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.