April 29, 2011

Thanks for the memories, Part 2 of 3

Pac-10 play gets under way

CAL --- Ending 2010 with decisive victories over Xavier and UConn and a 9-2 record (the only losses before the Final Four), the Stanford women’s basketball team started 2011 off right with a 78-45 win at Cal on Jan. 2.

Of the nearly 5,200 spectators watching this Pac-10 opener, many wore Cardinal red. They included 45 who rode the booster bus, whose driver quipped, “We’ve got a longer win streak than UConn.”

The Cardinal presented a balanced scoring attack against Cal with five players in double figures led by senior guard Jeanette Pohlen with 15, junior forward Nneka Ogwumike with 14, freshman guard Toni Kokenis with 12, plus senior forward Kayla Pedersen and freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike with 11 each.

This game also marked fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy’s first time in uniform after knee surgery the previous spring. Even though she didn’t play, fans were pleased to see her progress.

ARIZONA --- Returning to Maples, the Cardinal defeated Arizona 87-54 on Jan. 6. The game got close in the first half, but then the home team turned on the jets and shot a torrid 70.4 percent, outscoring the Wildcats 47-21 in the second half. Although her status was doubtful after she had landed on her shoulder during the Cal game, Nneka led the scoring with 24 points and eight rebounds. Chiney and Kayla both had double-doubles of 11 and 11 while Jeanette had 13 points.

Afterward the Fast Break Club had a chance to become better acquainted with Toni, who’s from the Chicago area. In high school she played soccer as well as basketball, but she complied with Stanford coaches’ request not to play soccer her senior year to avoid injuries, said associate head coach Amy Tucker. When the team went to Chicago to play DePaul in December, Toni’s mother cooked dinner for everyone, Amy said.

ARIZONA STATE --- By defeating Arizona State 82-35 on Jan. 8, the Cardinal handed head coach Tara VanDerveer her 805th career victory. Her milestone 800th win had come at USF on Dec. 22, but the official tribute was delayed because many in the Stanford community were on vacation or in Miami for the football team’s Orange Bowl victory after that.

Stanford president John Hennessy and athletic director Bob Bowlsby gave Tara flowers, a game ball and a framed poster showing her holding a net aloft following a tournament victory. A video also honored her.

“Well, 800 was a lot of fun, but how about 802?” Bowlsby said, referring to the 71-59 home victory on Dec. 30 that ended the Huskies’ historic 90-game winning streak.

Thanking everyone, Tara said, “800 wins is because I work for a great university” with a great administration and coaching staff as well as “fabulous players” in front of “the loudest fans in the land.”

After the game, Kayla spoke to the FBC. She said she had already completed the coursework for her major in psychology and was taking the one class needed to complete her other major in communication. She aimed to finish a quarter early with hopes of going into the WNBA and playing overseas.

UCLA --- With Stanford ranked fourth in AP’s national poll and UCLA ranked eighth, a competitive game was expected when the Bruins visited Jan. 20. Instead Stanford won decisively, 64-38, and placed itself squarely atop the Pac-10 Conference.

One highlight of the game was Mel’s return to action after being cleared to play only two days earlier. She entered the game with 6:03 left in the first half. Five minutes later, she stole the ball, ran the length of the court and made a tough basket, bringing the crowd of nearly 4,300 to its feet.

Kevin Aha, the new marketing associate for women’s basketball, talked to the FBC after the game. He was followed by two more additions to the WBB staff, interns Lauren Greif and Sha'Rae Gibbons Mitchell. The two 2010 grads are guards from Cal and UC Santa Barbara, respectively.

USC --- While many students were outside basking in the unusually warm winter sunshine, USC was the latest team to feel the heat in Maples, falling 95-51 on Jan. 22. Jeanette led the way with a career-high 12 assists to go with 21 points, five rebounds, one steal and zero turnovers. Twelve of her points came from four 3-pointers.

Kayla added 16 points, including three more of the team’s 10 3-pointers. The others came from junior guard Lindy La Rocque with two and senior forward Ashley Cimino with one. Also scoring in double figures were Chiney and Nneka with 14 each and red-shirt sophomore Sarah Boothe with 11.

After the game, Kayla told the FBC that the team has benefitted from Jeanette’s 31 points against UConn because opponents have to pay so much attention to her, leaving openings for her teammates.

