February 25, 2011

Stanford stepping up

After junior forward Nneka Ogwumike sprained her ankle during the USC game Feb. 18, someone had to step up and account for all the points and rebounds she contributes.

Two freshmen -- Nneka’s sister Chiney, a forward, and guard Toni Kokenis -- helped to fill the void in the victory at UCLA on Feb. 20. Then against Oregon State at home on Feb. 24, red-shirt sophomore center Sarah Boothe helped to fill the bill with a team-high 16 points along with six rebounds in the 73-37 win.

“I was really excited for how well Sarah played,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told the Fast Break Club after the OSU game. “She did a great job.

Other stalwarts like senior guard Jeanette Pohlen with 10 points and senior forward Kayla Pedersen with 13 continued to do their part, while Toni and Chiney chipped in 10 points each. Sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle started in Nneka’s place and scored five points to go with three rebounds, two assists and a block. Every uniformed player got into the game, thus ending with 32 points off the bench.

Game dynamics change without Nneka, Tara said. However, her absence means that others have to answer the call, thus creating greater team depth.

The evening started well with another excellent rendition of the National Anthem, this one by the Peninsula Women’s Choir, which received prolonged applause. Fans have been treated to some fine singing of late.

Applause for OSU players, coaches

Another noteworthy moment came shortly afterward when fans applauded as the OSU starting lineup and coaches, led by head coach Scott Rueck, were introduced. It was a symbol of fans’ respect for a program that has made remarkable progress in the wake of the disarray caused by the termination of Rueck’s predecessor and decimation of the roster due to transferring or quitting.

“Our fans are first class,” Tara said.

During halftime, some Stanford fans and graduates between the ages of 50 and 80 played “Bloomer Basketball.” Wearing actual bloomers, they followed rules from the 1950s and 1960s, when the women’s game used six players from each team. This half-court game allowed only two dribbles, had no three-second rule and confined players to their half of the court.

Another halftime treat was the introduction of the Stanford softball team.

Fan Appreciation Night

Fans were the focus of the post-game session, dubbed Fan Appreciation Night. Other schools envy the support that the Stanford women’s team gets from its fans, especially through the Fast Break Club and its website, said Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations. She acknowledged webmaster Marian Cortesi, as well as the others who write for the FBC and its website.

Sponsors of the freshmen’s lockers received photos of themselves with their freshmen from associate head coach Amy Tucker. Those sponsors are the Amy Tucker Fan Club for Toni, Su Schaffer and Joan Hinckley for Chiney, and Mary and Bob Dodge for guard Sara James.

Amy also recognized members of the executive board, which meets quarterly, and added that the auction fundraiser will return next year after a break this year.

Harriet Benson, an executive board member who has chronicled the FBC’s early days in her book, “Boosters Always Win,” presented the Fan Spirit Award to Wally Mersereau. Wally not only goes to most of the team’s away games but also reports on them for the FBC website.

“This is an easy thing to win. All you’ve got to do is show up,” Wally said. His name will be added to a silver trophy honoring the late Margie Santillan, an avid fan. “We have a great history of fans,” Tara said.

Post-game questions

Some of the questions from fans focused on officiating and the seeming increase in physical, sometimes rough play seen in some games. Tara expressed concern about this trend.

Women’s “basketball should be a finesse game,” she said, citing the late John Wooden, legendary coach of the UCLA team, who is being honored this year.

In the meantime, “We’re in the home stretch now,” Tara said.

“We’ve been working really hard on getting the ball inside” to the bigs, she said. Still, “we have so many things we want to work on” even 27 games into the season.

She also noted that the team has clinched at least a share of its 11th consecutive Pac-10 season title. One more win will put the Cardinal in sole possession of first place.

It was the team’s record-tying 59th straight victory in Maples, and it gave the team the No. 1 seed in the Pac-10 tournament. And just a bit of frosting on the cake – the AP and ESPN polls both rank Stanford No. 2 in the country behind UConn, which lost to Stanford on Dec. 30.

“I’d love to bottle this team,” Tara said. “It’s a great team to work with.”

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