started, along with senior forward Kayla Pedersen, senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and freshman guard Toni Kokenis.

Jeanette passed a milestone in her career, becoming the 32nd Cardinal to score 1,000 points. She hit that mark in the first half and finished the game with 15 points, one rebound, three assists and five steals.

All 12 healthy players got into the game, and 10 of them had double minutes, head coach Tara VanDerveer told the Fast Break Club after the game. Ten of them scored, too.

“It’s really exciting to see so many people play and do so well,” she said while being interviewed by Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, ’10, in front of the Maples crowd right after the game. Ros, a standout defensive player for the Cardinal, was providing color commentary for KZSU radio coverage of the game. Other recent alumnae at the game were Candice Wiggins, ’08, and Morgan Clyburn, ’09. Morgan had conducted a basketball clinic for youngsters in the practice facility before the game.

Tara neared another major milestone herself, notching the 799th win of her college coaching career. “I really try to appreciate each game” and each team, she told the FBC.

Guests at the FBC gathering were the two sophomores, forwards Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle. Joslyn said she spent the summer at home in Montana, where she worked on her perimeter game. Mikaela attended summer school along with several teammates, so “we were able to work together” and play pick-up games nearly every day, she said. She and four teammates also played pro-am games at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco.

Both players said they don’t especially enjoy defending against smaller, faster guards. “I try to pretend I’m fast,” Mikaela said. On the other hand, “we have an advantage because we’re taller,” Joslyn said. She and Mikaela are both 6’3”.

Both said they’re glad to have final exams behind them. “It takes a lot out of you,” Joslyn said. The coaches scheduled practices around exams, but “school comes first,” she said.

She took her finals in sociology, a foreign language and earth systems. Mikaela’s finals were in physics, French, computer science and economics.

Now the team faces four more tough tests this month, playing DePaul and Tennessee on the road before Christmas and playing Xavier and UConn at home after Christmas. “We’ve been doing a cumulative scouting” to prepare for those teams, Mikaela said.

Post defense has been an emphasis, associate head coach Amy Tucker said. “We thought we might prepare a little early,” she said.

After the two-week layoff for dead week and finals, “it was fun to get out and play,” Tara said. “I thought we played very well defensively.”

She praised several players along with assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey, who scouted Fresno. Even though the three freshmen – Chiney plus guards Toni Kokenis and Sara James – made some mistakes, as can be expected, they’re “further along than I thought they’d be” at this point, Tara said.

Overall, “I’m impressed with this team’s maturity and their cohesiveness.” The players show “great consideration and support” for each other, she said.

She ended by wishing everyone happy holidays.

November 30, 2010

Getting acquainted with Sara

Freshman guard Sara James has started to make her mark on the Stanford women’s basketball team by coming off the bench and doing whatever she can to help the Cardinal chalk up another win.

During the 93-78 victory over the University of Texas on Nov. 28, for example, she scored 5 points in four minutes, thanks to one 2-pointer and one 3-pointer. She also managed to pick up two fouls, perhaps a testament to her increasingly tough defense.

Another side of Sara emerged when she spoke to the Fast Break Club after the game. Unlike her fellow freshman, forward Chiney Ogwumike, who had spoken to the FBC two days earlier, “Sara’s a little more shy,” associate head coach Amy Tucker said as she introduced her. Nevertheless, “Sara was a star” when her Oak Ridge High School team notched an upset win in the state basketball championship game last year.

Sara, who hails from El Dorado Hills, east of Sacramento, has two older brothers. One is a practice player at UCLA, and the other went to UC Davis. Besides her parents, the James family includes Sadie, a terrier mix that came from the SPCA. Sadie attended some of the games at Kezar Pavilion this past summer when Sara and four Stanford teammates played in the pro-am league.

“Stanford was always my first choice” for college, Sara said, but she kept Cal, Gonzaga and perhaps Arizona State in mind “just in case” she wasn’t accepted at Stanford.

“Things are going well at the Farm,” she said. She hasn’t decided on a major, but in the meantime, she’s taking psychology, calculus and humanities classes. As a freshman, she’s had to make “a lot of adjustments at the same time” such as being away from home and keeping up with classes and practice.

She likes the physical play. “It’s a lot more fun at this level,” she said. She also likes bike riding, running and being outside in addition to working on her 3-point shot.

When Sara attended Stanford’s summer basketball camp, the coaches told her she needed to be a 3-point shooter in order to fit into the program. “More than anyone else, she got it,” Amy said. She went home and worked on that shot. “She is a relentless worker.”

“Sara is going to make a difference in our program based on her work ethic for sure,” Amy said.

Commenting on the game, Amy said that fouls “really changed the flow of the game.” She was referring to times like the latter minutes of the first half when senior forward Kayla Pedersen, senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and junior forward Nneka Ogwumike – the Big Three – were on the bench with two fouls each. Texas started to close the scoring gap, but the less-experienced players on the floor still kept the margin at 49-39 to close the half.

“Toni did a phenomenal job,” Amy said, referring to freshman point guard Toni Kokenis. “Our zone defense helped us,” she said. In addition, red-shirt sophomore forward Sarah Boothe “can make a difference for us.”

The game was “a coming-out party for Toni,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer, adding that Sarah, Nneka and freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike “got that inside game going.”

Toni was another player who attended the Stanford summer camp. When she was a sophomore and had made the Illinois all-state team, Amy sent her a congratulatory letter. “That was a good letter,” Tara said.

The coach praised several players including Chiney, “a very intelligent young woman,” and Kayla – “We call her the rock. She’s really a great helper.”

Overall, this is “a great young group,” she said. “This was a great game for us. … A lot of different people went in there and helped us.” She noted that one of the team’s strengths is its unselfishness. The players are glad when things go well for their teammates.

One of its weaknesses is that several players are young and inexperienced. However, “we’re the type of team where we want to be good at the end. … This is a really fun team to go to practice with every day,” as were the teams preceding it, Tara said.

Besides the winning score, the game had several unique factors, starting with the fact that Stanford was ahead 2-0 before the clock started running. Texas was assessed with an administrative technical foul because it had failed to turn in its starting lineup by 10 minutes before the game’s start. Hence, Kayla went to the free-throw line and made both attempts.

Several players’ families were in the stands. They included Jeanette’s mother, who was wearing a white T-shirt with a Stanford logo on the front and Jeanette’s number, 23, in sparkles on the back.

Sitting courtside near the family section were two illustrious alumnae – center Jayne Appel, ’10, and guard Candice Wiggins, ’08. The fans gave them a prolonged standing ovation when they were introduced later in the game. During the half, Candice presented basketballs autographed by Tara to the grade-school winners of the creative writing contest sponsored by Stanford women’s basketball. She also was the guest of TV broadcasters Mary Murphy and Jim Watson for part of the second half.

Shortly before the end of the first half, the entire Stanford football team was accorded a standing ovation as the players paraded onto the floor and displayed the Axe trophy, symbolic of the team’s victory over arch-rival Cal during the season. The 11-1 Cardinal had finished the regular season at home the previous day by shutting out Oregon State 38-0.

