“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.