April 29, 2019

Thanks for the memories: Part 3 of 3

Happy players celebrate their Pac-12 tournament championship. (Stanford Athletics)

Despite having the two seed, Stanford women’s basketball won the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas by beating Cal 72-54 March 8, Washington 72-61 March 9 and first seed Oregon 64-57 March 10 for its 13th championship in 18 years.

Senior Alanna Smith was named both the tournament’s most outstanding player and a member of the all-defensive team. Junior guard DiJonai Carrington and sophomore guard Kiana Williams were named to the all-tournament team. Freshman forward Lacie Hull was named to the all-freshman team. Her twin, forward Lexie, was an honorable mention for that team.

By virtue of its two seed in the NCAA tournament, Stanford hosted the two first rounds and defeated UC Davis 79-54 March 23 in the first round. Alanna scored 21 points in just 21 minutes.

Thus Alanna joined three legends -– Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne -- as the only players in the past 20 years with at least 1,600 points, 200 blocked shots and 150 made three’s.

Victory over BYU is cause for loud celebration (Bob Drebin/ISIPhotos.com)
Team celebrates season’s final game at Maples with win

Stanford advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 12th straight year by defeating Brigham Young 72-63 March 25, the seniors’ last game in Maples.

This 30th season victory was the 15th in program history and the first since the team went to the Final Four in 2017. It also was the team’s 18th straight NCAA home win, improving its overall tournament record at Maples to 38-4, Stanford Athletics reported.

Going to Chicago for the Sweet 16, Stanford advanced to the Elite 8 by beating Missouri State 55-46 March 30.

Its 55 points tied its fewest in an NCAA tournament since beating Xavier 55-53 in the Elite Eight in Sacramento March 29, 2010. That game was marked by one of the most memorable finishes in Stanford history when Jeanette Pohlen, ’10, steaked across the court with 4.4 seconds left to score the winning basket and send her team to the Final Four.

The mood is quite different after the season-ending loss to Notre Dame. (Bob Drebin/ISIPhotos.com)
The season ended April 1 with an 84-68 loss to defending national champion Notre Dame The game was filled with hope as the team led for 22 minutes. It led 33-26 at the half and by as much as nine in the third quarter before the Irish began chipping away.

Still, the 31-5 overall record was quite respectable. “What a really special year for us,” associate head coach Kate Paye said in a recent interview.

Season’s over; now it’s time to prepare

Now that the season is over, returning players may work four hours a week on basketball skills with the coaches and four hours a week on conditioning with Brittany Keil, sports performance coach, this quarter and during the summer. Players also may work out individually.

Each returner will meet with her position coach and Tara to reflect on the season and determine what to work on during this off-season. It’s “a blueprint to lay the foundation 
for success next year,” Kate said.

In the meantime, Alanna, who garnered several All-American awards, was the No. 8 pick in the WNBA draft, going to the Phoenix Mercury, coached by Sandy Brondello, who coached the Australian team in the summer. She already has enough credits to graduate in June. “What an incredible season she had. We’re thrilled for her,” Kate said.

Senior guard Marta Sniezek will graduate in June. Because she has another year of eligibility by virtue of missing this season with an injury, she wants to transfer and play as a grad student. She doesn’t yet know where. “We really missed her this year,” Kate said.

Kate also praised senior center Shannon Coffee, who provided great leadership and did the little things that might not be noticed but that are important to the team’s success. 

She wants to become a physician’s assistant. Shannon said after the annual banquet that she wants to play overseas first. She then hopes to study for her chosen career at Stanford.

Academic honors for 12 players

As a tribute to their status as student-athletes, all 12 eligible players were Pac-12 Scholar Athletes. Those who weren’t eligible were the freshmen and Marta, who didn’t play. Alanna was Scholar Athlete of the Year.

There were accolades to all of the players as well as thanks to everyone who helped make the season so successful at the annual banquet April 14.

As to what’s ahead, fans are already eager to see the next freshman class, whose four members have been accruing honors of their own.

