February 27, 2012

Grace-ful note to Senior Day

There were many reasons to celebrate the Stanford women’s basketball team’s 69-42 victory over Utah on Feb. 25, Senior Day, but none were more rousing than the final moment. That’s when senior guard Grace Mashore made a 3-point shot, her first basket of the season, leading to a tremendous roar from the crowd.

Grace’s basket was a fitting way to cap off the victory, the team’s 78th straight at home and head coach Tara VanDerveer’s 700th win at Stanford. Overall, the Hall of Fame coach has won 852 games in her career.

After a slow start against Colorado earlier in the week, the Cardinal left no doubt about how this game was to proceed. Freshman guard Amber Orrange scored on Stanford’s first possession, while a stifling Cardinal defense led Utah into shot-clock violations on its first two possessions. Utah was down 9-0 before scoring its first basket with 15:30 to go in the first half, which ended 36-14 in Stanford’s favor.

Utah made some good adjustments in the second half, scoring 28 points, only 5 less than Stanford but not enough to overcome the home team.

Sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike led the Cardinal offense with 16 points to go with 12 rebounds, one assist and one steal. Her senior sister, Nneka, was right behind her with 15 points plus seven rebounds, one assist, five blocks and two steals.

Both Amber and junior forward Joslyn Tinkle had 12 points, while the other starter, sophomore guard Toni Kokenis, had 6. Amber also had four rebounds and one assist. Joslyn contributed nine rebounds, two assists and one steal; and Toni pitched in with four rebounds, three assists and one steal.

Grace also had a rebound in her brief court appearance, while senior guard Lindy La Rocque had 3 points and two assists. Senior center Sarah Boothe was still sidelined by a foot problem, but Tara continued to express hope that she would soon return to action.

For entertainment during the game, there was another visit by Shockwave, a T-shirt-shooting robot, during two timeouts. Bloomer basketball at halftime featured players much older than the collegians. Unlike the full-court game seen today, these women followed more limited rules from the ’50s and ’60s.

The video board showed a photo of Stanford’s 1896 team, which won the first-ever women’s college basketball game 2-1 over Cal on April 4, 1896.

Also during halftime, the No. 1 nationally ranked men’s volleyball team accepted the crowd’s cheers and tossed victory balls into the stands.

Salute to the seniors at Maples

Nevertheless, the afternoon belonged to the Class of 2012 – Grace, Lindy, Sarah and Nneka – as they were honored in a post-game ceremony in Maples and afterward in a Fast Break Club gathering in Dallmar Court.

The post-game ceremony started with video saluting each player and ending with a list of the class’s accomplishments: three consecutive Final Fours, three consecutive conference championships, no losses at Maples and a 127-11 record overall. Click here to access the video.

Entering through an aisle formed by the other players and WBB staff, each of the four walked to center court with her parents and other family members. There they received red flowers from Tara, who introduced each one, starting alphabetically with Sarah.

Sarah, who will earn her degree in psychology in June, was with her parents, Rose and Mark of Gurnee, Ill., in the Chicago area, along with her California family.

Lindy, slated to graduate in June with a degree in science, technology and society, was joined by her parents, Al and Beverly of Las Vegas, her sister, Ally, and another family member. Tara noted that Lindy has made 103 3-pointers during her Stanford career.

Grace came onto the floor with her parents, Derrick and Paula of Washington, D.C. She’s getting her degree in American studies.

Nneka was escorted by her parents, Ify and Peter of Cypress, Texas, near Houston, along with sisters Chiney, Olivia and Erica. Tara said that she’s a two-time All-American and a member of Stanford’s exclusive 2,000-point/1,000-rebound club.

All of their teammates, coaches and other staffers joined them at center court to congratulate them and pose for photos as the band played the alma mater song.

As fans and players arrived at Dallmar, Morgan Clyburn, ’09, hugged her former teammates. Morgan had conducted a basketball clinic for youngsters before the game.

Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, announced that Stanford would have an allotment of tickets for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in March. Stanford will learn its seeding and bracket placement during a program to be televised at 4 p.m. March 12 on ESPN.

Associate head coach Amy Tucker introduced the locker sponsors for the six freshmen, who each gave their sponsors photos of themselves with the sponsors.

Getting to know more about Sarah

As was true at Maples, Tara introduced the seniors alphabetically starting with Sarah and asking what had attracted her to Stanford. “I was always attracted to Stanford. This is an amazing campus,” she said.

Sarah’s mom, Rose, said that when Sarah was younger, she and her two brothers, one older and one younger, would play basketball together. All three were so competitive in those games and their school games that she would afraid they’d get hurt.

Representing the team, Toni said Sarah is “like everyone’s big sister.” She takes coffee to Toni, and “she’s always there for you. We call her Mama Boothe.”

As a psych major, Sarah said she hopes to earn advanced degrees, become a psychologist and work with youngsters. Because she missed her sophomore season following foot surgery, she has another year of eligibility and could return next year.

Lindy comes up with signature plays

“Some players have a signature play,” Tara said. For Lindy, it was the home game against Cal when Lindy was a freshman. She dove onto the floor for a loose ball, flipped it to a streaking Jillian Harmon, ’09, who scored an uncontested layup. Tara said people still come up to her to talk about this play. It’s featured on several videos, including the senior tribute. But then, Lindy has made “so many great plays,” Tara said.