Kayla also modeled the team’s new home white uniform. Made of a “hyper-elite, aerodynamic,” lightweight material, it was designed by Nike with some input from Amy, the coach said. Behind the number on the back are faint pictures of campus landmarks along with a block S.

WASHINGTON STATE – After two successful road trips, during which Stanford defeated Oregon 91-56 on Jan. 27, Oregon State 77-44 on Jan. 29, Arizona State 72-54 on Feb. 3 and Arizona 91-51 on Feb. 5, the Cardinal returned home to topple Washington State 100-59 on Feb. 10. Thus Stanford won its 49th consecutive Pac-10 game, breaking its own record.

Because it was a night for breast cancer awareness, everyone was asked to wear pink. Continuing a practice started by Joe Appel, father of Jayne Appel, ’10, Jeanette’s dad, John Pohlen, wore Joe’s pink tutu over his pants but added a pink scarf rather than Joe’s pink shower cap.

In a halftime video promoting the wrestling team, Tara wore a Stanford wrestler’s uniform and took on wrestling coach Jason Borrelli, who dubbed her “Tara the Terror.” The wrestling team then came onto the court for cheers and applause.

In a KerryCam video created by manager Kerry Blake during the previous week’s trip to the Arizona schools, Tara teamed with Sarah to challenge assistant coach Kate Paye and Ashley in a two-on-two basketball matchup, which Kate and Ashley won.

The videos were shown to the FBC after the game, when fans got to meet Kerry and her fellow manager, Dorothy Boakye-Donkor, who are both seniors. Even with their many duties, “it’s a really great job,” said Dorothy, a political science major. Kerry is majoring in sociology.

Another FBC guest was Jenny Claypool, director of championships, who has been in her post for 11 years.

WASHINGTON – After coasting to easy wins, the Cardinal had a tougher time against Washington on Feb. 12 but emerged with a 62-52 home victory. Washington held Jeanette to 3 points, but the three starting forwards stepped up with Nneka scoring 22, Chiney 21 and Kayla 13.

“It was a very physical game. It was a battle,” Amy said afterward. Washington was whistled for 27 fouls that led to four players fouling out. Stanford had 16 fouls. Washington had 21 turnovers compared with 12 for the home team.

Fans also had a chance to catch up with Sarah Dimson, ’01, who works for a social entrepreneurship organization in Washington, D.C. She travels a lot and recently spent a year and a half in India and Pakistan.

Senior guard Hannah Donaghe, an earth systems major, talked about her summer travels. She had an internship through the biology department and spent most of her time in a dry tropical forest near Oaxaca, Mexico. Hannah isn’t playing because she tore her ACL during a fall practice.

OREGON STATE --- After returning with two wins – 78-64 over USC on Feb. 18 and 67-53 over UCLA on Feb. 20 -- from what is often its most challenging Pac-10 trip, the Cardinal completed the conference season at home.

First up was Oregon State, which fell 73-37 on Feb. 24. The victory assured Stanford of a least a share of its 11th consecutive Pac-10 season title and marked the team’s record-tying 59th straight victory at Maples.

Nneka missed both this game and the UCLA game after injuring her ankle at USC. Against Oregon State, Sarah came off the bench and helped to make up for that lost production by pouring in a team-high 16 points along with six rebounds. Joslyn started in Nneka’s place.

A halftime highlight was Bloomer Basketball, featuring a half-court game between some bloomer-clad fans and graduates between the ages 50 and 80. They followed the rules from the 1950s and 1960s, which are quite different from today’s rules.

Prior to the regular game, Stanford fans loudly applauded the OSU players and head coach Scott Rueck as they were introduced. The fans were showing their respect for a program that made remarkable progress after the termination of Rueck’s predecessor and decimation of the roster due to transferring or quitting.

“Our fans are first class,” Tara said.

Those fans were honored as part of Fan Appreciation Night after the game. Other schools envy the support that the Stanford team gets from its fans, especially through the FBC and its website, said Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations. She acknowledged webmaster Marian Cortesi and others who write for the site.

Sponsors of the freshmen’s lockers received photos of themselves with their freshmen. Wally Mersereau, who reports on most away games for the FBC site, was honored with the annual Fan Spirit Award.

OREGON – With a 99-60 victory over Oregon on Feb. 26, the team won its 11th consecutive Pac-10 season championship and its 20th overall in the league’s 25 seasons of women’s sports. The win and championship were expected, so Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott was on hand to present the trophy to Tara after the game. She in turn gave it to the team captains: Kayla, Jeanette and Nneka.

