April 24, 2014

Thanks for the memories, Part 1 of 3

During a 2013-14 season that went from coast to coast and took the players to two foreign countries, the Stanford women’s basketball team compiled a 33-4 record and went to its sixth Final Four in seven years.

This series of three articles will recall how it all unfolded.

For the players returning from the 2012-13 season, the new season began with workouts and conditioning right after the 2013 spring banquet. Senior forward Chiney Ogwumike, an international relations major, had an internship in Nigeria during the spring quarter.

Because of new NCAA rules allowing coaches some time to work with players during the summer, all returning players and the five incoming freshmen attended summer school or were in the area and available for practice. Several players helped out at head coach Tara VanDerveer’s summer hoops camps for youngsters.

Tempie, Brittany join the staff

The team had a new assistant coach, Tempie Brown, a 14-year coaching veteran who joined the Stanford staff after recently being promoted to associate head coach at Michigan State University. She replaced Trina Patterson, who went to Old Dominion University in Virginia, her home state, after two years at Stanfor

Also new to the Stanford staff was sports performance coach Brittany Keil, who came to Stanford from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where she was an assistant strength and conditioning coach. She also played basketball there.

The team’s summer climaxed with a 10-day trip to Italy, Aug. 27-Sept. 5. Visiting Rome, Florence and Venice, the players combined sightseeing and competing, playing against three Italian women’s teams.

Because of this trip, the team was allowed to practice for two hours a day during the 10 days before leaving, said associate head coach Amy Tucker.

Fans, alums enjoy open practice on Homecoming Day

Fans at home got their first glimpse of the new edition of the team during an open practice Oct. 19, Homecoming Day. This was the first time that fans saw the effect of a new rule giving teams only 10 seconds to cross the center line after gaining possession of the ball. It wasn’t a problem for the Cardinal.

Fans also got their first look at the freshmen: forwards Erica McCall and Kailee Johnson and guards Lili Thompson, Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson. Only Erica, Karlie and Kailee practiced. The other two, plus junior forwards Erica Payne and Bonnie Samuelson, were at the north end of the court working out with Brittany.

Also with the team but not participating was senior guard Toni Kokenis, who took medical retirement in July after several concussions in previous seasons. She went on to remain with the team throughout the season.

Observers also included a dozen WBB alums who were on campus for homecoming.

Competition starts with exhibition win

The next chance to see the team came with a 79-47 exhibition victory at home against Vanguard on Nov. 3. The win came even though the team was shorthanded. Briana, senior guard Sara James and junior forwards Taylor Greenfield, Erica P. and Bonnie were unavailable.

The starters were Chiney, redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef, junior point guard Amber Orrange, redshirt sophomore guard Alex Green and Kailee.

Everyone scored, but Chiney led the way with 27 points and 15 rebounds in 21 minutes. Her contributions were nearly equaled by Kailee and Erica McCall, who teamed up for 27 points (13 and 14, respectively) and 13 rebounds (nine and four, respectively).

After the game, the team gathered in front of the bench while Tara introduced each player. “This is going to be a great season,” Tara said. “We’re playing a tremendous schedule.”

On the road to the East Coast

The season started for real with an East Coast trip that took the team to Boston College on Nov. 9 and defending national champion UConn on Nov. 11.

It started on a victorious note with an 83-71 win in Massachusetts. For the record, Alex scored the first official basket of the season, and Amber was just one rebound short of a triple double with 19 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Chiney scored 30 points.

Things got tougher two days later when UConn topped the Cardinal 76-57. Amber led the team with a career-high 22 points. Chiney had 16.

Back home for two wins

Then it was back to the friendly confines of Maples Pavilion, where Stanford defeated Cal Poly 86-51 on Nov. 15.

Tara reconfigured the starting lineup somewhat, inserting Lili in place of Alex, who had started the previous two games. Otherwise, the starters were the same: Chiney, Mikaela, Amber and Kailee.

Playing only 30 minutes, Chiney scored a career-high 36 points plus 11 rebounds for her 61st career double-double. Ten of the 12 available players added to the final score. (Taylor, Erica P. and Briana were in street clothes.)

Mikaela contributed a career-high and team-high 14 rebounds plus a team-high seven assists, most of them nifty passes to Chiney.

Tara praises freshmen

The team chalked up another home win on Nov. 17, defeating UC Davis 66-48. During the Behind the Bench after the game, Tara praised the five freshmen, saying they’re all “spectacular. They’re really fabulous young players.”

Nevertheless, they’re still adapting to Stanford basketball. “We’re not running a lot of plays” because there are so many young players. “They have to learn the system and study scouting reports,” Tara said.

Fans heard from two of the freshmen, Kailee and Erica McCall, nicknamed “Bird.”

Kailee, who hails from Portland, Ore., said that although it’s too early to declare a major, she’s interested in business and might major in science, technology and society.

“All the freshmen have bonded,” said Bird, who comes from Bakersfield, where her father, Greg, is coach of the CSU Bakersfield women’s basketball team. Her older sister, DeWanna Bonner, plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.

Bird was in the starting lineup for the first time, joining Lili, Chiney, Mikaela and Amber. Briana, Taylor and Erica P. were still unavailable.