Reflecting on other Stanford highlights, Lindy said, “The UConn game was great.” She referred to last season at home, when Stanford snapped the Huskies’ Division 1 record winning streak at 99 games. And “The Final Fours are amazing,” she said, adding that she has enjoyed getting to know the fans.

Her dad, Al, a former high school basketball coach, noted that he retired in 2008, when Lindy graduated from high school. Since then, he has attended nearly all of her games. Now that she’s leaving Stanford, he’s not quite sure what he’ll do with his time.

Even though Joslyn is from Montana, she had known Lindy before Stanford because they played against each other in an AAU tournament in Las Vegas. So when Joslyn came to campus for her official visit, “it was nice to see a friendly face.” Since then, “she’s always been there for me.”

“We call her Coach La Rocque. She will be very missed,” Joslyn said, adding that she has enjoyed getting to know Lindy’s family, too.

Looking ahead, Lindy said, “I do want to be around basketball next year” and thereafter. After this season ends, she plans to seek advice from her coaches.

“We do talk about coaching stuff,” Tara said. She credited Lindy for a suggestion that led to a signature play for Jeanette Pohlen, ’11, when Stanford was in Sacramento playing Xavier for the right to go to the 2010 Final Four. With 4.4 seconds left and the game tied, the ball was inbounded to Jeanette from under the Xavier basket. Jeanette streaked the length of the court and scored the game-winning basket as time ran out.

Grace is important to the team

When Tara spoke of Grace, she noted “how important she is to our team.” She first came to Stanford when she attended a summer basketball camp. When she and Tara recently teamed up against assistant coach Kate Paye and freshman forward Erica Payne in the team’s traditional 2v2 game in Arizona, Grace made the winning shot. She’s a “high-energy person, very positive,” Tara said.

Grace’s father, Derrick, said that Grace was born 10 ½ weeks premature and spent the next five weeks in ICU, followed by six months at home on a bedside monitor and another month in the hospital, he said. “She’s a tough kid.”

When she was in third grade, she played on her first regular team, which lost a game 2-1. Grace cried after that, but one week later she led her team to victory over the same team, he said.

“I am really going to miss Grace,” said sophomore guard Sara James, representing the team. Sara said she was shy when she arrived last year, but this year she got to know Grace well and found her well-rounded, hard-working and competitive. “Grace has helped me through” bad days,” Sara said. “She makes me want to work even harder.”

Grace said she doesn’t have definite plans for after graduation but that she’s looking at all possibilities.

Tara enjoys coaching Nneka

Next came Nneka’s turn. “I just enjoy coaching Nneka every day,” Tara said. “It’s really amazing to have a player who gets it in a big way.” Like all of the other players, she comes from a great family, Tara said.

Ify, Nneka’s mother, responded, “You’ve made this home for my girls.” Recalling Nneka’s childhood, Ify said, “Nneka has always been full of energy.” When she was 4 months old, she hadn’t yet mastered the knack of crawling, so to get from Point A to Point B, she would roll.

Several years later, after Nneka had been joined by three younger sisters, Ify came home one day and saw a big patched hole in the wall. The girls said the vacuum cleaner did it. Later they told her the real story. Nneka had come up with a plan to slide down the stairs on a big book inside a metal baking pan.

“She’s been a wonderful daughter and a great, great sister,” Ify said. She thanked the coaches for what they’ve done for Nneka and for giving straightforward answers when they made their home visit during the recruiting process. Nneka had been heavily recruited by other colleges, including several in Texas, but the Stanford coaching staff was a major factor in Nneka’s decision to attend Stanford, Ify said.

Ify and Peter are both from Nigeria, so when Nneka, whose full name is Nnemkadi, was born, they gave her a name that has significance in their native country. Her birth had followed several losses in Ify’s life, so her name “was given in honor of the strong traits in the female line. She has done a beautiful job of living up to that name,” Ify said.

Peter referred to one of his favorite sayings, “Every disappointment is a blessing. … Four years ago, we started this voyage with Nneka.” Now she’s moving on to the next opportunity in her life.

“It’s been a wonderful journey,” Nneka said, and her next opportunity will come quickly. She’ll graduate after this term in hopes of going on to the WNBA. “I’m nervous but excited.” Eventually she wants to go to business school and possibly represent sports foundations working with kids.

When she arrived at Stanford and went to her first basketball practices, she asked many questions. Finally, before one practice started, Tara decreed there would be no questions. “When can we ask questions,” Nneka responded.

Chiney, the more outgoing of the two Stanford sisters, got up to represent the team and said, “I think I was born with a mike in my hand.”

In elementary school, Nneka was tough and energetic. “She had so much energy, it basically wound us up in private school,” Chiney said. To channel some of that energy, their parents got them involved in sports like volleyball and gymnastics.

When they joined an AAU basketball team, “We had no clue what we were in for,” she said, for they had never played basketball. Nneka didn’t do well at first, Chiney said, “but now she’s the best player in the nation.”

“She has taught me so many, many lessons. She’s a mother to all of us,” Chiney said.

Nneka introduced her other two sisters, who both play basketball. Olivia is a forward, and Erica is a guard. She also thanked her parents for having the faith and trust to send herself and Chiney to Stanford.

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