April 12, 2014

We’re proud of our superb nerds

Even though the Final Four outcome was disappointing, Stanford women’s basketball players have many reasons to hold their heads high.

Playing undefeated UConn in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on April 6, Stanford lost that semi-final game 75-56, a 19-point difference.

UConn went on to defeat previously undefeated Notre Dame 79-58 – a 21-point difference – for the national championship on April 8. This was UConn’s second consecutive national championship and its ninth overall, surpassing Tennessee’s record.

Notre Dame had earned its berth in the championship game by defeating Maryland 87-61 in the game preceding Stanford’s. Notre Dame’s always stylishly dressed head coach Muffett McGraw sported sparkly high heels in Irish Green.

Stanford leads during first half

During its game, Stanford led UConn by 6 points, 16-10, about midway through the first half and kept a lead for 12 minutes, 10 seconds, the longest that UConn had been behind all season.

Stanford ended the half down by only 4 points, 28-24. By contrast, Notre Dame had only one lead, 8-6, about five minutes into the game. The score was 45-38 in UConn’s favor at the half.

UConn’s defense and size were too much for the Cardinal, but rebounding was fairly even, 35 for UConn, 33 for Stanford. UConn outrebounded the Irish 54-31.

Fouls were a problem with 16 by the Cardinal and 10 by the Huskies. Thus the Huskies were able to cash in on free throws, making 17 of 24 for 17 points. The Cardinal made a higher percentage, eight of 10, but for only 8 points. Turnovers were yet another problem, with 13 by Stanford and eight by UConn.

Junior point guard Amber Orrange led her team in scoring with 16 points, followed by senior forward and three-time All-American Chiney Ogwumike with 15 and by freshman guard Lili Thompson with 12.

During the first half, the video board showed each of the Final Four teams being asked for a favorite song. Naturally, the Cardinal named “Nerd Nation,” the rap video created by Chiney and redshirt sophomore guard Jasmine Camp as a successor to “Nerd City,” created two years ago by Chiney and her sister Nneka, ’12.

Both videos featured athletes from various Stanford sports and touted their pride at being successful in academics as well as in athletics.

Erica Payne honored for highest GPA

Symbolic of that success, junior forward Erica Payne was honored with the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award. She had the highest cumulative grade point average, 3.515, of all athletes on teams that have “reached the competition at the finals site for each of the NCAA's 89 men's and women's championships across its three divisions,” according to Wikipedia. Erica is majoring in science, technology and society.

During halftime, the crowd of more than 17,000 was treated to a performance by the Tennessee State University band. Led by three high-hatted drum majors, the approximately 100 musicians—including 18 sousaphone players -- marched onto the court and executed precise routines while playing. For their final number, they were joined by eight women dancers in sparkly red uniforms. The overall performance was a big crowd pleaser.

Prior to the Stanford-UConn game, Cardinal fans gathered for a reception at the team’s Hilton Hotel across the street. They were treated to snacks and souvenirs like pompons, rally towels, “Fear the Tree” signs and, best of all, black-rimmed nerd glasses complete with tape across the bridge.

Playing on the staircase in the atrium-style lobby, the band helped the fans, cheerleaders and Tree give a rousing sendoff to the players before they left for the arena.

Alums join fans at sendoff

Among the cheering fans were recent alums Nneka, Grace Mashore and Lindy La Rocque, ’12; and Jeanette Pohlen, ’11; along with Kerry Blake, ’11, who was the team manager for four years.

Nneka and Jeanette are playing in the WNBA.

After serving as a coaching intern for the Georgetown University women’s team, Grace is about to get her master’s degree in sports industry management. She’s job hunting and hopes to become a coach or go into sports business.

Lindy, who has been a coaching intern with the University of Oklahoma women’s team, will continue in that capacity for another year while she completes her master’s degree in intercollegiate athletic administration.

Also at the reception was Brittney Griner, a 2013 Baylor graduate who plays in the WNBA. The 6’8” Brittney posed for photos with several Stanford players. During her visit to Nashville, she autographed copies of her recent book, “In My Skin: My Life on and off the Basketball Court.”

Prior to the Stanford-UConn game, the video board showed women’s basketball coaches in all three divisions who had reached significant milestones during the season, starting with those who had logged their 100th career win. The video ended with Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, who passed the 900-win mark during the team’s trip to Mexico in November.

After the game, the team gathered for one last huddle before waving to the fans and heading for the locker room. They were joined by medically retired senior guard Toni Kokenis, who had attended all of the team’s practices, home games and a number of away games throughout the season.

Later, long-faced fans walked across the street in the rain to gather at the team hotel to welcome the team back shortly before 11 p.m.

Tara, Chiney speak to fans

“The outcome was not what we had wanted,” Tara said. However, “I’m exceedingly proud of our team.” She acknowledged the four seniors: Chiney, Toni, guard Sara James and forward Mikaela Ruef before concluding, “We’re so excited about the season we had.”

Speaking for the team, Chiney said, “We are so thankful to have fans like you. … We competed so hard… The biggest privilege of my life is the ‘S’ on the front of my jersey.”

She has played with “great individual human beings ... Our investment in the future is what we’re really proud of,” she concluded.

Nicole Powell helps Special Olympics

Besides the tournament itself, a highlight of my trip to Nashville was the chance to spend a day with my cousin and her husband, who have lived there for more than 50 years.

They gave Anne and me the grand tour, which included a stop at Lipscomb University where their daughter, director of competitions for Tennessee Special Olympics in Nashville, had organized a basketball clinic. Among the instructors were Nicole Powell, ’04; and Baylor’s Odyssey Sims.

The next day, I ran into my cousin’s daughter; her husband, a trainer with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans; and their two grade-school daughters going to the game. By luck, a friend had offered them tickets at the last minute. I took them to the hotel to get pompons and a “Fear the Tree” sign. When I talked to my cousin a day later, she said that the family had stayed for both games and that the girls were thrilled by the whole experience.

Some other highlights

Our trip to Nashville started with a flight from San Francisco to San Diego on April 4. Also waiting for that flight were the women’s rowing teams from Stanford and St. Mary’s, who were going to an event in San Diego. While waiting to board, the Stanford women quietly studied with their books or laptops.

After the team’s open practice at the arena April 5, Sara led everyone, including Tara and strength and conditioning coach Brittany Keil, in a line dance that was captured on video.

The next day I was checking my e-mail in my hotel’s business center. At the other computer was a high school junior from Tennessee who said she has been a Stanford fan ever since she saw the team play at the University of Tennessee two years ago. She had attended the Final Four teams’ autograph session the previous day and was impressed that the Stanford players were the friendliest.

She plays basketball and would like to go to Stanford. Chiney advised her to keep her grades up.

After all, no one can be admitted to Stanford without meeting stringent academic standards. There are no exceptions for athletes.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Judy, for this and all of your other excellent reports.