Long road trip starts in Texas, continues in Mexico

It was back on the road again, as the team traveled to Texas and recorded a victory on Nov. 23. In the starting lineup were Chiney, Mikaela, Karlie, Lili and Amber.

Texas limited Chiney in the first half and led 37-17. Then Chiney asserted herself, and the team outscored Texas 33-17 in the second half to win the game 63-54. Chiney had 18 points.

From there the team flew to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for the Hardwood Tournament of Hope during the Thanksgiving break.

The team had a lot to be thankful for, enjoying successive wins over Purdue, 86-69, on Nov. 26; Florida Gulf Coast, 83-59, on Nov. 27; and South Dakota State, 80-60, on Nov. 28.

Tara chalks up 900th career win

The Florida Gulf Coast victory marked Tara’s 900th career win. After the South Dakota State victory, the team was awarded the tournament championship trophy and Chiney was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Also noteworthy in that latter game is that the freshmen accounted for 30 points. Kailee had 10, Bird 9, Karlie 8 and Lili 3. Chiney had 29 and Amber 13.

When the team returned to Maples after its long road trip and 16 days off for finals, it defeated Gonzaga 73-45 on Dec. 14.

Home fans honor Tara

After the game, the team and fans as well as the Gonzaga players stayed to honor Tara for her earlier 900th career victory. While the video board flashed highlights of her career, the Stanford women donned red T-shirts emblazoned with “900.”

Stanford president John Hennessy and athletic director Bernard Muir unveiled a framed white Stanford jersey with Tara’s last name and the number 900. Joining Tara at center court was her mother, Rita, who had surprised her with a visit the night before.

Yet another reason to celebrate that night is that Taylor and Erica Payne returned to action for the first time this season. Briana, still rehabbing from an injury, was in uniform but didn’t play. Karlie was in street clothes.

At the beginning of the game, fans honored Nicole Powell, ’04, who was in her first year as an assistant coach at Gonzaga after playing professionally for the WNBA and overseas.

“Fans, today we welcome back one of Stanford’s all-time greats,” announcer Betty Ann Boeving said before tipoff. The video board showed highlights of her Stanford accomplishments followed by a prolonged ovation.

An earlier video honored the Stanford football team for winning the Pac-12 conference to earn the right to play in its second consecutive Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

A subsequent video featured WBB highlights. It ended, “Tradition never graduates.”

Chiney joins 2,000/1,000 club

When the team defeated New Mexico 75-41 at home on Dec. 16, Chiney marked a major milestone in her career when she became the only the fifth Stanford WBB player in history to score at record at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career.

Thus she joined an exclusive club whose members are her sister Nneka, ’12; Jayne Appel,’10; Nicole, ’04; and Val Whiting, ’93.

By the time the game was over, she had scored a total of 32 points to go with seven rebounds in 23 minutes.

Stanford upsets Tennessee; all players in uniform

There were plenty of presents under the Tree for the team and more than 6,000 fans when Tennessee came to Maples Pavilion on Dec. 21.

First, Stanford, ranked No. 6 at the time, upset No. 3 Tennessee 76-70.

Second, Chiney had a dominating game, playing all 40 minutes, scoring 32 points and snaring 20 rebounds. When she scored her 14th point with 6:38 to go in the first half, she surpassed Jeanne Ruark Hoff,’83, to rank seventh on Stanford’s all-time scoring list. Two days later she was unanimously named espnW’s National Player of the Week.

Third, all 15 players were in uniform for the first time this season. Because the Lady Vols remained within striking distance throughout the game, though, only nine got onto the court.

Upon entering Maples, many fans received red rally towels with “WHOSE HOUSE? C-HOUSE” in prominent white letters. This slogan comes from a football team tradition. As senior free safety Ed Reynolds explained at halftime, when the team was honored, the team chants this question and response at every game, starting softly and building to a roar.

C-House is also the name given to a Stanford football video series that began just before the 2013 season. C-House stands for Cardinal-House.

Win in Fresno concludes pre-conference schedule

Wrapping up its pre-conference schedule and the year 2013, the team traveled to Fresno State for an 86-54 win on Dec. 28. The victory upped the Cardinal record to 11-1 and kept its national ranking at No. 4 for the second straight week.

Because Sara was unable to play (as was Karlie), Taylor started in her place. She played 25 minutes and scored 18 points to go with six rebounds.

Chiney played only 23 minutes yet had 20 points and 10 rebounds for her eighth double-double of the season. She upped her career total to 2,079 points, moving her into fifth place on Stanford’s all-time scoring list. Her career rebounding total rose to 1,257, putting her just six behind Jayne for second and nine behind the Pac-12 and Stanford record of 1,266 held by Kayla Pedersen, ’11.

Briana got into the game for the first time since a three-minute stint in the UConn game. This time she played seven minutes. When she made a free throw, the first point of her collegiate career, she was roundly cheered by her teammates and fans. She had been limited by an injury.

Another highlight was the team’s season-high 12 3-pointers. Taylor and Bonnie had four each, while Amber had three and Mikaela had one.

Next: Pac-12 competition

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