November 7, 2016

Team tunes up for new season

The Stanford women’s basketball team had lots of harmony and a few sour notes in its 85-41 exhibition defeat of UC San Diego on Nov. 4 in Maples.

First all the bright spots: All of the returning players seemed improved, especially sophomore guard Alexa Romano, sophomore center Shannon Coffee and sophomore forward Alanna Smith even though she fouled out with under five minutes left. Sophomore guard Marta Sniezek, who became so reliable at the point last year, seemed even more so this year.

The three available freshmen –- guards Mikaela Brewer and DiJonai Carrington and forward Nadia Fingall -- impressed the 2,660 fans with their hustle and energy.

Freshman guard Anna Wilson, still recovering from a concussion sustained last spring, didn’t play. Likewise, senior guard Karlie Samuelson stayed on the sidelines with a brace on her left wrist, which had been broken. Head coach Tara VanDerveer expects Karlie to see action at the next game.

Everyone contributes to win

All 11 available players contributed to the victory over the Division II school even though no one played more than 25 minutes, the time tallied by senior guard Briana Roberson. Everyone scored, and everyone played with urgency despite the lopsided score.

Still, there’s room for improvement, as Tara and her staff would undoubtedly acknowledge. For example, the team committed 14 turnovers, while UCSD had only 12. Part of the reason may be that Tara was freely subbing players. Thus there wasn’t quite the consistency and chemistry that one might expect with a more stable rotation.

The starting lineup featured Marta, Bri, junior guard Brittany McPhee, junior forward Kaylee Johnson and senior forward Erica “Bird” McCall.

Bird had led the team onto the floor, and she, Kaylee and Marta represented the team as captains during the traditional pre-tipoff meeting with the refs.

Stanford got the tipoff, soon followed by the game’s first score –- a 3-pointer by Bri. UCSD’s first possession resulted in a turnover.

The subbing started early, with Alanna coming in for Bird and Alexa coming in for Bri with 5:31 left in the first quarter and the score 13-5. Nadia came with under two minutes left in the quarter after Alanna had collected her second foul. Shannon and Mikaela saw their first action in the second quarter.

Defense proves strong

Defense was stingy throughout the game, especially in the second quarter, when the Cardinal outscored UCSD 20-3. Those 3 points came with just 1:20 to go before the half.

The team amassed made 8 of 19 3’s, or 42.1 percent. Bird, Brittany and Mikaela had two each. Bri and Alanna had one each.

Brittany led the team in scoring with 19 points in 21 minutes. She also had a team-high nine rebounds and tallied two assists, two blocks and one steal.

Also scoring in double figures were Bird with 16 in 17 minutes and Shannon with 14 in 20 minutes.

It’s worthwhile noting that all 11 players had at least one rebound. Just behind Brittany’s nine were Kaylee’s eight and Nadia’s seven. The team as a whole had 59, dwarfing UCSD’s 25.

Even though it was an exhibition game, it had some of the trappings of regular season game with the band, Dollies and Tree on hand. During the singing of the national anthem, the Dollies and the Tree signed the words.

A new wrinkle came after the first quarter when the Tree led a conga line of kids around the court. The Dollies assisted by keeping some of the littlest ones on track.

Tara's mom, Rita, with Tara's sister Beth, doesn't play favorites.
The game was a family affair for Tara since her sister Heidi coaches UCSD. Their mother, Rita, was in the stands with their sister Beth. Mom diplomatically wore a sweatshirt featuring Stanford on the top half and UCSD on the bottom half. She told a group in the elevator after the game that she didn’t want to play favorites.

Tara introduces freshmen

During the Behind the Bench that followed the game, Tara introduced the four freshmen, starting with Mikaela. 

“Mikaela did a great job out there,” Tara said, noting that Mikaela is the team’s first Canadian recruit.

She didn’t join the team for summer school because she was playing for the Canadian team that won silver (to the USA’s gold) in U18 competition in Chile.

Even though she had missed that bonding team with her new teammates, “I was surprised at how fast they welcomed me,” Mikaela said.

Anna said she had expected to meet special people at Stanford, but “the amount of them is tremendous,” she said.

“Every day we learn something new,” Anna added. Mikaela seemed to echo that thought, noting “how much we don’t know.”

Stanford students don’t have to declare a major until they’re juniors, but Anna said she’s considering communications and science, technology and society. 

Nadia said that she observed “how close the team seemed,” during her official visit, and found out it was true when she arrived for her first quarter.

Nadia said that as the best player on her high school team, her coaches didn’t correct her much. At Stanford she’s “corrected on every little thing,” she said, giving a nod toward assistant coach Tempie Brown, who works with the bigs along with associate head coach Amy Tucker.

Calling herself “the biggest nerd,” Nadia said she’s interested in chemistry. 

DiTara said that DiJonai didn’t play during her senior year or practice at first at Stanford because of knee injuries. However, DiJonai said she likes that everyone helps everyone else to succeed, but the biggest challenge is that “the pace of the game is a lot quicker. You have to go every play.”

DiJonai wants to major in psychology and minor in either sports broadcasting or criminal justice. Mikaela’s undecided.

Tara complimented Heidi’s coaching, while Heidi said that Tara has helped her team. At Stanford, “there’s no drop-off when someone comes in,” Heidi said. She called Stanford “a really fast and exciting team.”

Coach pleased with team

“I’m excited about how well everyone is doing,” Tara said. “Our future is in great hands with the freshmen. … It’s a heady time for us” with four promising recruits lined up for next season and two for the season after that.

Visiting from Australia, Alanna’s parents were at the game.

Also observing were Karlie’s mother, Karen, and older sister, Bonnie, ’15. Bonnie has just completed her first quarter in the four-year doctoral program at Southern California College of Optometry in Fullerton, thus earning her white coat.

The regular season opens at 7 p.m. Nov. 11 against Cal Poly at Maples.

Photos by Dave Cortesi

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