April 24, 2019

Thanks for the memories; Part 2 of 3

From left: Alyssa, DiJonai, Alanna and Kiana like what's happening in the UCLA game. (Don Feria/ISIPhotos.com)
After finishing its pre-conference season 10-1 in December, the Stanford women’s basketball team began 2019 and the Pac-12 season by defeating USC 72-64 in a seesaw game at home Jan. 4.

It marked freshman forward Lexie Hull’s and junior guard Anna Wilson’s return after injuries, but sophomore forward Maya Dodson was out with a foot problem.

Worse, junior forward Nadia Fingall hyperextended a knee in the third quarter and then hurt a knee in a collision with a USC player in the fourth. The result was a torn ACL that kept her out for the rest of the season.

UCLA came calling Jan. 6 and lost 86-80. Senior guard Alexa Romano wasn’t there. During the Behind the Bench, head coach Tara VanDerveer said Alexa “is not playing on our team due to personal reasons.” With Nadia and Maya sidelined, sophomore forward Alyssa 
Jerome got the starting nod.

Success in the desert

Traveling to the desert, Stanford defeated Arizona State 72-65 Jan. 11 and Arizona 78-48 Jan. 13.

The ASU game was highlighted by junior guard DiJonai Carrington’s buzzer-beating three from beyond the half-court line to end the third quarter. Moreover, the team made all 14 free throws. After those two wins, senior forward Alanna Smith was again Pac-12 Player of the Week.

Playing at home Jan. 18, the team had its way against Washington 91-54. This was the game where the Stanford Federal Credit Union handed out black plastic headbands with long red ribbons and red, flashing translucent tubes. They made an impressive sight when the lights were dimmed for the starters’ introduction.

After the WSU game, Tara and the team celebrate her 900th Stanford win. (John Lozano/Stanford Athletics)
Milestones for Tara, Alanna

Both Tara and Alanna recorded milestones when the team defeated Washington State at home Jan. 20.

For Tara, it was her 900th victory in her 33 years at Stanford and the 1,052nd in her 40 years of coaching.

Alanna scored a career-high 34 points and spearheaded Human Trafficking Awareness day along with announcer Betty Ann Hagenau, founder of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition.

Lexie was Pac-12 Freshman of the Week after scoring a total of 18 points, nine rebounds, three assists and five steals in the two games.

Going to the mountains, Stanford knocked off Colorado 80-69 Jan. 25. Watching the game was Tara’s 91-year-old mother, Rita, who lives nearby and who celebrated both the win and Tara’s being named to the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.

Utah ended Stanford’s 11-game winning streak by defeating the visiting Cardinal 75-68 on Jan. 27.

Stanford suffered another loss, 81-80, at Cal Jan. 31. It was Maya’s first game back after missing eight.

Team gets revenge against Cal

After that tough loss, the team turned the tables by defeating its cross-bay rival 75-50 Feb. 2 at Maples.

The next visitor, Oregon State, fell 61-44 Feb. 8. Maya had a career-high 10 rebounds.

Then came that 88-48 home loss to Oregon Feb. 10, the worst loss in Tara’s 33 years on the farm and her 40 years of coaching.

Undaunted, the team went on the road to defeat UCLA 65-51 Feb. 15. This was the team’s 187th conference win since 2007-08, the most in the nation, and its 20th season win for the 17th straight year, reported Stanford Athletics.

The 21st win came at USC 69-67 Feb. 19. Alanna broke a fingertip in the first quarter but went on to post 23 points and 12 rebounds.

After that SoCal sweep, the team returned home to host Arizona and eked out a 56-54 win Feb. 22. The team got an extra boost from Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who played saxophone with the band.

It's Senior Day for Alanna (11), Marta (gray shirt) and Shannon (not shown). (Cody Glenn/Icon Sports Wire)
Senior Day honors Alanna, Shannon, Marta

Before the 71-50 home win against Arizona State on Senior Day, Feb. 24, the U.S. national anthem was preceded by the Australian anthem to honor Alanna, the team’s first international player. Senior center Shannon Coffee signed the words to the U.S. anthem.