And in a show of class, when Chiney fouled out with 1:14 left in the game, she went over to the Texas bench and hugged head coach Gail Goestenkors. Since Chiney and sister Nneka are from Houston, it’s likely that Gail had them high on her recruiting wish list.

November 27, 2010

Cardinal outshoots the Gamecocks

"It’s fun to see different people stepping up,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told the Fast Break Club after the Stanford women’s basketball team recorded a 70-32 victory over South Carolina on Nov. 26, the day after the team had a Jimmy V’s Thanksgiving dinner with other athletes in Dallmar Court.

All 12 healthy players got into the game, and no one played more 30 minutes. The starting lineup featured senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and four forwards, one from each class -- senior Kayla Pedersen, junior Nneka Ogwumike, sophomore Joslyn Tinkle and freshman Chiney Ogwumike. Tara substituted rather freely. With 4:25 to go in the game and the score at 64-28, the last of the starters was on the bench.

“A lot of different people are getting looks,” Tara said. She hasn’t decided which combinations work best together. “It’s a puzzle to put together.”

In this game, “our plan was to go inside,” thus opening opportunities on the perimeter. The strategy worked as the Cardinal made eight of 19 3-point shots, or 42.1 percent. Jeanette sank four 3s, Joslyn had two, and Kayla and freshman guard Sara James had one each.

The post-game session gave the FBC a chance to meet Chiney. “This is not a shy one,” associate head coach Amy Tucker said as she introduced the freshman. “I love Stanford so far. It’s great,” Chiney said. Commenting on the game, she said, “You can see how much we’ve been practicing.”

Fans also may have seen that “I have somebody who looks just like me on the team,” she said, referring to her older sister, Nneka. She also noted that the two sisters had a large family contingent at the game, including their mother, two younger sisters and several others.

Chiney didn’t start playing basketball until she was about 10 years old, after Nneka took up the game and got better and better. “We played in the driveway.”

She hasn’t decided on a major, but she’s considering a combination law-business degree program like the one that assistant coach Kate Paye earned at Stanford. International relations and communications are other possibilities.

She chose Stanford after asking herself, “What’s the best combination of athletics and academics? That was an easy decision.”

One of the big differences she has seen between the high school and college game is that in high school one person can set the tone, while “in college it takes five people to set the tone of the game. We call it tag team.”

She and Nneka played together in high school, but now that Nneka has two years of college experience, “she has completely developed into someone I don’t even know,” Chiney said, citing her sister’s maturity and experience. Still “we have protective instincts for each other,” and Chiney trusts Nneka’s advice.

“She’s something else, isn’t she?" Amy said as she excused Chiney. “Nneka is quite the little coach with Chiney.” As for the game, “I was happy to see our offense get going. Everyone did something well,” she said.

Other guests at the FBC gathering included South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley and assistant coach Nikki McCray, who both were on the 1996 gold-medal winning Olympics team coached by Tara. “I’ve learned the most basketball from Tara,” Dawn said, adding that she was pleased that “we got a warm reception” from the Stanford fans.

Also speaking highly of Tara were Ruthie Bolton, another player on the 1996 Olympics team and a former professional player; and Edna Campbell, a former professional player who coaches the varsity girls basketball team at a Sacramento high school. Ruthie was there with her 18-month-old daughter.

Tara concluded the session by praising her team’s defense and the leadership of the Big Three – Jeanette, Kayla and Nneka – who accounted for 35 of the team’s 70 points.

November 20, 2010

First & Main comes through with Utah game

Undaunted by Friday night traffic, the oncoming rain and a 6 p.m. tipoff, about 30 fans of Stanford women’s basketball gathered at the First & Main sports bar in Los Altos to watch their team defeat the University of Utah 62-53 on Nov. 19.

And undaunted by the absence of junior forward Nneka Ogwumike and a sloppy first half, other players stepped up to clinch the win. Nneka was in uniform but did not play for undisclosed reasons. Fans in Los Altos noted that two fingers were taped together.

Red-shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe started in Nneka’s place, along with senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, senior forward Kayla Pedersen, sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle and freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike.

The gathering at First & Main was a last-minute affair arranged by Cardinal fan AndrĂ© Lalana. Although the game was televised by the Mountain Network, it wasn’t available in the Bay Area except to Direct TV customers. Luckily, First & Main is one of them. Consequently, the fans there got to watch the game in comfort while enjoying their dinner and drinks.

There were lots of groans after missed opportunities during the first half and many more cheers in the second half as Jeanette, Kayla and teammates began to take over. Still, people gave the young Utes credit for staying in close range.

Even though the fans wanted Stanford to win, they cheered loudly for starting Utes forward Michelle Harrison, who played 36 minutes. Her 14 points, including four 3’s, led her team in scoring.

Michelle had worn the Stanford uniform with the number 5 for the past four years and graduated in June, but she had a year of eligibility left after missing a year with a torn ACL. The Utah resident was granted a waiver to play that final year while in graduate school at Utah, and 5 is still on her uniform.

Jeanette led the Cardinal scoring with 19, followed by Kayla with 13. The TV announcers noted that when Kayla scored her 10th and 11th points on a 2-point basket, she moved into the ranks of Stanford’s top 10 all-time scorers.

The game ended with Kayla holding the ball and Michelle guarding her as the final seconds ticked off. The two hugged when the final buzzer sounded. There were more hugs all around as the two teams exchanged their traditional greetings.

Speaking immediately after the game, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said, “This is a great win for our team.” She praised the younger team members who were able to record more playing time than they had against Rutgers. Tara had said after that game that she wanted to get more players into the mix and not rely so heavily on the Big Three of Kayla, Jeanette and Nneka.

She realized that goal against Utah as Chiney, Sarah, Joslyn, sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef, junior guard Lindy La Rocque and freshman guards Sara James and Toni Kokenis all had a chance to contribute.

November 14, 2010

Cardinal prevails over Scarlet

“This is a really good first game for us,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told fans after the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 63-50 in Maples Pavilion on Nov. 14.

“For freshmen, this first game is an eye-opener,” she said, indicating that she was pleased with them. Forward Chiney Ogwumike had 9 points and 12 rebounds in 21 minutes. Guard Toni Kokenis added 2 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes, while guard Sara James saw two minutes of action.

“Rutgers is an excellent opponent for us,” Tara said. “This was not an easy game. We had to battle, (but) our team will learn from it.”

One fan pointed out that Stanford went for a long time with no fouls (none in the first half and only five for the game). “I really felt that we were not aggressive enough,” the coach said, adding the caveat that she doesn’t want too many fouls from her players. She did note that the team “became more aggressive in the second half” after leading by only three points, 32-29, at the end of the first half.

Tara was joined by senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, who is “very special for our team,” Tara said. She praised Jeanette’s “leadership skills that are way off the charts. … She’s vocal. She commands the respect of her teammates.”

