April 14, 2013

Banquet pays final tribute to team

Fans had a final chance to say farewell and thank you to the 2012-13 Stanford women’s basketball team during the annual spring banquet April 11.

For the first time, the banquet was held in McCaw Hall of the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center rather than the Faculty Club. The new venue proved to be an improvement because it’s roomier. So many people attended last year’s banquet that some of the staff had to sit outside on the patio.

Another difference this year was that the dinner was served buffet style rather than sit-down, allowing the 230 guests a greater choice of items and serving sizes. Thanks to Jimmy V and his crew, the main course choices of filet of beef, filet of salmon, chicken Madeira and stuffed Portobellini mushrooms were well received. The social hour featured tasty appetizers like giant prawns.

Still another difference was that wine and soft drinks were included gratis throughout the event.

As she has in the past, administrative assistant DeeDee Zawaydeh took care of the arrangements and served as emcee before handing the microphone over to head coach Tara VanDerveer.

Tara commented that when she arrived for the dinner, she saw some familiar faces but couldn’t quite place them at first because the players were so dressed up. “This is a group that cleans up really well,” she said.

“Some incredible highs” this year

This event celebrates “a great year (with) some incredible highs,” she said. Although many fans had a modest outlook for the season after the graduation of the great Nneka Ogwumike last year, “Jos and her teammates did not get that memo,” Tara said, referring to senior forward Joslyn Tinkle.

She cited some of the team’s accomplishments, starting with the defeat of defending national champion Baylor in November and doing so without fouling its star, Brittney Griner.

She continued with the team’s Pac-12 season and tournament championships and its 20th trip to the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen. It set a defensive record, allowing only 51.9 points per game, she said, as she ticked off additional records. (Marian Cortesi recaps all of them in Stories of the Season on this website.)

Many people to thank

Tara began thanking all the behind-the-scenes people who were responsible for making the season a success, starting with first-year athletic director Bernard Muir, other administrators and scholarship donors. One of Bernard’s two daughters was a ball girl for the team. She and her sister arrived later after their mom had picked them up.

In keeping with tradition, Tara introduced each player, starting with the freshmen, including managers Megan Ferowich and Tiarra Little.

She praised walk-on guard Denia Ebersole as “a very hard worker” and guard Kiran Lakhian as a Texan who made “a great decision to come to Stanford.”

Forward Aly Beebe didn’t play this season because she suffered a second torn ACL last spring and underwent reconstructive surgery. She has been cleared for limited workouts. It is hoped that she’ll be ready to play next season.

Forward Tess Picknell came to understand the difference between high school and elite college play. Unlike everyone else on the team, she was able to practice every day. She’s expected to have a great sophomore year, Tara said.

Sophomores in the spotlight

After more thank-you’s, it was time to introduce the sophomores, starting with guard Jasmine Camp, who missed most of her freshman year with an injury. “It’s great to have Jas back and healthy,” Tara said, adding that she brings great energy to the team.

Guard Alex Green also missed much of her freshman year and part of this season because of an injury, but she was cleared to play during the winter. She was a great defensive player in high school, Tara said.

Forward Erica Payne is a “high-energy” player and an “excellent student.” who earned an honorable mention for the Pac-12 all-academic team.

Forward Bonnie Samuelson, a great 3-point shooter, earned the same honor. Forward Taylor Greenfield, who had a taped finger that was broken in the Georgia game, “had some spectacular games,” including Gonzaga and Baylor, Tara said.

Point guard Amber Orrange was “one of our most improved players” and was named to the All Pac-12 team.

Amber speaks up

In a new twist for the banquet, Amber was given a microphone so that Tara could interview her. Tara noted that when the team huddles during timeouts, she looks at Amber to see what she thinks about suggested plays.

When Tara asked what she did to improve last summer, Amber said, “It was just getting in the gym every day.” Her coaches and teammates encouraged her, too.

More thank-you’s followed, including interns Katie Schlein and Abby Ganzon, who spent much of their time assisting video coordinator Lauren Greif. Along with her team duties, Lauren has been going to graduate school and will complete her degree this year, Tara said.

Next in line for introductions were the juniors, starting with guard Toni Kokenis, who missed part of the season with an undisclosed medical condition. “It became much tougher (for the team) without Toni,” Tara said, but “we all hope to see her back on the court next year.” Toni was another player who earned an honorable mention for the Pac-12 all-academic team.

Sara has a story to tell

Guard Sara James became a starter and a leader during the season. Handing her a microphone, Tara asked her to repeat a story she had told Tara over the phone two summers ago.

It seems that when Sara was working on her ball handling skills in the garage of her family’s Sierra foothills home, she found a rattlesnake. Her father, Mike, took care of the problem.

