March 20, 2010

Dancing queens

Maples Pavilion is ready to go, and so, apparently, is the Stanford women’s basketball team as the first round of the NCAA tournament begins today. Stanford, the second #1 seed overall, plays host to #16 seeded UC Riverside at about 7:30 p.m.

A handful of fans got to see the team prepare for its meeting during a one-hour open practice March 19. The overall impression was one of a relaxed yet energetic, enthusiastic, well disciplined team.

Clapping as they entered the gym, the players almost immediately launched into passing drills, encouraging each other the whole time. Even though everyone was focused and businesslike, there still was much smiling and laughing during the one-hour practice. This is a team that clearly enjoys playing together and cares about each other.

Anyone looking for offensive or defensive strategies would be disappointed. Head coach Tara VanDerveer wasn’t about to tip her hand. Instead she and her coaching colleagues had the players working on basic skills – free throws, layups, 3-pointers, shorter-range shots, rebounds, passing and fast breaks – no scrimmages.

Sometimes all 15 players practiced together. Other times, they split into groups with the 1’s, 2’s and 3’s at one end of the court and the 4’s and 5’s at the other.

It was good to see sophomore center Sarah Boothe in action. She hasn’t played since foot surgery last year, but she has been able to practice. She seemed to run the floor well and to hit her shots.

Besides the fans, observers included TV commentator Mary Murphy and other media types. Wayne Tinkle, father of freshman forward Joslyn Tinkle, watched for a while with some other men in Montana T-shirts. His University of Montana team had lost a close game in the first round of the men’s tournament at HP Pavilion in San Jose the night before.

The practice was accompanied by music chosen by Tara. The only song that was familiar to these ears came near the end -- ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” a fitting choice as the Cardinal get ready for the big dance.

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