April 11, 2017

Banquet celebrates stellar season

The team gathers for one last group shot. (Photo by Dave Cortesi)
Nearly 250 people celebrated the 2016-17 Stanford women’s basketball team’s accomplishments and honored each player for her contributions to its success April 9 at the Faculty Club.

The spring banquet also was a chance to say farewell to the three seniors, who were so instrumental in guiding their teammates both on and off the court.

The event began with a courtyard reception where fans had a chance to chat with the dolled-up players. Some of the 6-foot-plus posts, like freshman Nadia Fingall, wore high heels to tower over almost everyone else.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer welcomed everyone to the dinner and later presided over the program. Her remarks were laced with thank-you’s to the numerous supporters and staff members involved with SWBB.

Tara cites accomplishments of season

During her initial welcome, she ticked off some of the season’s accomplishments: the program’s 13th Final Four and its seventh in the past 10 years; its 30th appearance in the NCAA tournament; the Pac-12 tournament championship for the 12th time in 15 years; a record 212 blocks; six different leading scorers; six comeback victories; eight Pac-12 All- Academic choices; and many more.

She cited two more statistics to highlight how well the team meshed: It was the first team to go to the Final Four with no All-American player, and it had no Pac-12 Players of the Week.

Shortly before dessert was served, athletic director Bernard Muir commended the team for going to the Final Four and congratulated Tara for her 1,000th career win during the season, bringing the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation.

He said that when Stanford opens an athletic Hall of Fame in the fall, one area will be devoted to Tara.

Freshmen receive kudos for maturity

Tara then brought the four freshmen to the front. “College is a big, big step,” she said. “Kudos to our freshmen who handled their season with maturity.”

She said guard Mikaela Brewer, who didn’t travel with the team to the tournaments, “can compete for a part in our rotation” next season.

Even though guard DiJonai Carrington missed about two years of high school basketball because of injuries, she brought “a great physical style to our team” and displayed “aggressive defense.”

Nadia played in 36 of the team’s 38 games. Guard Anna Wilson missed most of the season with injuries, but she’s working to get healthy, Tara said.

“I challenge your class to win four Pac-12 championships,” she said to the freshmen.

Sophomores saluted

Next came the four sophomores, starting with center Shannon Coffee, who was a 63 percent shooter and “led our team’s benergy,” the term for the energy generated by the bench during games.

Guard Alexa Romano is a member of the “come early, stay late club” and serves on the scout team.

As for forward Alanna Smith, “What an exciting end of the season Alanna had,” leading to a “super sophomore season,” Tara said.

Guard Marta Sniezek led the team with 169 assists and 51 steals.

Staff members who were thanked included strength and conditioning coach Brittany Keil, whose “season is just getting started” as she helps returning players get ready for next season.

She also commended academic coordinator Shannon Reader for making sure the players could take their final exams in Kansas. They stayed there after the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament because their charter plane had problems and couldn’t take them back to Stanford. Instead they stayed in Kansas and then flew directly to Lexington, Ky., for the Sweet Sixteen.

Juniors excel in rebounding, academics

Next came the two juniors. Even though a foot injury was a challenge for her, forward Kaylee Johnson was the team’s third leading rebounder.

Guard Brittany McPhee was one of the most improved players in the country, Tara said. “She’s a gym rat and also a library rat,” as attested by the Elite 90 award she won for having the highest grade point average among all players in the women’s Final Four.

Tara’s final thank-you’s went to her coaching staff, who joined her. Assistant Tempie Brown works with the male practice players, scouts upcoming opponents and coordinates recruiting. Those recruiting efforts have led to the No. 2 rated incoming class, Tara said.

Associate head coach Kate Paye works with the perimeter players and, like Tempie, scouts and recruits.

Associate head coach Amy Tucker, who has been at Stanford more than 30 years, recruits, too. “She has a great eye for talent,” Tara said.

Seniors acclaimed

Referring to the three seniors, Tara said she was never disappointed in them. “This class has set a new standard for leadership.”

(After the ceremony, I asked the juniors, Kaylee and Britt, if they’re ready to assume the mantle of senior leadership. They responded with an emphatic yes.)

The first senior to be called to the front was forward Erica “Bird” McCall, the team’s leader in points, blocks and rebounds. She brings “energy and enthusiasm to our team every day.” She just graduated with a degree in psychology and has been invited to the WNBA draft April 13 in New York.

Bird responded that these have been “the best years of my life.” She thanked each of the coaches for all the help they gave her. She noted that when she was a freshman and struggling with a psychology class, Tara tutored her and reminded her of the biblical story of Job and his struggles.

Evidently, the tutoring paid off, for Tara said Bird graduated with a 3.7 GPA in psychology.

Calling on guard Briana Roberson, Tara said, “Bri had a super senior season.” The team calls her “Big Shot Bri.” “On defense Bri was our stopper,” ranking with the likes of Kate, ’95; Susan King Borchardt, ’05; and Ros Gold-Onwude, ’10.

Like Bird, Bri praised the coaches, saying each had been integral to her success. “They taught me to battle and get through struggles.”

Guard Karlie Samuelson was one of the team’s and Pac-12 all-time leading 3-point shooters and second in the nation this year at 48.5 percent.

But she’s “not just a 3-point shooter,” Tara said. “She can see things that need to be done on the court” and is “an absolute pleasure to coach.”

Karlie’s thank-you’s extended not just to the coaches but to Brittany Keil and team trainer Katelin Knox. Her teammates are “my favorite players I’ve ever played with.”

Both Karlie and Bri have said they’d like to keep playing for a time, perhaps overseas.

Next the crowd was treated to a video showing season highlights.

What’s in store for next season

Finally, Tara gave a look ahead, saying that the returnees can become the go-to players. They and the incoming freshmen can also look forward to a trip to Italy in September and a Thanksgiving tournament Nov. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

Before then, they’ll take part in the Countdown to Columbus showcase event Nov. 12 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, site of the 2018 Final Four. Stanford will play Louisville, and UConn will play Ohio State.

The team will play at Ohio State on Nov. 10 to open the season, director of basketball operations Eileen Roche said afterward. Contracts for the Thanksgiving tournament haven’t been signed, so the other teams haven’t been announced, she said.

Tennessee at Maples is on the pre-conference schedule Dec. 21.

After the official festivities ended, the players and others stayed to chat some more. Eventually, the entire team lined up for photos. Returning players then gathered in a circle around Tara to hear what’s in store for this off-season.

See Ron Madson’s gallery of photos from the banquet at  http://tinyurl.com/mozgexh.

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