The game also marked a milestone as the team won its 60th consecutive home game, a team record. That streak started with the first game of the 2007-08 season, meaning that seniors Kayla, Jeanette, Ashley and Hannah have never lost a home game.

With only one more conference game on the schedule, Tara used this game to rest the starters for much of the game. Hence, everyone got in, and no one played more than 22 minutes. Nneka returned to action but played only 12 minutes and had 4 points. Playing 20 minutes, Jeanette scored 20 points, while Kayla had 13 (plus 10 rebounds for a double-double) and Sarah had 11. Chiney, Mel and Toni had 10 each.

Three of the seniors – Hannah was on a field trip – plus Mel spoke to fans after the game. Mel said she hopes to get into talent management, while Jeanette and Kayla were hoping for the WNBA. Ashley said she has applied for graduate school in Boston and for Teach for America.

CAL -- The seniors were honored more extensively following the team’s 75-51 victory over Cal on March 3.

As fans began filling Maples before this Senior Night game, many carried signs thanking the seniors and picturing the five of them. Shortly before the game, Tara gave flowers to Cal’s two seniors, Rama N’diaye and Rachelle Federico. A video showed Tara thanking all the people connected with the games, people who aren’t usually recognized but who are so important to the team’s success and the fans’ experience.

During timeouts, three Trees cavorted in their costumes, joined by a green-hued guy, the Sprout, who will be next year’s Tree. As the second half wore on, this year’s Tree removed his costume and helped his successor put it on.

Then there was a touching moment with 25.8 seconds left and Cal with the ball. Tara put Hannah into the game, kept her safely in front of the bench, and then quickly called a timeout to allow her to return to the bench.

After the game, a video honored the senior players and the managers. Then Tara presented flowers to the two graduating male practice players, Greg Klausner and Ilan Kolowitz, followed by managers Kerry and Dorothy.

Then it was time to honor the players, starting with Ashley, joined by her mother and sister. Hannah was escorted by her parents and sister, and Mel was escorted by her mother. Kayla came onto the floor with her parents, followed by Jeanette with her parents and two brothers.

Because the game had started at 8 p.m. on a school night, there was no opportunity to hear directly from the players and their parents.

After that, it was tournament time – coming in Part 3

April 25, 2011

Thanks for the memories – A look back at 2010-11 – Part 1 of 3

Wow, what a ride the Stanford women’s basketball team and its fans took during the 2010-11 season. Compiling a 33-3 record, the team made history with its second consecutive combination of an undefeated Pac-10 season and the Pac-10 tournament championship. It also set a team record of 63 consecutive wins – and counting -- in Maples Pavilion, meaning that the class of 2011 has never lost a home game.

The team marched through the NCAA tournament at home and in Spokane before going on to its fourth consecutive Final Four and the semi-final game in Indianapolis in April.

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

Pre-season events

KEZAR --- Fans who couldn’t wait for the season to start got their first tantalizing sample of what was to come as they watched incoming freshman guards Sara James and Toni Kokenis plus forward Chiney Ogwumike in the Bay Area Pro-Am summer games at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco.

On the same team with them were sophomore forward Mikaela Ruef and junior forward Sarah Boothe, who was returning to competition after red-shirting the previous year to recuperate from foot surgery. Chiney didn’t play right away because she was in Colorado for the USA U-18 team’s gold medal game, which it won.

All five Cardinal players impressed fans with their scoring, rebounding and ball handling while tallying the majority of their team’s points.

At various times, spectators included not only fans and family but also Stanford players like senior forward Kayla Pedersen, senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, junior guard Lindy La Rocque and junior forward Nneka Ogwumike, all of whom were in summer school. Another interested observer was the James family dog, Sadie, a terrier mix.

WINE TASTING --- As the players returned for the fall term, about three dozen fans gathered at Vino Locale in Palo Alto for the fifth annual Fast Break Club wine tasting and social Sept. 12.

Looking ahead, “this is probably the most competitive schedule that we’ve ever had,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told the group. She listed UConn, which defeated Stanford for the 2010 NCAA national championship in San Antonio; and Xavier, which lost to Stanford in the Sacramento regional final. That’s when Jeanette – 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.

Fans also had a chance to meet the season’s two interns, Lauren Greif, recently graduated Cal guard; and Sha’Rae Gibbons Mitchell, recently graduated UC Santa Barbara guard.

