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!


  1. Thanks, Judy. Great post. I had to miss the game, as I was on vacation in Mexico, so your words help to bring the event to life. I'm really sorry I missed the celebration in person. I probably drove my vacation-mates crazy telling them about all of Tara's accomplishments, and trying to keep up with the game on a slow internet connection! No Yahoo video for me.

  2. I think Amy T has over 800 wins. (Tara went to the Olympics How about an article about Amy?