“She’s very dedicated,” Tara said, adding that during the offseason, Sara refined her 3-point shot, which she works on every day. “Sara has great discipline and a great work ethic,” Tara concluded.

As for forward Chiney Ogwumike, last year she was Nneka’s younger sister. This year Nneka is her older sister, Tara said.

Chiney leads the way

After Nneka graduated, “I was a little nervous,” Tara said, but Chiney came on to lead the team in scoring at 22.4 points per game and in rebounding at 12.9 per game, among many other accomplishments (see Stories of the Season), while never fouling out.

Her honors included being named a WBCA All-American for the second year. She was among the five Stanford players who earned honorable mention on the Pac-12 all-academic team

“I have wonderful teammates who support me,” Chiney said when Tara interviewed her. An international studies major, Chiney will spend this spring quarter as an intern for the minister of petroleum in Nigeria. She also is fund-raising for a charity that wants to build basketball courts in Nigeria, her parents’ native land.

“I love being around the basket,” she said, but during the summer, she plans to work on her footwork and her outside shots.

The coaches will be allowed to spend some time with the players for the first time this summer, so everyone will be in summer school, Tara said.

Tara thanks coaches

Speaking of the coaches, she began thanking her staff, starting with second-year assistant coach Trina Patterson, who was there with her husband, Carl.

“This year she really took over in a different way,” Tara said. She “did a great job scouting, recruiting” and working with the posts, especially Tess. “Our team is really fortunate to have you as a coach,” Tara told her.

Assistant coach Kate Paye was born in Stanford Hospital and graduated from Stanford, where she played basketball. “It’s great to have Kate on our staff,” Tara said, noting that she’s very creative in devising plays.

Associate head coach Amy Tucker “has the best record at Stanford,” going undefeated the year that Tara took a leave of absence to coach the USA team to a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics. She coordinates recruiting and works with the admissions office. Although she doesn’t scout per se, she watches all of the tapes and is a great tactician, Tara said.

Kudos for seniors

Finally it was time for the seniors, starting with forward Mikaela Ruef. Because Mikaela red-shirted during her junior year, she has another year of eligibility and will return next season.

“Mikaela Ruef is the main reason why our team is 33-3,” Tara said, noting that Mikaela, who wears 3 on her jersey, “is crazy about the number 3.” She played in every game this season and averaged 6.6 points per game (a multiple of 3).

When Mikaela was working out last summer, then-strength and conditioning coach Susan Borchardt, ’05, raved about how hard she worked. “The light bulb went on,” Tara said.

Mikaela started for the first time in the Baylor game and was assigned to guard Griner because Chiney and Joslyn couldn’t get in foul trouble. She stayed in the starting lineup for the rest of the season.

She’s working on her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering. In keeping with tradition, the printed program includes notes from all of the players to the seniors. Nearly every player mentioned how smart and helpful Mikaela is. She was among the Stanford players who earned an honorable mention on the all Pac-12 academic team.

Joslyn completes double major

Joslyn came last. She has already completed a double major in communications and sociology. During her four years on the Farm, the team compiled an 81-1 record in conference play, a 137-10 record (92.3 percent) overall and went to three Final Fours. She was named to the all Pac-12 team and joined Stanford’s 1,000-point club this season. A versatile player, she had 66 blocks.

“She has great basketball instincts,” Tara said. “She brought great energy and enthusiasm every day” – traits stressed by her teammates in their tributes. Her “graduation creates a big void,” Tara said.

Sitting in front of a framed red jersey with her number, 44, Joslyn said, “I’m eternally grateful to have worn this jersey for four years. This jersey represents four wonderful years here.”

She plans to continue playing basketball, probably overseas, and hopes to return to this area eventually.

Video encapsulates the season

A video created by Lauren and video producer Bud Anderson climaxed the evening. It started by showing Nneka going No. 1 to the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA draft last April, then featured game clips of each player. Next came game highlights from throughout the season, followed by a listing of the team’s impressive records.

“We have outstanding accomplishments,” Tara said after the lights went on. Discussing the just-concluded collegiate season, she noted “more parity, which I believe is a good thing except when it comes to us.”

The team handled adversity well. “We never had excuses” or blamed anyone. The NCAA tournament saw some teams come apart at the seams, but this team is mature, one that strives for excellence. “We want a team of givers,” she said.

With so many players returning next season and the arrival of five promising freshmen, “stick around for our second half,” Tara said. She challenged the returning players to step up and lead the way. “The hungry lion hunts best,” she said, thanking everyone for coming and concluding, “Go, Stanford.”

After the formal program had ended, the team gathered at the podium to pose for pictures. Besides being dressed up, the players had graciously chatted with fans throughout the evening.

Now it’s time to wait until early November, when exhibition games begin, followed by the real thing.

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