“We really appreciate all your support,” Jeanette told the fans. Speaking of the team, she said, “We have so many people who can contribute on offense,” so she just tries to look for who’s open. In the meantime, “we’re trying to focus on defense.”

Jeanette said that she and many of her teammates worked on their skills at summer school. Then in the month between the summer and fall terms, she went home and worked with the speed coach and the trainer who had helped her so much between her freshman and sophomore years.

When she has free time, “First I study,” she said. “We watch a lot of movies” or go out to dinner, keeping things fun and light. The players like to hang out together.

As for the Dec. 30 game against UConn, which handed Stanford its only two losses last season, including the NCAA championship game in April, “We will take that as it comes,” Jeanette said. “Our coaches will have us prepared.”

The starting lineup featured Jeanette at the point along with four forwards: senior Kayla Pedersen, junior Nneka Ogwumike, sophomore Joslyn Tinkle and Chiney. Together they scored 59 of the team’s 63 points. Jeanette, Kayla and Nneka – the Big Three and the team’s co-captains – played the entire game. Nneka led the team in scoring with 20 points, followed by Kayla with 13, Joslyn with 10, Chiney with 9 and Jeanette with 7. Chiney’s 12 rebounds led the team, while Jeanette dished out a team-high eight assists.

The band and Tree were there along with two flag-carrying men. There also was a fairly good turnout of students, who perhaps were lured by the free tank tops and Jimmy V’s barbecue given to the first arrivals at the student entrance. Most of the students sat behind the north basket. As indicated by two sign-waving students in the front row, it seems that one of the freshmen already has a fan club. One of the homemade signs said, “Toni Kokenis – I love you.”

During the half, the crowd of more than 5,800 honored members of the men’s volleyball and women’s tennis teams, both of which were 2010 national champions. After entertainment by the Cardinal Calypso Players and their steel drums, announcer Betty Ann Boeving reported that the women’s soccer team had won its second round of the NCAA tournament at home that afternoon.

As the game wound down, Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, stood at the exit near the home bench, ready to hand out victory balls for the players to toss into the stands. In the meantime, she was petting a campus policeman’s tail-wagging black Labrador retriever. Before long, the dog was on her back for a belly rub. Not much aggression there.

Several players’ parents were in the stands. They included forward Sarah Boothe’s parents, who had come from the Chicago area and marveled at the weekend’s wonderfully balmy weather as they entered Maples. Undoubtedly Joslyn’s father, Wayne, also liked the contrast in climate between Stanford and the University of Montana, where he coaches the men’s basketball team.

Tara acknowledged the presence of all the parents, noting that “Jeanette’s mom and dad have traveled all over the world” to follow her basketball career.

The final question for Tara focused on what it’s like to coach the Ogwumike sisters. Tara said there are good dynamics between them, and “they’re wonderful young women to coach.” No doubt that comment could apply to the entire team.

November 11, 2010

Mostly harmonious final tune-up

There’s a lot to be learned from the Stanford women’s basketball team’s two exhibition games this week. Most of it is quite encouraging, as evidenced by the team’s 100-52 win over UC San Diego on Nov. 9.

Others have already reported well on the UCSD game’s many highlights, such as the strong performance by the three freshmen and the luxuriously versatile depth at the forward spots.

So just to summarize: Head coach Tara VanDerveer’s starting lineup featured the Big Three – senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, senior forward Kayla Pedersen and junior forward Nneka Ogwumike – along with red-shirt sophomore forward Sarah Boothe and freshman guard Toni Kokenis. Toni scored the Cardinal’s first two points after stealing the ball.

After being held out of the Vanguard exhibition game because of a sore ankle, Nneka was used sparingly but still contributed eight points, three rebounds and one block in 13 minutes. Her younger sister, freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike, came off the bench to lead the stat sheet with 24 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one block in 23 minutes. Fans are eager to see what happens when Nneka is back to full speed and the sisters are teamed up on the floor.

Kayla and Jeanette, though playing only 20 minutes each, are looking better than ever. Neither does any showboating. Both play with determination and intelligence. Kayla sometimes seems unstoppable, while Jeanette has become smooth as silk, playing with little wasted motion.

The defense looked better than it had against Vanguard. UCSD didn’t get its first basket until almost five minutes into the game. On the other hand, Vanguard limited the Cardinal to just three 3’s (one from Jeanette, two from Kayla), but it had no answer for the taller, stronger front court. Moreover, the forwards were generous in passing the ball, dealing out 16 of the team’s 23 assists.

With Stanford comfortably ahead 47-17 in the first half, Tara turned the floor over to the three freshmen – Toni, Chiney and guard Sara James -- along with the two sophomores – forwards Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela Ruef -- who closed it out with the score at 51-20.

All 12 healthy players got into the game with most making solid contributions. It’ll be interesting to see how the starting lineup and player rotation evolve during the season, when the Cardinal will face some tough contenders.

While the Vanguard exhibition had been no frills with none of the usual supporting student cast, this one took on a more seasonal flavor with the addition of the band, Tree and Dollies. The scoreboard, though still set for volleyball, added a video feed with real-time action and replays. Betty Ann Boeving was back at the mike to provide her well-balanced, skillful announcing.

For those with fond memories of the past 36-2 season, a halftime video of 2009-10 highlights was awe-inspiring, especially the repeat of Jeanette’s remarkable 4.4-second dash across the court to defeat Xavier and send the Cardinal to the Final Four for the third consecutive year.

A key player on that team, graduated guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, was seen chatting with Eileen Roche, director of women’s basketball operations, and others before the game. I later learned that she provided color commentary for the video feed. She reportedly was practicing for the national coverage she’ll be doing for ESPN this season.

Next up: An it-counts-on-the-record encounter with Rutgers in Maples at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14.

November 6, 2010

Let the fun begin

Sure, it was only an exhibition game, the first outing of the 2010-11 season, but the Stanford women’s basketball team gave its fans lots to cheer for and lots to look forward to as it defeated Vanguard 116-65 at Maples Pavilion.

There was some trepidation at first because junior forward Nneka Ogwumike didn’t play. She had a sore left ankle and was kept out of the game as a precautionary measure, according to the sports information department.

But have no fear. Younger sister Chiney Ogwumike started in her place and contributed 24 points and a team-high 16 rebounds to go with one assist, two blocks and no fouls in her 25-minute freshman debut. In fact, she had a double-double just in the first half with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

Coming off the bench, the other two freshmen also had auspicious debuts. Guard Sara James scored 16 points – including four 3’s – to go with three rebounds and four assists in her 21 minutes. Fellow guard Toni Kokenis, a speedster who ably filled in at the point, scored 4 points, all on free throws, to go with two assists and two steals in 20 minutes.

The starting lineup featured four forwards -- red-shirt sophomore Sarah Boothe at center plus sophomore Joslyn Tinkle, Chiney and senior Kayla Pedersen – with senior Jeanette Pohlen at the point. Kayla opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, followed by 2 points from Chiney. All five starters scored in double figures, led by Kayla with 25 points, followed by Chiney with 24, Jeanette with 16, and Joslyn and Sarah with 10 each.

