May 1, 2010

Thanks for the memories – A look back at 2009-10, Part 1

Wow, what a ride the Stanford women’s basketball team and its fans took during the 2009-10 season. Compiling a 36-2 record overall, the team made history with its first combination of both an undefeated Pac-10 regular season and the Pac-10 tournament championship. From there, the team marched through the NCAA tournament at home and in Sacramento before going on to its third consecutive Final Four and the championship game in San Antonio in April.

All along the way, the team and individual players broke records and won well-deserved honors. Here’s a look back at how it all unfolded.

Pre-season events

Fans who couldn’t wait for the season to start got their first tantalizing taste of what was to come as they watched incoming freshman forwards Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle in the Bay Area Pro-Am games during July and early August at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco. What they saw was promising indeed, as both players showed their overall scoring abilities as well as their 3-point shots and rebounding.

In the meantime, sophomore forward Nneka Ogwumike went to Thailand with the USA U-19 team and helped lead it to a gold medal in the FIBA games. Classmate Sarah Boothe, center, was to have gone, too, but a foot injury forced her to withdraw. In addition, juniors Jeanette Pohlen, guard, and Kayla Pedersen, forward, helped the USA team win gold at the University Games in Belgrade, Serbia.

Except for the two freshmen, who were barred from the trip by NCAA rules, the rest of the team gathered on campus for 12 hours of practice in early September before embarking on their 10-day trip to Italy. There they won three of their four games against mostly older players and had a terrific time touring the country.

Fast Break Club members got a chance to hear all about it from the coaches and staff during the fourth annual wine tasting at Vino Locale in Palo Alto on Oct. 11. Head coach Tara VanDerveer wasn’t there because she was giving a clinic for her sister Heidi, head coach at Occidental College. However, associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coaches Kate Paye and Bobbie Kelsey all commented that, based on the trip to Italy, “the team is looking awesome,” as Kate put it. How right she was.

Fans saw the team in action during an open practice in early October. Then came the first exhibition game, a 107-49 romp over Vanguard in Maples on Nov. 1. The scoring included 15 3-pointers, thanks to Jeanette and Kayla; senior guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude; red-shirt junior guards Melanie Murphy and JJ Hones; and sophomore guards Grace Mashore and Lindy La Rocque.

The Cardinal won its second exhibition game, also at home, 107-55 against UC San Diego on Nov. 8.

The season starts

The first two regular season games were both on the road, and both resulted in victories – 89-56 over Old Dominion on Nov. 13 and 81-66 over Rutgers on Nov. 15.

Back in the friendly confines of Maples, the Cardinal topped Pepperdine 99-50 on Nov. 19. After the game, FBC members had a chance to meet Joslyn. The Missoula, Montana resident, whose father is the University of Montana’s men’s basketball coach, said she had made official visits to Oklahoma, Texas, Duke and Georgia before visiting Stanford. “I was sold,” she said, noting that she decided that Stanford was “where I would be most happy outside of basketball.”

A short road trip to UC Davis on Nov. 22 led to another victory, 76-51. Then it was back to Maples for a five-game home stand starting with Utah and a 60-41 victory on Nov. 27 After that game, the FBC heard from alum Angela Taylor,’93, now vice president and general manager of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

Gonzaga was the next to fall to the Cardinal – 105-74 on Nov. 29. Scoring a team-high 30 points, Kayla joined the 1,000-point club. Nneka was just behind her with 29 points. Afterward, Mikaela told the FBC that she started playing basketball in kindergarten and received a basketball for Christmas when she was 5. Hailing from Beavercreek, Ohio, Mikaela still is close to family since several relatives live in the Bay Area.

After taking a two-week break for finals, Stanford defeated visiting DePaul 96-60 on Dec. 13. Halftime saw the return of those fan favorites, the agility dogs from Ace Dog Sports. The game also was noteworthy because senior center Jayne Appel snared her 1,000th rebound, joining the illustrious company of Nicole Powell, ’04, and Val Whiting, ’93.

Afterward, the team and fans gathered at Dallmar Court for the annual auction, a fun fund-raiser with “Back in the Saddle” as its western theme. A life-size black horse standing near the auctioneer’s stage was an eye-catcher. One of the most popular auction items was a colorful team quilt made by Lindy’s mother, Beverly, who also had made one for the 2008 auction. That first one sold for $800, but the new edition sold for $975.

Duke, ranked seventh in the nation at the time, was the next to fall, 71-55, in Maples on Dec. 15. The FBC’s post-game gathering was held in Maples for the first time. “This was a big win for our team. This is a really special team,” Tara said.

The final game of the five-game home stand brought a 67-52 win over Tennessee on Dec. 19. The Lady Vols had arrived with a 9-0 record and a No. 3 national ranking, while the Cardinal had an 8-0 record and a No. 2 ranking – a spot that the team held from the pre-season and all season thereafter.

After the game, both teams gathered in a circle. “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Jeanette told the FBC later. The game had attracted in a crowd of 6,809, close to a full house. “The crowd and the excitement were just great,” Tara said.

Just four days later, on Dec. 23, the team was in Hartford, Conn. to meet the defending national champion and undefeated UConn Huskies. Stanford led at the half but fell 80-68 to a team that had been knocking off its opponents by 20 points or more. It turned out to be Stanford’s only regular season loss.

After Christmas break, the team took a short road trip to Fresno State, where the score was 68-46 on Dec. 30.