The players began an eight-hour-a-week training regimen on Sept. 15, spending two of those hours with the coaches and the rest in conditioning and weight-lifting.

OPEN PRACTICES --- Regular practices started Oct. 6, followed by an open practice consisting mostly of drills Oct. 9 in Maples Pavilion. Afterward, the players signed autographs for fans going to the Stanford-USC football game (won by Stanford).

Progress was evident three weeks later on Oct. 30 when the team had another open practice followed by a barbecue at Jimmy V’s, where Tara introduced the players. She started with the eldest, fifth-year senior guard, Melanie Murphy, who was rehabbing from knee surgery after the previous season.

The only sour note of the afternoon was that fans learned that senior guard Hannah Donaghe would miss the season after tearing her ACL in a previous practice.

Otherwise, “I don’t know that we’ve ever had a better October,” Tara said. “This group has been really special. Great things are in store.”

She also said she hadn’t decided on a starting lineup except for the big three, returning starters Kayla, Jeanette and Nneka.

EXHIBITIONS --- One week later on Nov. 6, the players donned their home whites and hosted Vanguard for an exhibition game, which the Cardinal won 116-65. In the next exhibition, UC San Diego fell 100-52 to the host Cardinal on Nov. 9. Joining the big three in the starting lineup were Toni and Sarah. Chiney came off the bench to score 24 points in 23 minutes.

The season starts

RUTGERS --- The season got under way for real on Nov. 14 when Rutgers came calling and fell 63-50. The starters were the big three, Chiney and sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle. Afterward, Jeanette spoke to the FBC and thanked the fans for their support. She said that during the time between summer school and the fall term, she went home to Brea in Southern California and worked with the speed coach and the trainer who had helped her so much after her freshman year.

UTAH --- While the team took its first road trip to the University of Utah on Nov. 19, about 30 fans watched the 62-53 victory at the First & Main sports bar in Los Altos. Nneka didn’t play for undisclosed reasons, so Sarah started in her place. Joslyn and Chiney also started along with Jeanette and Kayla. The Stanford crowd cheered for Utes forward Michelle Harrison. She graduated from Stanford in June, but had another year of eligibility after missing a year with a torn ACL. The game also marked Lindy’s first action after rehabbing from a foot injury.

SOUTH CAROLINA --- The team continued its pre-Thanksgiving road trip at Gonzaga on Nov. 21, winning 84-78. Back home after Thanksgiving, the team drubbed South Carolina 70-32 on Nov. 26. The starters were the big three plus Joslyn and Chiney. “A lot of different people are getting looks,” Tara said afterward. “It’s a puzzle to put together.” Joining her at the post-game gathering was Chiney. Even though older sister Nneka was an obvious draw, Chiney chose Stanford after asking herself, “What’s the best combination of athletics and academics? That was an easy decision,” she said.

TEXAS -- The next visitor, the University of Texas, fell 93-78 on Nov. 28. Stanford was ahead 2-0 even before the clock started running. Kayla made two free throws after Texas was called for an administrative technical foul for failing to submit its starting lineup by 10 minutes before the game’s start. After the game, Sara was FBC’s guest. “Stanford was always my first choice,” she said.

FRESNO STATE --- It was Dog Lovers Day on Dec. 12 as the Fresno State Bulldogs came calling but left with a 77-40 loss. Honoring Humane Society Silicon Valley, the afternoon was devoted to Cardinal dogs with photos of players’ and fans’ canines shown on the video board. Then there were some videos of coaches and some staffers morphing into dogs. To top it all off, the popular agility dogs from ACE Dog Sports made their third annual appearance at halftime.

Toni and Chiney were in the starting lineup. Chiney had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the first double-double of her college career. Jeanette also hit a milestone, becoming the 32nd Cardinal to score 1,000 points. She hit that mark in the first half and finished with 15 points. Yet another milestone was that Tara recorded her 799th coaching victory.

“It’s really exciting to see so many people play and do so well,” Tara said while being interviewed by Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, ’10, who was providing color commentary for KZSU radio Post-game guests were Mikaela and Joslyn, who said they were glad to have final exams behind them.

DEPAUL, TENNESSEE --- Next came a disappointing road trip with the Cardinal falling 91-71 to DePaul on Dec. 16 and 82-72 in overtime at Tennessee on Dec. 19. Kayla missed the DePaul game after hitting her head on the floor in the Fresno State game. The crowd included a large contingent of friends and family of Toni and Sarah, who are from the Chicago area.