Toni was first off the bench, subbing for Joslyn at 17:31 in the first half. Sara was next at 14:35. Head coach Tara VanDerveer substituted rather freely throughout the game so that no one played more than 27 minutes (Sarah).

By the end of the game, every healthy player had seen action. Even junior guard Lindy La Rocque got in for six minutes. That was a good sign because she had been hampered by a foot problem and had just been cleared to practice, according to the sports information departhment. Fellow guard Hannah Donaghe, senior, is out for the season after a recent ACL injury. Fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy, rehabbing her knee after surgery in the spring, is expected to return later this season.

When the team huddled before the second half, it was Mel who was exhorting her teammates. In the meantime, Hannah has inherited the fun duty of high-fiving the bench whenever a teammate scores a 3. She was kept plenty busy as the Cardinal poured in 14 3’s – four each from Jeanette and Sara, two each from Kayla and sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef, and one each from Joslyn and senior forward Ashley Cimino.

It was one of Sara’s 3’s that pushed the Stanford score to the century mark with about 6 minutes to go in the second half. Mikaela had one of her best Stanford games with 7 points, 11 rebounds (second on the team), two assists and two steals.

On the other hand, Vanguard had 16 3’s, in part because its players had a hard time getting past the much taller Stanford women to get to the basket. Rebounding also was a problem for the Lions as the Stanford trees grabbed 67 rebounds, as opposed to Vanguard’s 27.

Because it was an exhibition game, there were no support groups like the band, cheerleaders, Dollies or Tree. “It’s All Right” came through as a recording.

One slight difference from last year is the way the players lined up for the National Anthem. Instead of standing in a line in front of the bench, they lined up by height – from 6’5” Sarah to 5’8” Lindy and then the coaches -- across the court at the free-throw line.

During the first half, the team was cheered by three recent alumni – Jayne Appel and JJ Hones, both ’10, and Morgan Clyburn, ’09 -- who sat in the front row just behind the Vanguard basket. About midway through the half they were joined by Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who completed her fifth year last year. Jayne’s parents sat behind them. After speaking to and signing autographs for several youngsters and adults who gathered around them at the half, the former players left, but Jayne’s parents stayed.

Next up: UC San Diego in another exhibition Nov. 9. Then for-real competition starts with the Cardinal hosting Rutgers on Nov. 14.

October 31, 2010

Great things are in store

What a difference three weeks make! When the Stanford women’s basketball team had its first open practice on Oct. 9, it was only their third full practice. Consequently, drills dominated the session.

Then on Oct. 30, the team had another open practice, followed by a Fast Break Club barbecue. With only a week to go before the first exhibition game, this practice looked more like a real game, starting with a 12-minute stretching session led by strength and conditioning coach Devan McConnell. In the meantime, a maintenance man repaired the unstrung net at the south end of the court.

After a short meeting with head coach Tara VanDerveer at the midcourt circle, the players formed the line that they’ll use to enter the court, led by senior forward Kayla Pedersen. They immediately engaged in an intricate pregame drill for passing, layups and 3-point shots.

The guards, joined by Kayla and sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef, then met at one end of the court to work on 3-pointers with assistant coach Kate Paye, while the other forwards met with Tara, associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey. Joined by some male practice players, they worked mainly on layups.

Senior guard Hannah Donaghe, a brace on her left leg, sat out the practice. She’s lost for the season after tearing her ACL in practice earlier in the month, Tara said at the barbecue. Fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy, recovering from knee surgery after last season, helped out wherever she could, mostly by rebounding when her teammates took practice shots. She’s expected to return in January.

Junior guard Lindy La Rocque and senior forward Ashley Cimino took part in the warmups and drills but not the scrimmages. Both have had foot problems, but it is hoped that Ashley will be ready next week and Lindy after that, Tara said.

Forty minutes into the practice, the team switched their jerseys to the white side while nine male practice players – all Stanford students – were in red. They were coached by Bobbie, while the other three coaches worked with the women. The rest of the practice was filled with five 10-minute scrimmages between the men and women. They played with three referees and the 30-second shot clock.

The starting lineup for the first scrimmage included the returning starters from last season’s 36-2 team -- Kayla, senior guard Jeanette Pohlen at the point and junior forward Nneka Ogwumike – along with red-shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe and sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle. Jeanette started the scoring with a 3. In the meantime, the others either rode the exercise bikes or worked on various skills in pairs.

At the first timeout, two of the freshmen – guard Toni Kokenis and forward Chiney Ogwumike – replaced Sarah and Joslyn. These seven players worked in various combinations and ended the 10-minute session on top 22-9. Their play was marked by speed and good defense against the fast, athletic men.

The second session started with Jeanette, Sarah, Nneka, Mikaela and freshman guard Sara James. Other players, including junior guard Grace Mashore, subbed in and out. Again the defense was good, but offensive rebounds were a problem. Still, the women prevailed 25-15.

Session three starters were Jeanette, Nneka, Chiney, Toni and Kayla. All of the others saw action during the 10 minutes, which were marked by good sharing. Still, the men eked out a 16-15 win.

The men also scored 16 in the fourth session, while the women produced only 11 points. The starting five for this round were Mikaela, Nneka, Sarah, Jeanette and Sara, but everyone else got in.

Things began getting sloppy in the fourth and fifth sessions, probably as fatigue set in. Sarah, Joslyn, Mikaela, Grace and Sara were the starters in the fifth session, but again, others subbed in and out. The score ended 14-9 in the men’s favor.

After the scrimmages, the women gathered with the coaches and staff at center court, where Tara spoke for about five minutes. Then they headed to the locker room. The last players to leave were Kayla and Nneka, who took a few more practice shots.

More than 100 fans were on hand for the practice. By the time the barbecue began at Jimmy V’s, the crowd had grown much larger. While the fans enjoyed chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs or veggie burgers to go with all the trimmings and pasta as well as soft drinks and dessert, Tara introduced the players. (They were precluded from dining with the fans because of NCAA rules, she said.)

She started with Mel, the team’s eldest. Her rehab has progressed to running on the Alter G (anti-gravity treadmill), so it’s hoped that when Pac-10 play starts in January, “Mel will be ready,” Tara said.

Lamenting the loss of Hannah because of the ACL injury, Tara said, “We hate those three letters.” She asked Hannah if she had found the Forrest Gump shirt she wants to wear for Halloween because he wore leg braces as a kid.

Turning to Jeanette, Tara said that she had thought that the guard showed tremendous improvement between her freshman and sophomore years. “Wrong,” Tara said. She’s even better in her senior year, showing great leadership and maturity to go with her basketball skills. (That should give Cardinal opponents something to worry about.)

Tara said she’s looking forward to Ashley’s return to action for the first game.

As for Kayla, “she’s one of the most dedicated and steady players” on the team, Tara said, adding that it was helpful for Kayla to attend summer school. (Also in summer school were the three freshmen plus Nneka, Mikaela and Sarah.) Kayla is one of the team’s captains, along with Jeanette and Nneka.

