April 9, 2018

Final farewell to team

Players and coaches assemble for photos after the banquet. (Stanford Athletics)

Now that the season has ended, 160 people gathered for the annual Stanford women’s basketball team’s spring banquet April 8 at the Arrillaga Alumni Center.

Unlike past gatherings, which were dinners, this one was a brunch. Served buffet style, offered an array of food like fresh fruit, salads, entrees, side dishes and tempting desserts. According to a number of fans, it was a marked improvement over last year’s event at the Faculty Club.

Alanna chats with a young fan. (Dave Cortesi)
Like past gatherings, though, it gave the players a chance to wear outfits other than their uniforms. Hence, each one was nicely dressed, and many wore high heels, even some of the tallest forwards, like 6’4” junior Alanna Smith and 6’3” senior Kaylee Johnson.

Tara serves as emcee

“Today is a day of celebration and appreciation,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer, serving as the emcee.

Even though junior guard Marta Sniezek was the only returning player who had averaged more than 20 minutes a game in the 2016-17 season, even though the early schedule meant facing Top 10 teams and even though the team had to learn a new offense, “This team showed great determination and resilience,” Tara said.

“I’m really proud of how everyone stayed together. We kept improving and growing.”
Throughout the program, Tara touted both individual and team accomplishments. She didn’t mention that those accomplishments helped her earn the honor of Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Among the team accomplishments she ticked off were that SWBB was the only undefeated Pac-12 team at home and that it averaged 81 points a game in its first two NCAA tournament games, shooting 50 percent overall and 51 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshmen earn praise

During the program, she thanked all of the people who had contributed to the team’s success. She then introduced each player, starting with the freshmen.

“What an outstanding freshman class,” she said.

Among them, forward Maya Dodson led the team in field goal percentage and was third in blocks. Forward Alyssa Jerome played for Canada last summer and proved to be a versatile player.  Even though she didn’t play much, forward Estella Moschkau was first in three-point percentage and was first in the gym every day.

As for guard Kiana Williams: “What a special freshman season” she had. A three-point sharp shooter, she also had the best assist to turnover ratio and displayed “consistent energy and enthusiasm.”

Tara admires sophomore’s boots

As the sophomores took to the stage, Tara joked, “I almost wore those boots, Di.” She was referring to guard DiJonai Carrington’s above-the-knee boots of beige suede. As for her playing, Tara noted how much she had improved from her freshman year. “Whenever there is a scrum, Di comes up with the ball.”

She praised guard Mikaela Brewer for her hard work in practice and cited her writing ability, as shown in her regular columns for the Stanford Daily.

She urged forward Nadia Fingall to “follow the Erica McCall (’17) path and break out your junior year.”

She said she can’t wait for oft-injured guard Anna Wilson “to play for a whole season. She did great when she wasn’t injured (and) was leading the cheers for others” when she was.

Shannon makes memorable three-pointer

When it came to the juniors, Tara recalled center Shannon Coffee’s three-point buzzer beater at the end of the first half in the home game against Cal and cited her 4.0 GPA in the winter quarter. Guard Alexa Romano “really improved” on defense.

Alanna garnered many honors and was the team’s second-leading scorer (behind senior guard Brittany McPhee) and rebounder (behind Kaylee). She might play for her home country of Australia this summer.

Marta, wearing white-rimmed glasses, “understands the strategy of basketball” and has “great court vision.” She also improved a lot, joining the likes of such past greats as Jennifer Azzi, ’90; Nneka Ogwumike, ’12; Jeanette Pohlen, ’11; Erica and Brittany.

Lindy with Kaylee and Britt. (Stanford Athletics)
Big chunk of scoring, rebounding to graduate

The two seniors then came up front. “What outstanding seniors they have been,” Tara said. Later she noted that 30 percent of the team’s scoring and rebounding will graduate with them.

Kaylee has made an impact on the team since she was a freshman, Tara said. She does the little things, is “a great defender and a vocal, no-nonsense leader.”

Kaylee responded, “A lot of people have helped on this journey,” she said, citing her mother, other relatives and her father, who died in May 2017. She thanked the coaches and her teammates, earning a standing ovation after she had finished.

Britt also earned a standing O for echoing Kaylee’s remarks and thanking her teammates and coaches. Tara said that “she improved in every single statistic” and earned numerous athletic and academic honors.

Each senior received her framed home jersey and a pasteboard cutout of herself.

Tara singled out her colleagues: assistant coaches Lindy La Rocque and Tempie Brown and associate head coach Kate Paye. She also mentioned former associate head coach Amy Tucker, who retired from coaching last season after 32 years at Stanford and now serves as basketball administrator. “Everyone misses Amy,” even the referees, she said.

Video brings back memories of season

As a final grace note to the gathering, a video showed season highlights starting with the 
team’s trip to Italy in September and continuing through its final game against Louisville in the Sweet 16. It brought back lots of great memories and showed just how good each player could be. As one fan remarked afterward, “It looked like they should have won every game.”

Noting that she has been a head coach for 40 years, Tara said, “This team is really special.”

She then looked ahead to the next day, when returning players would work on strength, conditioning and skills, and to the summer, when the three highly touted recruits officially become freshmen.

“We’re laying a foundation for next season,” she said. It will include a home game  against Baylor and away games at Tennessee and in Hawaii and Toronto (a salute to Canadians Mikaela and Alyssa).

With that, the crowd began to disperse, but many stuck around to take pictures of the team and players while the returning players awaited a team meeting to talk about what’s to come.