Afterward, Alanna, Shannon and guard Marta Sniezek were joined by their families to receive accolades from Tara, their teammates and fans.

Wrapping up the conference season, the team scored away wins March 1 over Washington State 67-42 and March 3 over Washington 72-53.

Part 2: The tournaments

April 21, 2019

Thanks for the memories; Part 1 of 3

Players on the bench rejoice during the memorable win over Baylor. (Photo by Don Feria/ISIPhotos.com)
Fans of women’s basketball are looking ahead while reflecting on the success of the 2018-19 season.

Here are some highlights:

The team notched a 31-5 record, won the Pac-12 tournament and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight.

Perhaps its biggest win was its 68-63 home victory over Baylor Dec. 15. It was the only loss for Baylor, which went on to take the national championship.

Its biggest loss was also at home, an 88-48 thrashing by Oregon Feb. 10, but the Cardinal avenged the loss by defeating the Ducks 64-57 March 10 to capture the conference trophy.

Now here are some details:

Most players arrived on campus June 23 for summer classes starting June 25. They included the freshmen: guard Jenna Brown and forward twins Lexie and Lacie Hull.

Senior guard Alexa Romano was in Peru for an archeological project. Junior guard Anna Wilson was at home “trying to regroup” after two seasons marred by injuries, said associate head coach Kate Paye.

Alyssa, Jenna, Alanna play internationally

Then some players got international experience. Sophomore forward Alyssa Jerome played for Canada’s Senior Women’s National Team for a four-game exhibition series in China and Japan Aug. 1-7. She was the team’s youngest player.

Jenna played with the USA U18 National Team that won a gold medal in Mexico City in early August.

Later, senior forward Alanna Smith joined Australia’s FIBA World Cup team that won silver in Spain on Sept. 30.

Fans got their first look at the team in open practice Oct. 19. Senior guard Marta Sniezek was out of action with a right hand injury that  sidelined her all season. Lexie didn’t participate but was running sprints on the sidelines.

Afterward, head coach Tara VanDerveer said, “We have a really deep team,” that’s “a little ahead” of last year’s team at that point.

String of 7 wins in November

A better look came Nov. 1 with an 87-36 exhibition defeat of visiting Vanguard. Jenna didn’t play because of what was reported as a minor ankle injury.
The starters were Alanna, Lexie, junior forward Nadia Fingall, junior guard DiJonai Carrington and sophomore guard Kiana Williams. Alanna, DiJonai and Kiana were consistently the starters and high scorers throughout the season.

Alyssa (10, Lacie (24) and Lexie (12) celebrate a good play against Davis. (Stanford Athletics)
Competition started for real at home Nov. 7 when UC Davis fell 71-43.

The team continued winning at home by toppling Idaho 115-71 Nov. 11. That was the most points since 1994 and the fifth-highest ever. The record is 122 against Cal State Fullerton in 1994.

Another home win came Nov. 15, 96-62 over the University of San Francisco in a game honoring Native American Heritage Month.

The Nov. 18 home game against Ohio State was canceled because of smoky air from wildfires to the north.

Three wins in Honolulu tournament

Crossing the Pacific, the team chalked up three more wins during a tournament in Honolulu: 88-65 over Florida Gulf Coast Nov. 23, 71-49 over American University Nov. 24 and 81-59 over the University of Hawaii Nov. 25.

The last game was marred by an injury to Anna, who had played in previous games, but she flew home with the team. On the plus side, Lacie’s seven steals against American U. were the most by a Cardinal since Candice Wiggins, ’08, against Old Dominion Nov. 24, 2007.

Still on the road, the team fell to Gonzaga 79-73 Dec. 2. SWBB also lost an important fan, Marian Cortesi, who died that morning at age 88. She had been the devoted webmaster for the Fast Break Club website.