Despite the foot problem, Lindy has been working hard, Tara said, and should be ready for action soon.

Grace worked hard during the summer and has done well in practice, Tara said. “I’m very impressed with how our whole team has been practicing,” she said.

To Nneka she said, “You were too nice to the guys today, Nneka.” She noted that Nneka has been tutoring her younger sister, Chiney, and has become a leader, part of the Big Three along with Jeanette and Kayla. “Nneka is a force in there,” Tara said.

Sarah, who missed last season after foot surgery but who practiced during the latter part of the season, is “in great shape,” Tara said. “She’s a big presence inside,” the coach said of the 6’5” post player. She’ll help to fill the void left by the graduated Jayne Appel.

Mikaela, who also had a good summer, can play in either the 3 or 4 spots. This particular day wasn’t her best, but “she’s been practicing extremely well,” Tara said.

Joslyn, who worked hard and slimmed down during her summer at home in Montana, missed some practices because of an ankle sprain, but she’s versatile and smart, the coach said.

Turning to the three freshmen, Tara said they’re doing well and have adjusted well to the pace of the college game. Their teammates have helped them.

Sara has been working with Kate to learn the 2 spot. She’s a good rebounder, and it’s hoped she can become as good a defender as the graduated Rosalyn Gold-Onwude.

Toni “is doing a great job as our point guard,” Tara said, citing her speed.

Chiney is similar to Nneka in talent and intelligence, but she’s more a perimeter player like Kayla, Tara said, adding, “She’s very talkative, which we really like.”

Overall, “I don’t know that we’ve ever had a better October,” the veteran coach said. “This group has been really special. Great things are in store.”

She praised the players for their maturity, talent, unselfishness and coachability. “They want to be great,” she said. “This is going to be a great year.”

In response to a fan’s question, Tara said she hasn’t decided on a starting lineup except for the Big Three. “We have a lot of choices.” It might change from game to game. She also expects to do a lot of substituting, keeping players fresher.

“You’re going to have a chance to cheer for a great, great team,” she said. She also said that she’s adding some new wrinkles to the offense, and “we’re way ahead defensively from last year.”

Asked to name the most improved players, she cited the Big Three along with Grace, Mikaela and Joslyn. She also praised her coaching staff for doing so well with recruiting. (The next crop of freshmen will sign their letters of intent in November.)

“We are looking forward to a great season,” she concluded as the fans left to go watch the San Francisco Giants play the Texas Rangers in the third game of the World Series and/or the Cardinal football team play at Washington.

Photos by Dave Cortesi

October 11, 2010

First look at the new edition

With its first exhibition game a mere four weeks away, the Stanford women’s basketball team went through its paces at an open practice Oct. 9 in Maples Pavilion.

Regular practices started Oct. 6, so it’s far too early to make predictions. Nevertheless, the three-hour afternoon session gave an estimated 50 fans some tantalizing previews of this 2010-11 team. It also gave them a look at how head coach Tara VanDerveer and her topnotch staff are starting to mold these 14 talented scholar-athletes into one cohesive, championship-seeking team.

There always are question marks at the beginning of a season as freshmen – three of them this year – try to fill the roster gaps left by graduation. The 2010 departures were led by two terrific starters, center Jayne Appel, now playing professionally with the San Antonio Silver Stars, and fifth-year guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, known for her outstanding defense. Ros, who reportedly works for Tesla Motors, attended part of the practice.

Another observer of note was guard Candice Wiggins, ’08, who is on campus completing her undergraduate degree while rehabbing from Achilles tendon surgery. She plays professionally with the Minnesota Lynx.

The practice began as the players ran onto the court and formed a circle with the coaches at center court. They then expanded their circle with senior guard Jeanette Pohlen leading them in individual dribbling exercises, followed by two-player passing drills led by assistant coach Kate Paye.

Individual work continued with shooting drills from the 3-point and free-throw lines. For the most part, the guards were at one end of the court, while the forwards were at the other.

More than an hour was devoted to basic skills such as running, passing, setting screens, dribbling, shooting, defending, rebounding, inbounding and moving the ball. It was during these drills that fans got a taste of Tara’s creativity. She introduced several complex drills that required some time to master, but eventually they went smoothly.

During one such drill, Kate advised all the players to be aware of their footwork so that they would be ready to shoot no matter where they were in relation to the basket.

Other drills involved various combinations of players – groups of two or three, for example. During another stretch, Kate worked with the guards at one end while associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey worked with the bigs. Tara kept a close watch on the proceedings as she moved between them.

As the afternoon progressed, three male practice players joined the women in varied full- and half-court scrimmages. During one water break, fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy, whose participation is limited while she recovers from post-season knee surgery, talked animatedly with the men, apparently giving them pointers.

The session ended with free-throw practice at eight baskets arrayed around the court, followed by running from one end of the court to the other and then to closer marks along the floor. Freshman guard Toni Kokenis was the first to finish.

After another center-court circle for some final words from the coaches, the team waved to the fans and adjourned to the locker room.

Their next assignment came shortly thereafter, when they signed autographs for a long line of admirers at the Fan Fest preceding the Stanford vs. USC football game (won by Stanford).

As I said, it’s too early to make any concrete predictions about the season. Still, there were some impressions worthy of mention.

First, the coaches work well with the team. Every so often, one of them would talk quietly with an individual, demonstrating moves or giving advice. This was especially apparent with the freshmen. Likewise, returning players sought individual advice. On the other hand, the coaches were quick to shout out praise for good moves by individuals.

Second, the freshmen -- Toni, guard Sara James and forward Chiney Ogwumike -- will make positive contributions. They showcased their skills during the summer recreation program at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco, but it was apparent that they needed the fine-tuning that they’re getting from their Stanford coaches.

Third, the three returning starters – Jeanette, senior forward Kayla Pedersen and junior forward Nneka Ogwumike – seem ready to lead the team on another winning run. All three showed their savvy, maturity and skill during the practice.

Fourth, the other returning players – seniors Ashley Cimino, forward, and Hannah Donaghe, guard; junior guards Grace Mashore and Lindy La Rocque; red-shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe; and sophomore forwards Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle -- seem determined to contribute as much as they can. There were many signs of progress from them.

Fifth, the entire team works hard, very hard. Even though they seemed to be enjoying themselves and each other, everyone was focused during the drills.

Sixth, the coaches will have a hard time deciding how to allocate playing time.

Finally, the fans are in for another great ride.!

September 14, 2010

A toast to the season ahead

“We’re looking forward to a great year.” That’s how head coach Tara VanDerveer and her staff view the upcoming Stanford women’s basketball season, she told fans at the fifth annual Fast Break Club wine tasting and social on Sept. 12 at Vino Locale in Palo Alto.

About three dozen fans enjoyed the pleasantly sunny afternoon as well as the wine, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks provided by Vino Locale owner Randy Robinson, who donated 10 percent of the afternoon’s bottled wine sales to the club.

