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.