About 30 fans gathered at Mike’s CafĂ© in Menlo Park to watch the Tennessee game. The starting lineup featured the big three plus Chiney and Lindy.

USF --- The USF game on Dec. 22 was an away game, but it had the feeling of a home game with a busload of Cardinal fans joining hundreds of others expecting to witness history. They weren’t disappointed, as Stanford won 100-45 and gave Tara her 800th career victory. As the final seconds ticked off, red signs popped up everywhere. They read “800” on one side and “Congratulations Tara S” on the other.

The signs were a grace note to the accolades from USF. Head coach Jennifer Azzi and associate head coach Katy Steding, both in their first year there, gave Tara the game ball and flowers. Jennifer and Katy were in Tara’s first Stanford recruiting class in 1985 and 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. Besides the present team, others who had added to the victory total were Tara’s staff: associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coaches Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye.

Chiney didn’t play because of a tweaked ankle, so Joslyn started in her place, along with Lindy and the big three. Kayla led all scorers with 16 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.

XAVIER --- With memories of the last-second win in the Sacramento regional earlier in the year, fans were expecting a tough game when Xavier visited Maples on Dec. 28. They were wrong. Xavier fell 89-52. “This was a statement game for our team,” Tara said afterward.

It also secured the starting lineup for the rest of the season with the big three plus Chiney and Lindy. Also speaking afterward was Vanessa Nygaard, ’98, who was joined by her 6-month-old daughter, Emerson.

UCONN --- Then came the most highly anticipated game of the season for not only Stanford but for all fans of women’s college basketball. UConn arrived at Maples on Dec. 30 with an unprecedented 90-game winning streak, the most by any women’s or men’s NCAA team.

The Huskies left with the streak only a memory as Stanford won decisively, 71-59, before a loud packed house. The score was never tied, nor did UConn ever take the lead. The last time UConn had lost was to Stanford 998 days earlier in the semi-finals of the 2008 Final Four in Tampa.

Jeanette was the game’s undisputed MVP, scoring 31 points, including five 3-pointers, and snatching nine rebounds while dishing out six assists and making one steal. Stanford’s defense held UConn superstar senior Maya Moore to 14 points.

Prior to the game, Angela Taylor, ’93, hosted a gathering in Dallmar Court to announce her new venture, Networks Sports Consulting. One of her first projects is to help Candice Wiggins, ’08, organize a tour of Spain, where she played two years ago. A member of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, Candice returned to Stanford for the fall quarter to finish her undergraduate degree while rehabbing from a torn Achilles.

NEXT UP – Pac-10 play

April 22, 2011

A final farewell

The Stanford women’s basketball spring banquet on April 20 was both a celebration of the 2010-11 season and a sad farewell to some of the people who made it so successful.

Chilly temperatures and the possibility of rain moved the pre-dinner social inside as more than 300 people attended the sold-out event at the Stanford faculty club. The social gave guests a chance to mingle and to talk with the players and coaches. It also gave them a chance to see the players with their hair down and wearing dressy attire. Several of the taller players wore high heels that added 2 or 3 inches to their height.

Senior forward Kayla Pedersen and her classmate, guard Jeanette Pohlen, drew lots of attention as guests wished them well and said how much they’ll be missed. Kayla is headed for the Tulsa Shock after going seventh in the recent WNBA draft, and Jeanette Pohlen will play for the Indiana Fever after going ninth.

Assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey also drew a crowd of well-wishers. She has been named head coach at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

DeeDee Zawaydeh, administrative assistant, served as emcee for the evening, which she termed a tribute to “a memorable and exceptionally great season.” Gracing the wall behind her were the framed jerseys of the departing seniors: Kayla, Jeanette, forward Ashley Cimino and guards Hannah Donaghe and Melanie Murphy (completing her fifth year).

Honors for Tara

After the main course, DeeDee introduced head coach Tara VanDerveer and went through the long list of her accomplishments this year. She was named national coach of the year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, the Associated Press and Atlanta Tip-Off Club (Naismith Award). On top of that, she was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. She’s already a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

She recorded her 800th career win on Dec. 22 when the Cardinal defeated USF 100-45, becoming just the fifth Division I head coach to achieve that milestone. By season’s end, her overall career record was 826-198, DeeDee said. Her record during 25 years at Stanford is 674-147, or 82.1 percent of her games.