This year’s event was about a month earlier than last year’s, which followed the team’s trip to Italy. Since the team had played four games there, the coaches had had a good look at the returning players and their improvement.

The players are just now returning to campus, so the coaches haven’t had a chance to assess their progress or to see the three freshmen in action. Instead, Tara talked about the coaches’ successful recruiting for the 2011-12 season.

“We have five players who have (verbally) committed,” she said. They are guards Bonnie Samuelson from Huntington Beach, Amber Orrange from Houston and Jasmine Camp from Chamblee, Ga.; and forwards Taylor Greenfield from Huxley, Iowa, and Erica Payne from Concord’s Carondelet High School, the prep alma mater of Jayne Appel, ’10.

Even though they have said they’re coming to Stanford, their commitment doesn’t become official until they sign letters of intent in November. In the meantime, there’s the possibility of one more. “It’s all really, really good,” Tara said.

As for this coming season, Tara noted that her staff is intact, with the return of associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coaches Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye. Both Amy and Bobbie were at the social, but Kate had another commitment.

Their expertise and experience will be invaluable. “This is probably the most competitive schedule that we’ve ever had,” Tara said, noting that several opponents were in last year’s NCAA tournament.

At the head of the list is UConn, which defeated Stanford for the national championship in San Antonio in April. Also figuring prominently is Xavier, which lost to Stanford in the regional final in Sacramento. The game was tied when guard Jeanette Pohlen – in one of the most memorable moments in Stanford WBB history -- ran the court in the final 4.4 seconds and scored the winning basket.

Jeanette was among the nine players who attended summer school. The others were fellow senior Kayla Pedersen, juniors Nneka Ogwumike and Linda La Rocque, red-shirt sophomore Sarah Boothe and sophomore Mikaela Ruef, along with incoming freshmen Sara James, Toni Kokenis and Chiney Ogwumike.

Besides the coaches, staff members at the social included Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, and Sarah Boruta, videographer. And there was another familiar face – Lauren Greif, a recently graduated Cal guard who is an intern this year.

Also serving as an intern is Sha'Rae Gibbons Mitchell, a recently graduated UC Santa Barbara guard. She and Lauren will help the staff with film sessions; film practices; break down films and maintain the database; burn and edit DVDs, prepare pre-game, halftime and post-game reports; create and update playbooks and drill books; manage Facebook and Twitter; assist with pre-game clinics; generate and distribute mailings to recruits; and do “anything that comes up in the course of the day,” Eileen said in a follow-up e-mail.

Arriving later in the afternoon were Krista Rappahahn, ’06, and her new husband, David Birnie. Krista is a Stanford med student.

One of the changes that fans will notice at Maples Pavilion is that rather than the portable baskets used in the past, the baskets will descend from the ceiling. Therefore, fans seated behind them will have a better view of the action.

The players will begin an eight-hour-a-week training regimen on Wednesday, Sept. 15. They will spend two of those hours with the coaches and the other six hours in conditioning and weight-lifting. Regular practices start Oct. 5. “The 5th is early enough for me,” Tara said, adding that the team wants to keep going until April.

Fans will get their first look at the team at a practice and autograph session Oct. 9 before the Cardinal football team plays USC at home.

An open practice followed by a barbecue at Jimmy V’s is planned for Oct. 30. “By then things should be very interesting,” Tara said.

Eileen said she will e-mail details to FBC members.

August 9, 2010

End of the line

The five Stanford players in the San Francisco Pro-Am women’s basketball league saw their summer season come to an end Aug. 8 when their Golden State team lost 75-70 to the Mission Recreation Center team. This was Golden State’s second loss to Mission Rec in the best-of-three championship series at Kezar Pavilion.

Unlike the Aug. 7 game, which saw Golden State losing 77-61, this game was much more competitive and better played, especially by the Stanford women. Together they scored 53, or 75.7 percent, of their team’s points.

According to my unofficial count, freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike led the way with 16 points, followed by sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef with 13, red-shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe with 12, and freshman guards Sara James and Toni Kokenis with 10 and two respectively. Chiney and Mikaela were the top rebounders among the Stanford women with 11 each, followed by Sarah with five, Sara with three and Toni with two. Sarah, Chiney, Mikaela and Sara had one steal apiece.

Golden State led 33-31 at the half, then fell behind 48-40 with 15:33 to go. At 12:31, however, the score was tied 50-50. At 3:16 the score was 70-66 in Golden State’s favor, but the team never scored after that.

Chiney fouled out with 5.2 seconds to go, but it was a deliberate foul, a desperation move in hopes of getting the ball at the end of a very close game. Sara had four fouls, Sarah three, Mikaela two and Toni one. As he did the day before, the Mission Rec coach drew a technical foul after arguing with a referee about a call. The Golden State coach sent Sara to the free throw line, where she sank both shots.

All five Stanford women were on the floor together for less than a minute in the first half, but there were many stretches with three and a few with four. Sarah, Chiney and Sara all started. After controlling the opening tipoff, Sarah scored Golden State’s first basket – a sign that she was not to be denied after being shut out in the previous game.

The Stanford women also were responsible for some plays that would look right at home at Maples. In one particularly nifty no-dribble sequence in the first half, Mikaela passed the ball to Sarah, who quickly passed it to Chiney, who scored, was fouled and made the free throw. Twice during the second half, Mikaela made a defensive rebound and lobbed baseball passes to speeding Chiney, who scored. I didn’t keep track of assists, but all of the Cardinal women did well in that category.

The crowd wasn’t quite as large as the day before, but it included three Stanford starters: senior forward Kayla Pedersen, senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and junior forward Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney’s sister.

Although the Stanford women were undoubtedly disappointed, the loss means they’re out of the playoffs and can head for home Aug. 14, when the summer session ends. They’ll return to the Farm for limited practices starting Sept. 15, followed by the first day of fall classes Sept. 20 and regular practices Oct. 5, associate head coach Amy Tucker said earlier this summer. Judging by their Kezar games, I’d say they’ll all make positive contributions during the coming season.






August 7, 2010

Unfamiliar experience for Cardinal fans

Fans of Stanford women’s basketball aren’t accustomed to seeing their team lose. On the rare occasion when it does, the score is relatively close – or so it has been in recent years. Therefore, it came as a shock to see a team stocked with Stanford players lose by 16 points after trailing by as much as 20.

That was the case Aug. 7 when Golden State lost to Mission Recreation Center 77-61 in the first championship game of San Francisco Bay Area Pro-Am play at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco. The two teams meet again Aug. 8 in the two-of-three competition.

Of the nine Golden State players in uniform on Saturday, five were from Stanford – red shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe, sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef, freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike and freshman guards Sara James and Toni Kokenis.

Back: Coach Chris Valentino, Natalie Jones (Arizona/Germany), Lena Gipson (Santa Clara), Chiney Ogwumike (Stanford), Sarah Boothe (Stanford), Mikaela Ruef (Stanford), Jackie Sheppard (UCLA), Coach Steve Neal. Front: Dellena Criner (Nevada/Poland), Sara James (Stanford), Toni Kokenis (Stanford), Rometra Craig (USC).

