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 Café 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

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