After receiving a standing ovation, Tara said, “I’m blown away at how fast this year went.” She also thanked DeeDee for organizing the dinner.

“This is a bittersweet evening,” she said, because it means saying goodbye to five players, two managers and “one outstanding coach.” She then cited the four true seniors’ 63-0 record at home, but added an asterisk that this ongoing Maples record doesn’t include an exhibition loss to the USA team of greats that won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.

“Going to the Final Four four times is exceptional,” she said. Except for Mel, no one else on the team knows anything else, “and we want to keep it that way.”

Saluting the Freshmen

After thanking the supportive Stanford administration and others, she asked the three freshmen to come forward and be introduced alphabetically. She started with guard Sara James, “a very motivated young lady” who had her best game against USF. Tara also noted that Sara’s mother was there.

Next came guard Toni Kokenis, a human biology major who got an honorable mention for the Pac-10 all-freshman team and served “as a very valuable reserve.” Her mother, a UCLA graduate, and father attended the dinner.

Forward Chiney Ogwumike was named the Pac-10 freshman of the year and was named to the all-Pac-10 team and Pac-10 defensive team as well as the NCAA all-regional team in Spokane. She led the team in rebounds with 281, closely followed by Kayla with 280. “She is a competitor. She brought a great passion and energy to the court,” Tara said.

and the Sophomores and Juniors

After more thank-you’s, Tara called up the sophomores: forwards Sarah Boothe (an academic junior who red-shirted the previous season), Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle.

Sarah, a psychology major, “is a very hard worker” with a “sweet high post shot.” Mikaela “made great progress from last year,” while Joslyn “is a high-energy player,” Tara said.

The juniors were introduced after additional thank-you’s. Lindy La Rocque, a two-guard who started 29 games, “is a heady player who does a lot of little things” like setting screens. Her parents were at the dinner.

As for guard Grace Mashore, who is an American studies major, “her contributions are more in practice,” where she runs the scout team. She won the traditional sombrero after recording the best shooting percentage, 2 for 2, on the Arizona trip.

With the graduation of center Jayne Appel last year, “Nneka became the focus of our opponents’ defense,” Tara said. A psychology major, she had “an exceptionally huge tournament,” especially in the second Gonzaga game, when “she was not to be denied.” With a 58.6 percent average, she led the team in scoring with 576 points. She also racked up a number of awards, including All-American recognition by the AP, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, State Farm Coaches and the John R. Wooden Award committee.

Thanks to the Coaches

In thanking her coaching staff, Tara asked the threesome to join her in front. Besides Bobbie, they are associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coach Kate Paye. She credited Amy for her “wealth of knowledge” and ability to judge talent, having spotted Jeanette and Kayla early in their high school years. She also bakes cakes for the players’ birthdays.

She said Kate is “very organized” and a “student of the game” as well as the “key to the development of our guards.”

As for Bobbie, “Congratulations to the newest Badger cheesehead,” Tara said. She’ll do well in her new job at Wisconsin, but she’ll be missed. Bobbie responded, “Thank you for four great years.” She hopes to import some of Stanford’s wisdom to Wisconsin, but “for all you folks who want us to schedule Stanford – forget about it!”

Tara then honored senior team managers Kerry Blake and Dorothy Boakye Donkor. “You don’t always have managers who are so committed to a team,” she said, citing the KerryCam videos from road trips, among other things. They take pride in what they do and became good friends to the team, Tara said.

Saluting the Seniors

Then it was time for the seniors to come forward and be introduced, starting with Ashley. “Ashley is a glue player” who “knows her role and values her role.” Ashley responded by thanking everyone. “I can’t believe this day is actually here,” she said. The communication major told me earlier that she is applying to graduate schools near her home in Maine and is hoping for an internship in public relations.

Even though Hannah couldn’t play this season after tearing her ACL, “she put her energy into cheering for her teammates,” Tara said. Moreover, “we are all better recyclers because of you,” she said to the earth systems major, who is going to Australia to fulfill a study abroad requirement. Hannah responded with a thank-you.

Tara commended Mel for her “tremendous individual effort in our Texas A&M game” and for working hard to come back from what could have been career-ending knee surgery last spring.