Mission Rec fielded only seven players, but their quickness and sharp shooting, especially from the free-throw line and the 3-point arc, were too much for Golden State.

Back: Coach Rudy Russell, Whitney Sutak (Santa Clara), Nicole Harris (Cal Berkeley), Lauren Bell (Pepperdine), Kamilah Jackson (Hawaii), Jazmine Jackson (Pepperdine), Coach LaRyan Russell. Front: Toni Russell (USF/Montenegro), Amanda Lassiter (WNBA/Spain).

For its part, Golden State was plagued by fouls, turnovers, poor shooting and lack of teamwork. Too often a player would try to get to the basket by herself instead of passing off to a more open teammate.

The closest Golden State came to good team play was when all five Stanford players were on the court, but that happened for only slightly more than two minutes in the first half. They have been playing pickup games on campus with teammates who are in summer school, so they presumably have a good notion of teamwork. However, they don’t practice with their Golden State teammates. For its part, Mission Rec reportedly does practice together.

Moreover, Golden State hadn’t played for two weeks because it was the No. 1 seed. During that time, Mission Rec played and won two games to earn its spot in the finals.

Chiney, Sarah and Sara were in the starting lineup, but Sarah picked up her second foul at 17:16 and went to the bench, followed by Sara for the same reason at 15:01. Both returned to action later.

According to my unofficial figures, Mikaela led her Stanford teammates with 12 points and 10 rebounds, closely followed by Chiney with 12 points and nine rebounds. Toni had three points, three rebounds and a steal, while Sara had two points and five rebounds. Sarah was held scoreless, but she had four rebounds. They all played good defense and showed a lot of quickness.

The score was 30-24 in Mission Rec’s favor at the half. Then within the span of 75 seconds, Mission Rec was up 37-24. Mission Rec also was called for two technicals during the game, one on the coach and one on a player.

The game drew a large crowd of Stanford fans, including Sara’s parents and the family dog, Sadie. Also in the stands were Left Coast Hoops writer Michelle Smith (this is her report) and four Stanford players – senior forward Kayla Pedersen, senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, junior forward Nneka Ogwumike and junior guard Lindy La Rocque.

The second and possibly deciding game is at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 8, at Kezar Pavilion, 755 Stanyan St. at Waller at the east end of Golden Gate Park. Admission is free. There’s paid parking next door. Allow plenty of time for heavy traffic.

If Golden State wins, the deciding game will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14.

July 19, 2010

Big threesome powers team to victory

Three Stanford bigs powered their Golden State team to an 83-74 win over Bay City in San Francisco Women’s Pro-Am competition July 17 at Kezar Pavilion.

Though limited by four fouls, red-shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe led the way with 18 points, along with five rebounds and a steal. Most of her points came from nifty shots under the basket. She also ran the floor well.

Right behind her in the scoring column were sophomore Mikaela Ruef and freshman Chiney Ogwumike with 17 each. Fresh off being named Gatorade Female Prep 
Athlete of the Year on July 14, Chiney made it a double-double with 10 rebounds plus a steal. She showed strong athleticism in getting to the basket.

Mikaela, who had her best game this summer, added six rebounds and two steals. The two forwards also had two 3-pointers each.

Also scoring in double figures was freshman guard Sara James with 12 points, including two 3’s, to go with four rebounds and one steal.

Fellow freshman guard Toni Kokenis had two points but showed her defensive prowess with six rebounds and two steals. All of these numbers are unofficial.

Sara, the only Cardinal to start, was stationed in the center circle for the opening tipoff, which she controlled. Chiney and Sarah joined her with 17:42 to go in the half and Golden State trailing 7-0. Sarah immediately scored the first points for Golden State, which began surging ahead. Most of that surge resulted from the gradual addition of Stanford players until all five were on the court at 11:04, but Sarah had to go to the bench at 10:00 when she picked up her second foul.

Golden State led 44-34 at the half. Bay City crept closer several times when the Stanford bigs were on the bench, but as soon as they returned, they took control.

It was fun to see 6’ 5” Sarah and 6’ 3” Chiney going against Cal’s 6’ 3” DeNesha Stallworth in the paint. Cal’s 5’ 7” Eliza Pierre tossed in two 3’s when Mikaela was late on defense. Eliza followed them up with cartwheels as she ran down the court. She was called for unsportsmanlike conduct the second time, but there was no penalty. One suspects that Cal head coach Joanne Boyle won’t let her keep that move in her repertoire.

As usual, there was a good turnout of vocal Stanford fans. The cheering section included Sara’s parents and the family dog, Sadie, a terrier mix that came from the SPCA about eight years ago. She was a hit with fans of all ages.

Chiney’s parents and two younger sisters also were in the crowd, as well as her older sister, junior forward Nneka Ogwumike. Nneka arrived with senior forward Kayla Pedersen and junior guard Lindy La Rocque.

Regular play in the recreational league ended with the 4-1 Golden State in first place even though two other teams also had 4-1 records. According to the league’s Web site, a point system was used to determine first place.

Therefore, Golden State won’t be back in action until the championship games at 2 p.m. Aug. 7 and 8. If a third game is needed, it will be at 2 p.m. Aug. 14. Admission to all games is free.

The games are played at Kezar Pavilion, 755 Stanyan St. at Waller at the east end of Golden Gate Park. Paid parking is available in an adjacent lot.

Nneka, Kayla and Lindy crack up over one of Mikaela's 3-pointers

Erika, Lindy and Olivia

July 12, 2010

Stanford players lead team to victory

For the first time this summer, all five Cardinal players who signed up for the San Francisco Pro-Am women’s basketball league played at Kezar Pavilion. In the process, they led their now-3-1 Golden State team to an 86-77 victory over still-winless Bay Pride.

All five also showed up in my unofficial scoring column with freshman guard Sara James leading her team with 15 points, including three 3’s. Two forwards, freshman Chiney Ogwumike and sophomore Mikaela Ruef, were close behind with 12 points each. Mikaela’s total included two 3’s.

Red-shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe chipped in 10 points, while freshman guard Toni Kokenis added 4. Thus the fivesome accounted for 53 of their team’s 86 points.

They also contributed rebounds, led by Sarah’s 12. Chiney had six, and Mikaela and Sara had five each, while Toni had three. As for steals, Chiney had three, Sara and Toni two each, and Mikaela one.

Sarah and Sara started the game. Chiney joined them with 17:33 to go in the first half, followed by Mikaela at 16:28 and Toni at 15:08. Thus all five Stanford players were on the court until 12:10, when Sara and Chiney went to the bench after picking up their second fouls. All of them were in and out after that, but no one fouled out. Chiney came close with four fouls, and Sarah had three. Mikaela had two, while the guards had one each.

Bay Pride fielded only five players, who thus had to play the entire game, while Golden State had 10. Nevertheless, Bay Pride kept the score relatively close, especially in the second half. Fouls and traveling calls caused Golden State the most problems.