Baylor falls to Stanford

After a break for finals, the team recorded its landmark win over Baylor, 68-63, at home Dec. 15. After her team-leading 21 points, including five three’s, Alanna was named ESPNW and Pac 12 Player of the Week.

Back on the road, Stanford beat previously undefeated Tennessee 95-85 Dec. 18. DiJonai scored a career high 33 points (plus 13 rebounds). Alanna was Ann Meyers Drysdale National Player of the Week.

Buffalo fell next, 62-55 there Dec. 21, giving the team a 9-1 record for its best start since the 2013-14 season. Lacie was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week.

Maya gets instructions from Tara before returning to the Cal State Northridge game. (Stanford Athletics)
Coasting to a 69-43 victory over Cal State Northridge at home Dec. 29, the team finished its pre-conference season 10-1. Sophomore forward Maya Dodson led the scoring with 16 points. Anna was out for the fourth time after her injury in November, while Lexie missed her eighth game because of a foot injury.

Part 2: Pac-12 play

April 15, 2019

Final salute to ‘an extraordinary team’

Tara welcomes everyone to the  banquet.
It was the last time to see all of the players on the 2018-19 Stanford women’s basketball and the first time to see them dressed up instead of in their uniforms.

The annual spring brunch banquet April 14 at the Arrillaga Alumni Center provided a chance to show appreciation to the team and all of the people behind it.

Serving as emcee, head coach Tara VanDerveer said it was “a great celebration of an outstanding season and an extraordinary team.”

Defeating Oregon to win the Pac-12 championship wasn’t the best part of the season, she said, nor were the wins over then-top 10 teams Baylor and Tennessee nor the 10 Pac-12 All-Academic team members.

No, “the best part of the season was being with this great group of young women every day,” she said.

‘Our team was family’

“Our team was family,” she said, thus explaining why the players wore warmup jerseys emblazoned with FAMILY.

Despite injuries over the season, the team responded, and other players stepped up, she said.

While the 200 or so attendees enjoyed the lavish buffet, Tara made the rounds of the tables and thanked everyone for coming while photos from the season flashed on two large screens.

Between a series of thank-you’s to donors, the administration and staff, Tara introduced each class, starting with the freshmen.

Tara introduces the freshmen (from left): Lacie Hull, Jenna Brown, Lexie Hull
Freshmen come forward

Guard Jenna Brown worked with senior forward Alanna Smith after every practice, thus helping both to improve. She has been invited to try out for the USA U19 team this summer. (She helped the USA U18 win gold last summer).

Referring to the Hull twins, forwards Lacie and Lexie, Tara said it took her six months to tell them apart without their numbers.

Lexie “started out with a bang,” Tara said, becoming the first freshman to score a double-double in her first regular game. Even though she missed nine games because of an injury, she still had the third-most rebounds on the team.

Lacie became a starter and “a tenacious defender.”

Sophomores take the podium for their accolades (from left): Alyssa, Kiana, Estella, Maya.
Sophomores are a big help

Of the sophomores, Tara noted that forward Maya Dodson “came back so improved.” Despite missing six weeks because of injury (she was in a boot at the banquet), she had 42 blocks, second on the team.

Forward Estella Moschkau was “a determined worker” whose greatest contributions were in practice.

Forward Alyssa Jerome is a versatile player who “stepped up on offense and defense.” A Canadian, she will try out for her country’s team for the Pan Am games this summer.

Guard Kiana Williams is “a whiz on the court.” Her 169 assists are the most since Jeanette Pohlen, ’11. Tara ticked off more of her superlatives including ranking second in team scoring and being named to the Chicago All-Regional Team. She has been invited to USA team trials this summer.

Tara saluted the late Dee Dee Zawaydeh, the longtime administrative assistant who died last year after a long battle with cancer. In her honor, the coach has created an award, a gift card for food, something Dee Dee loved. The first one went to video coordinator Hana Potter.