“It’s been a great five years for me,” Mel said. “I hope it’s been a great five years for you.” She told me earlier that she’ll probably go back to New York and perhaps run basketball clinics. She also wants to continue working with Candice Wiggins, ’08, who’s leading an autumn trip to Spain, where she played after her first season with the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx.

Up next, “Kayla Pedersen. Wow,” Tara said. She first came to Stanford when she attended Tara’s summer hoops camp as a high school sophomore. During her collegiate career, she set Stanford records for minutes played, 4,762; games started and played, 150; and rebounds, 1,266. Her 1,941 points place her seventh in the Stanford 1,000-point club.

The recipient of many honors, “she has done so much for this team over four years,” Tara said. “She’s a jack of all trades and a master of all trades.”

“Stanford has always been a dream for me,” Kayla said. It was great to have the same coaches for four years, and “this team – they’re my sisters,” she said.

Turning to Jeanette, Tara said, “Jeanette has had a spectacular career.” She tied Kayla for number of games played and was second to her in minutes played. Improving year after year, “she made herself into a great player for Stanford.”

She’s second to Candice in career 3-pointers made (268 to Candice’s 295) and this year set the record for 3’s in a season with 96. She was named Pac-10 Player of the Year and an All-American by the AP, U.S. Basketball Writers Association and the John R. Wooden Award committee. “She has a motor,” Tara said, as she singled out Jeanette’s 31 points in the historic victory over UConn in December.

Like her classmate, Jeanette thanked everyone for their support. She also thanked her parents, who were there, for attending nearly all of her games. Her mother, Cindy, has an unbroken streak of 136 games. “I’m genuinely grateful for the four years I’ve had here,” Jeanette said.

Video Pays Tribute to Season

The guests then were treated to a video prepared by director of videography Bud Anderson and video coordinator Sarah Boruta. It highlighted great plays by each team member as well as memorable moments during the season, including the “Got Bounce” music video created by Mel and featuring the team, cheerleaders, Tree, Dollies and others.

It even showed Hannah getting into the final few seconds of the Cal game, which was senior night. This retrospective made one realize all over again just what a terrific season it was and how much each player contributed.

The last official item of business was to announce the team’s choice for the Lizard Lung Award, a light-hearted tradition honoring the team’s most gullible player, usually a freshman. According to team lore, a player who was being treated for a blister asked what the trainer was using. The trainer told her it came from the lungs of a lizard, and the player believed her.

In keeping with tradition, last year’s winner, Hannah, was the presenter. She also won the award her freshman year. She asked other winners to join her, so Jeanette, Sarah and Bobbie all trooped to the front. Tara noted that the very first winner was Jennifer Azzi, ’90, who is now head coach at USF.

This year’s winner is Chiney, who fell for a traditional prank that upperclassmen play on the freshmen, asking if they brought certain items of equipment on the first road trip. When Chiney said she hadn’t, she went to Tara and apologized. She also believed a story that some teammates had saved two baby mountain lions at the Stanford Dish. “I’m taking one for the team right here,” Chiney said.

Some Final Words

Wrapping up the evening, Tara praised the team for its courage and “the emotional energy that went into this season.” She was especially proud that after the heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M, the team went to dinner, and each senior said how much she enjoyed playing with the team. .

Looking ahead, she said she’s excited about the six freshmen who will come on board this coming fall. “The seniors have set such a high bar” that was learned from others before them, she said. Therefore, she exhorted the returning players to continue that tradition. “Returnees (are the) keepers of the culture,” she said.

And with that, she reminded the returnees that they were due in the weight room at 7:15 a.m. the next day and sent everyone on their way.

Many in the crowd lingered afterward, chatting with the players and calling them together to pose for one last group shot of the team of 2010-11.

Coming next, a three-part retrospective of the season.

April 8, 2011

So close, so proud

The Stanford women’s basketball team’s hopes for a national championship evaporated in a mere 3 seconds after Texas A&M scored the winning basket to inch ahead 63-62. It appeared the Cardinal had the upper hand after a basket by junior forward Nneka Ogwumike put her team ahead 62-61 with 9 seconds left, but the Aggies managed to get the ball down the court and score.

It was a bitter disappointment for a team that has now gone to four consecutive Final Fours and returned home without a trophy. Hopes were high that this would be the time as the team journeyed to Indianapolis to play the semi-final game on April 3.

The loss was especially difficult for the seniors, especially the two starters, forward Kayla Pedersen and guard Jeanette Pohlen, along with their classmates, forward Ashley Cimino and guard Hannah Donaghe, plus fifth-year guard Melanie Murphy, who played a significant role in the final game.