Pac-10 play gets under way

The new year was just 2 days old when the Pac-10 season began with Stanford’s 79-58 win over Cal in Maples. A highlight in this game came courtesy of Mel. On a fast break play, she made a no-look pass to Nneka, who promptly scored. Afterward, junior guard Hannah Donaghe was the FBC’s guest. She hadn’t played thus far because she was rehabbing from knee surgery, but she had been cleared to practice.

A quick trip to Los Angeles netted two more wins – 82-62 over USC on Jan. 8 and 65-61 over UCLA on Jan. 10.

Hannah was in uniform for the first time but didn’t play Jan. 14, when Washington State fell 80-43. Lindy made the highlights video by intercepting a pass in WSU’s backcourt, running it back to the Stanford arc and nailing a 3-pointer. Junior forward Ashley Cimino made the first 3-pointer of her college career late in the game.

Washington gave the Cardinal more trouble than expected on Jan. 16, but fell nevertheless, 66-51. The team was without starting guard Jeanette Pohlen, who had aggravated a sprained ankle, so Lindy started in her place.

Oregon was the site of the next two wins – 63-47 over Oregon State on Jan. 21 and 100-80 over Oregon on Jan. 23.

Visiting Maples on Jan. 28, Arizona State managed to do something no other team had done previously in the season. It led at the half – 29-25. Just slightly more than three minutes into the second half, Kayla hit the basket that put her team ahead, and there was no looking back after that. Final score – 71-48. Speaking to the FBC afterward, former Chronicle sports writer Michelle Smith predicted that Stanford, Tennessee and UConn would go to the Final Four (she was right on two counts).

The 83-62 victory over Arizona on Jan; 30 was the team’s 40th consecutive home win. Even though Arizona led 42-40 at the half, Stanford stormed back to outscore them 43-20 in the second half. In a departure from tradition, the team wore its red road uniforms rather than its home whites to call attention to the earthquake disaster in Haiti.

The entire team joined the FBC afterward for Fan Appreciation Day. Douglas Lee and Kelly Noonan, who have been loyal boosters for many years, won the Fan Spirit Award.

The two LA teams came to visit the following week and fell again – UCLA down 74-53 on Feb. 4 and USC down 77-39 on Feb. 7. During the UCLA game, Jayne scored 23 points, a season high for her. Her performance was marred with just under 8 minutes to go in the second half when she was ejected for what was called a flagrant foul on Jasmine Dixon. It wasn’t intentional, Jayne said later. Dixon and UCLA head coach Nikki Caldwell concurred.

The USC game was highlighted by a ceremony honoring members of the 1989-90 team, which won the first of Stanford’s two national championships. The ceremony took place right after the 1 p.m. game to allow fans time to watch the football Super Bowl.

“This was our Super Sunday,” Tara told the crowd. “I’m proud of this year’s team,” she said, but the 1990 team showed the way with its “commitment to excellence…. It set the standards.” The night before, that 32-1 team and the present team had a dinner that the present players said was both inspirational and educational.

Besides honoring the championship team, the game featured a major milestone when Jayne surpassed the Stanford rebounding record of 1,143 set by Nicole Powell in 2004. Jayne’s 1,444th rebound came with 7:34 to go in the first half. She finished the game with 13 rebounds for a career total of 1,153 – and counting. She also chipped in 15 points, two assists and one block. Hannah got her first playing time.

Then it was off to the Pacific Northwest, where the team downed Washington 58-36 on Feb. 12 and Washington State 98-67 on Feb. 14.

The Oregon teams came calling the next weekend. The fun started Feb. 18 when the Cardinal dismantled Oregon 104-60, a game in which all five Stanford starters reached double figures. Kayla gets credit for the play of the game – inbounding the ball by deflecting it off a Duck’s back, then catching it and scoring.

Mixed emotions dominated the next game on Feb. 20 as Stanford defeated Oregon State 82-48 and clinched at least a share of the Pac-10 season title. It also was Senior Night, a chance to honor the four members of the Class of 2010 and fifth-year player Ros.

The game itself opened fittingly with Jayne scoring the game’s first points just 15 seconds after tipoff. About 11 minutes later, she scored her 2,000th career point, vaulting herself into Stanford’s exclusive 2,000-point/1,000-rebound club. Its only other members are Val Whiting and Nicole Powell. All of her classmates got on the scoreboard, too. Near the end of the game, all five – Jayne, forward Michelle Harrison, guards JJ Hones and Melanie Murphy, and Ros -- were on the court.

After the game, they were honored with a moving video, then were introduced individually with their families. Later, at a packed Dallmar Court, Amy enumerated the seniors’ accomplishments – four Pac-10 season championships, three Pac-10 tournament championships (soon to be four), two Elite Eights (soon to be three) and two Final Fours (soon to be three). Their win-loss record, starting with the 2006-07 season, was 122-15, about 89 percent of their games – and still counting. The final tally was 133-16 after the national championship game.

The next weekend, Stanford went to Arizona and returned with two more wins – 62-43 over Arizona State on Feb. 25 and 75-48 over Arizona on Feb. 27.

A busload of fans traveled to Berkeley to watch their team topple Cal 63-48 for the final regular season game on March 6. Jayne didn’t play because of a sprained ankle, but her family and friends filled an entire section. They were obvious because of their red T-shirts inscribed “House of Jayne.” Joslyn started in Jayne’s place.

After that, it was tournament time – coming in Part 2.

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