It was fun to see the five Stanford women playing together. One could also sense the rapport that’s developing among them. The rapport also was evident as senior forward Kayla Pedersen, senior guard Jeanette Pohlen and junior forward Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney’s sister, arrived to cheer for their teammates.

Sarah, who didn’t play last season while recovering from foot surgery and who had missed last week’s game, once again impressed the fans with her quickness in transition and her toughness under the basket. She missed a few easy shots early in the game but regained her touch later on, making some close but tough shots. Mikaela, who had joined her teammates just last week, seemed more focused this time.

The three freshmen continued to impress. Sara is not only a scoring threat but also a bulldog on defense. One could picture her as the defensive successor to the graduated Rosalyn Gold-Onwude. Even though fouls have limited Chiney’s playing time, she shows tremendous promise. More than one fan commented that she and Nneka are likely to give most opponents more than they can handle, especially when Kayla, Jeanette and other returning players are added to the mix. Toni, like Sara, is fast, tough and apparently fearless. It’ll be fun to see how these three contribute once they’ve had the benefit of working with the Cardinal coaches.

Golden State’s final regular game is at noon Saturday, July 17. Playoffs are scheduled July 24 and 31, Aug. 7, 8 and possibly Aug. 14. All games are at Kezar Pavilion, 755 Stanyan St. at Waller on the east side of Golden Gate Park. There’s paid parking next door. For more information go to SF Bay Area Pro-Am.

July 4, 2010

Freshman class shows class

Stanford WBB’s incoming crop of freshmen once again showed great promise in San Francisco Pro-Am play Saturday, July 3, at Kezar Pavilion.

Even though their Golden State team lost 83-76 to the Mission Recreation Center team, forward Chiney Ogwumike and guards Sara James and Toni Kokenis gave some three dozen Stanford fans reason to cheer.

According to my strictly unofficial count, Sara led the scoring with 26 points plus seven rebounds, followed by Chiney with 22 points, 12 rebounds and two steals, and Toni with 9 points and four rebounds. Sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef, who missed last week’s game, contributed 3 points, nine rebounds and one steal. All four of them started the game. Red-shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe, who was so instrumental in the team’s victory last week, missed this game.

The buzz among fans before the game was that this was their first chance to see Chiney in Bay Area action. Last week she was busy leading her USA U18 team to a gold medal against Western Hemisphere teams in Colorado. After controlling the tipoff Sunday, she showed some nifty moves both offensively and defensively. She had to take a seat with 16:57 left in the first half because she picked up two quick fouls. The tenor of the game seemed to change after that, but improved when she returned later in the half. She had only one more foul after that.

She also contributed a 3-point shot, as did Toni, while Sara had three. Both guards showed a lot of hustle while taking the ball up the court, driving to the basket or dishing out assists. They also showed some tough defense. Sara fouled out with under 22 seconds left in the game, but it was an intentional foul when the score was 79-74 in Mission Rec’s favor.

Overall, though, Golden State had some problems. For one, only eight players showed up, while Mission Rec had 10. Moreover, Mission Rec appeared to field more experienced players. For example, its two leading scorers, both with 19 (according to the San Francisco Chronicle), were Santa Clara University alumna Whitney Sutak and Amanda Lassiter, listed with WNBA/Spain experience in the program.

Although I don’t have numbers, Mission Rec appeared to outrebound Golden State. Golden State also was plagued by turnovers, many of them from errant passes. Golden State’s defense often left Mission Rec players open for successful 3s.

The Stanford boosters included Sara’s parents, Mikaela’s mother and Chiney’s big sis, forward Nneka Ogwumike, who had celebrated her birthday the previous day. With her was junior classmate Lindy La Rocque, guard.

Golden State, now 2-1, plays again at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 10, and at noon Saturday, July 17. Playoffs start July 24 and continue July 31, Aug. 7 and 8, and possibly Aug. 14.

The games are played at Kezar Pavilion, 755 Stanyan St. at Waller on the east end of Golden Gate Park. There’s paid parking next to the pavilion.

For details go to SF Bay Area Pro-Am.

Mikaela and Chiney get ready to play

Sara launches one of her three-pointers

Toni stops and pops

Chiney puts up a shot over Whitney Sutak

Cardinal moms Katie Ruef and Kelly James

June 27, 2010

SF Pro-Am whets fans’ appetites for 2010-11

Some two dozen fans of Stanford women’s basketball got a tantalizing glimpse of the upcoming season as three Cardinal players helped to lead their SF Bay Area Pro-Am team to victory June 27 at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco.

Returning red-shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe and incoming freshman guards Sara James and Toni Kokenis all started for the Golden State team, which defeated the San Francisco team 88-71. Although their team now has a 2-0 record, this was the Cardinal players’ first appearance. They were arriving on campus for summer school the previous weekend.

Sarah was playing in her first competitive game since her freshman year. She sat out all of last season after undergoing foot surgery, but she was practicing toward the end of the season. Sara and Toni were both making their Bay Area post-high school debuts.

As the teams were warming up, Sarah did some of the Cardinal’s familiar stretching exercises. She then controlled the tipoff. The game was nip-and-tuck for the first few minutes, but Golden State began to move ahead, leading 48-30 at the half.

All three Stanford women played well with lots of hustle. Sarah led the way with 14 points despite sitting out with four fouls for about 3 ½ minutes in the second half, then fouling out with 2:45 to go. Although this recreational league doesn’t keep stats other than scoring and fouls, by my reckoning Sarah – the tallest player on either team -- had at least eight rebounds plus one block and a steal.

Toni contributed 13 points to go with at least eight rebounds along with four steals and no fouls. She wasn’t afraid to drive to the basket and moved the ball well up the court. Sara, whose parents were at the game (she’s from El Dorado Hills), chipped in 8 points, at least three rebounds and one steal. She, too, moved the ball well.

All three ran the floor well. Sarah made most of her baskets in the paint, while the two guards scored from farther out or drove to the basket. All three shared the ball well and seemed to sense when to pass and when to shoot. They played aggressive defense, especially the two guards. Sarah often set screens.

The Stanford women were involved in several offensive plays that would have been right at home at Maples. I didn’t keep track of assists, but they seemed to recognize that passing the ball to a teammate who scores is just as valuable as scoring themselves.

Sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef and incoming freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike are on the Golden State roster but weren’t at the game. Mikaela was reportedly attending a family get-together, while Chiney was in Colorado awaiting her USA U18 team’s gold medal game later that afternoon. You can read about her accomplishments in Stories of the Season.

Golden State plays again at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 3; 4 p.m. Saturday, July 10; and noon Saturday, July 17. Playoffs are scheduled for the last two Saturdays in July, the first Saturday of August and, if necessary, August 14.

Kezar Pavilion is at the east end of Golden Gate Park with hourly paid parking next door. For directions and other information, go to SF Bay Area Pro-Am.

Toni grabs a rebound

Sara launches a three

Sarah goes up for two