Nevertheless, the team and individual players can point to a long list of accomplishments as they compiled a 33-3 season record along with numerous records set by the team and individuals. In addition, head coach Tara VanDerveer earned three national coach of the year honors, was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and passed her 800-win milestone.

Sure, the outcome might have been different if just a few things had been different. Still, no one can deny that the Aggies played strong defense that led them to dispatch Notre Dame 76-70 in the title game. Thus the Aggies had eliminated two of the No. 1 seeds, Baylor (in the regional) and Stanford, while the Irish had bounced the other two, Tennessee (in the regional) and UConn, leaving two No. 2 seeds to vie for the national championship.

High Hopes at Rally

The day of the semi-final games began with warm sunshine, high hopes and high spirits for a social and rally at the team’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. The crowd included several hundred fans and family members like Erica and Olivia Ogwumike, younger sisters of Nneka and freshman forward Chiney. The younger O sisters were wearing T-shirts that said “Go Sis” on front and the numbers 13 and 30 on the back, for Chiney and Nneka, respectively. They later told a fan that their mother had made the shirts.

More creativity was evident in three children wearing Tree costumes with “Sprig” on one, “Sprout” on another and “Shrub” on the third. They quickly became favorites for photos, posing with the cheerleaders.

The crowd also included Bea Gorton, who was the first women’s basketball coach at Indiana University and who was Tara’s college coach.

As it came closer to the time for the team to leave, the band began playing outside and fans assembled along a red carpet to cheer the players and coaches as they emerged from the hotel. After several songs by the band, it was time to get on the bus, which was led by two Indianapolis motorcycle officers with their sirens wailing.

Before the Stanford-A&M game at Conseco Fieldhouse, I bought a bottle of water and was dismayed when the woman behind the counter took the cap. She said it was a practice that started when people at other events had thrown filled bottles onto the court.

Such a precaution seemed unnecessary in the large, loud but courteous crowd from all four schools. Stanford’s contingent took up about two sections behind the bench, and a few other Cardinal fans were scattered elsewhere.

Band Asks for Help

Just before the game started, the band played the traditional “All Right Now” and, as usual, mixed in some other tunes, including “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.” Nice try, but it didn’t work.

It was a tight game with nine lead changes and four ties. Stanford’s largest lead was 10 points with 15:07 left in the second half, while A&M’s biggest margin was 7 points with 7:54 to go in the first half.

Statistically, Stanford led in rebounds, 39-29; assists, 13-10; blocks, 8-5; steals, 8-7; and points in the paint, 32-22. The Cardinal had 18 fouls to the Aggies’ 19, but the Aggies made all 10 of their free throws while Stanford capitalized on 13 of 19. The Aggies had 12 turnovers, which led to 10 Stanford points, while Stanford had 22 that led to 21 Aggie points.

Nneka led both teams in scoring with 31 points. Jeanette was the only other Cardinal in double figures with 11 points, while Kayla was the game leader with 10 rebounds. Chiney and Mel both fouled out late in the game. Jeanette went to the bench with a sprained ankle after the Aggies’ final basket with 3.3 seconds left. Stanford’s effort to get the ball all the way up the court for a final score was unsuccessful, and so ended the game.

Two days later, the stands were filled with A&M and Notre Dame fans. It appeared that many Stanford fans had surrendered their seats, but a few stuck around, as did some UConn fans.

Aggie, Irish Fans Flock to Indianapolis

Some Aggie fans at my hotel that morning said they had driven up to Indianapolis through stormy weather after their team won. Likewise, it appeared that many Notre Dame fans had joined the crowd after their team’s semi-final win, but it’s only about a three-hour drive from South Bend to Indianapolis. Notre Dame also had a large turnout of green-clad students who came in the chartered buses that were parked outside the arena.

Even though the championship went to Texas A&M, the Stanford women have much to be proud of. One need only watch the press conference with Tara, Nneka, Kayla and Mel to see how gracefully, though sadly, they accepted the loss to the Aggies.

There was no finger-pointing, no blaming. Instead they complimented the Aggies. The players’ biggest regret, as voiced by Kayla, was that they would no longer be playing with and for their teammates. That’s a sentiment shared by their saddened fans, who will miss Kayla, Jeanette, Ashley, Hannah and Mel. They’ve given us many happy memories.