April 14, 2016

Banquet salutes 2015-16 team

Tara and players with retiring bus driver Don Van Zandt 

More than 150 fans of Stanford women’s basketball got their last look at this year’s team during the annual banquet April 10 in Dallmar Court.

This time, though, the players were not in uniform. Rather they were dressed up to be honored for their hard work and accomplishments during the season.

Giving the welcome, longtime administrative assistant DeeDee Zawaydeh ticked off a long list of those accomplishments, such as going to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament and winning the 1,000th game in the program’s history as a Division I team.

In the process, head coach Tara VanDerveer chalked up her 980th overall career win versus only 225 losses.

Before and during the buffet dinner, action photos from the season flashed on two screens.

Team, players to set goals for next year

Tara served as emcee. She began by saying that after the banquet, the team and individual returning players would meet with the coaches to set out their goals for next season.

For example, when Tara met with junior forward Erica “Bird” McCall last spring, Bird said she wanted to do more. Tara said, “I was OK with that.” Subsequently, Bird “set the tone” for the season and the rest of the team bought into it.

“We have a lot to celebrate,” she said, such as the 18th trip overall to the Elite Eight and the 10th time in 13 years to get that far. The two best games of the season were the Feb. 26 defeat of Oregon State and the Sweet 16 upset of Notre Dame on March 25.

The team ranked sixth in the nation in defense. Its 211 blocks set a Stanford record and ranked fifth in the nation.

She then began thanking people who contributed to the team’s success, starting with Stanford president John Hennessy. For the most part, the team stayed healthy thanks to team doctor Geoffrey Abrams and trainer Katelin Knox, who joined the staff this year, along with strength and conditioning coach Brittany Keil. “They did an awesome job for us,” Tara said.

Freshmen come first

Freshman forward/center Shannon Coffee, who was on crutches following recent foot surgery joined her three classmates to be the first players saluted by Tara.

The coach called guard Alexa Romano “one of the team’s fastest players” and credited her for never missing practice and always keeping a positive attitude.

Forward Alanna Smith came to the team from Australia. “Talk about an adjustment,” Tara said. Nevertheless, she “had a very solid freshman year” with 20 blocks and 20 3-pointers along with a “desire to be physical.”

Guard Marta Sniezek had 109 assists, only the fourth freshman in the past 20 years to reach that number. Her 43 assists with no turnovers during the Pac-12 season set a conference record. “Marta is a very special player” and fearless, Tara said.

Tara then challenged the four freshmen to take advantage of the off-season to improve their skills.

Among those named in the next round of thank-you’s was longtime bus driver and fan Don Van Zandt, who’s retiring soon but who will continue to attend home games.

Sophomores praised

The two sophomores were next. Tara praised guard Brittany McPhee for spending so much time in the gym to improve her skills as well as spending extra time with assistant coach Kate Paye, who works with the guards.

Much of Brittany’s improvement came during the season, when she was the fourth-highest scorer on the team and held Oregon State star Jamie Weisner to a mere 4 points. The human biology major can “run the floor and attack the basket.”

Forward Kaylee Johnson also was productive as the team’s fifth-highest scorer despite having broken her wrist during the summer. Many of her contributions are intangible because “she does the dirty work” An economics major, she carries a 3.7 GPA.

Juniors come next

After more thank-you’s, Tara asked the juniors to come forward, but there were only four. The fifth, guard Lili Thompson, was not at the banquet. Queried afterward, no one with the team had any comment.

Tara praised guard Briana Roberson for her improvement in assists, resulting in 86, as well as her extra work in the gym. The political science major is “a quick and aggressive defender,” the coach said.

Tara called forward Kailee Johnson an “intelligent player and effective screener” who’s good on defense. She’s majoring in science, technology and society.

Guard Karlie Samuelson was the only player to start every game. She was the team’s third-highest scorer. Her 47 percent success rate beyond the arc was not only best on the team but second only to Jennifer Azzi, ’90, in program history. The human biology major was second on the team in steals and first in taking charges.

As for Bird, she “definitely joined the most improved players club.” She was the team’s leading rebounder and added a 3-point shot to her game, making 11. She was co-captain of the gold-winning USA team at the World University Games in the summer and was named to the All Pac-12 team. She’s majoring in psychology.

Improvement seen in rebuilding year

Commenting on the season, Tara noted that the team lost a lot with the graduation of the class of 2015, so it was expected that this year would be a time to rebuild. The team did just that, even improving over last year’s team in several statistical categories.

In addition to players’ hard work, she credited the coaches for that improvement. She called assistant coach Tempie Brown a very talented, very competitive coach who works with the posts. Kate is “an excellent teacher and mentor,” Tara said, adding that Kate and Tempie scout opposing teams.

Associate head coach Amy Tucker, who also coaches the posts, has a “great understanding of the game.”

Seniors speak to fans

Finally it was time for the seniors, starting with redshirt guard Alex Green. Tara said she was glad that Alex came back for a fifth season despite suffering an Achilles injury and her second ACL during her Stanford days. A science, technology and society major, Alex is a “tireless worker” who “gave the other guards fits” in practice.

Alex responded by thanking the fans, coaches and her teammates for their support.

Guard Kiran Lakhian was with the team her freshman year and “loved to play basketball,” so she asked to come back this year. She’s a human biology major who wants to go to medical school.

Kiran thanked Tara and the other coaches for her second chance to play and thanked her teammates for welcoming her.

Tara said of forward/center Tess Picknell, “I’m so proud of Tess for her dedication and contributions” to the team. She’s a film and media major.

Like her classmates, Tess had many people to thank. She added that Alex credited her for getting the usually quiet guard to talk more.

Although the three seniors didn’t get much game time, they played on the scout team and were “critical for the team’s success,” Tara said.

Behind the platform were the seniors’ framed jerseys along with an action photo of each one, a Stanford logo and the team’s accomplishments during their time on the team.

Next came a video featuring plays by each team member as well as highlights from games and season statistics.

Tara cites Warriors’ success

Looking ahead, Tara said, “We’re excited about the future of our program and team.” She urged the players to “enjoy every single day” and cited the Golden State Warriors for their outstanding season along with their unselfishness and hard work.

“Records aren’t the most important” thing, she said. The journey is, but “we have very high goals and standards.”

Something different about the printed program is that it was only four pages with the roster, staff, endowments and a page to honor the seniors. Missing were the usual tributes by each underclassman to each senior.

Coming next: A three-part retrospective on the season

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