Next it's the juniors' turn (from left): Mikaela, Anna, Nadia, DiJonai.
‘Boots are just a fashion statement’

As the juniors came forward, Tara looked at guard DiJonai Carrington, who, like Maya, was wearing a boot. “These boots are just a fashion statement,” she said.

She started with guard Mikaela Brewer, who ran the practice squad and is a human biology major.

DiJonai “is another candidate for the most improved club,” Tara said. A psychology and African American studies major, she started all 36 games.

Forward Nadia Fingall was no longer wearing a brace after surgery for a torn ACL but is still recovering. “We really miss her,” Tara said, noting that she scored a career-high 24 points against Florida Gulf Coast during the Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Honolulu. Like Mikaela, she’s a human biology major.

Despite being a junior, guard Anna Wilson played in her first career tournament games after missing the others because of various injuries. An Art Practice major, she practices hard and is a great defender, Tara said.

After calling the other three coaches –- assistants Tempie Brown and Lindy La Rocque and associate head coach Kate Paye -– she asked the seniors to come up individually.

Seniors provide leadership

Marta wants to become a graduate transfer.
Although an injury kept guard Marta Sniezek out all season, “she was all in as a team member and player-coach,” Tara said. She’s an American studies major. There was no word of where she will likely use her remaining year of eligibility to play as a graduate transfer.

Shannon hopes to play overseas.
As for center Shannon Coffee, “what a great year Shannon had. She really stepped up this season,” Tara said. A human biology major, Shannon has said she wants to become a physician’s assistant.

Before then, she said in a conversation afterward, she’d like to play overseas. After that, she has her eyes set on returning to Stanford to train for her chosen profession.

Alanna is going to the Phoenix Mercury.
Alanna “had a spectacular career and senior year,” Tara said. A psychology major, she 
accrued many honors and finished 10th in scoring in Stanford history.

The Phoenix Mercury took her eighth in the first round of the April 10 WNBA draft.

Each senior spoke individually, thanked the coaches, fans and staff, and expressed her love for her teammates.

Video features season highlights

In keeping with the season’s theme, the highlights video started and ended with the song, “We Are Family.” The video brought back some great memories and illustrated not only individual skills but the players’ unselfishness with one assist after another.

Looking ahead to the highly rated incoming class, Tara said, “They are all very talented players,” but there’s a big difference between high school and college play. However, the returning players will help them just as the returnees were helped as freshmen.

That was the end of the formalities, but Tara gathered those returnees together for some announcements.

Now it’s time to await the next season in November. It will include games against Tennessee, Baylor and Gonzaga, Tara said.

Photos by Ron Madson. For more, see Stories of the Season.

April 2, 2019

A fun run while it lasted

A tearful Alanna leads the post-game huddle for the last time.

For slightly more than half of its Elite Eight game, it looked as though the Stanford women’s basketball team might upset the defending national champion.

But then the luck of the Irish took over, and Notre Dame won 84-68 on April 1 in Chicago’s Wintrust Arena.

Stanford outscored Notre Dame in the first two quarters and led 33-26 at the half and by as much as nine early in the third quarter before ND began chipping away.

Farm team leads over 22 minutes

Stanford actually led for slightly more than half the game, just over 22 minutes. The game was tied for just over a minute.

It marked the Cardinal’s 12th trip to the Elite Eight in the past 16 years and 20th overall. It ended the team’s season at 31-5.

It also marked the end of the line for two of the team’s seniors, forward Alanna Smith and center Shannon Coffee. The third senior, guard Marta Sniezek, didn’t play all season because of injuries. Earlier in the day, Alanna was named to an AP second team All American.

Kiana drives downcourt.
Kiana scores 20 points

Sophomore guard Kiana Williams led the team with 20 points, followed by junior guard DiJonai Carrington with 18 and Alanna with 14.

Thirty of the team’s points came from three’s. Kiana poured in four, while Alanna, DiJonai and freshman guard Lexie Hull had two each.

Despite the loss, it was a refreshing change from the team’s less-than-stellar 55-46 over Missouri State in the Sweet 16 on March 30.  

That victory came even though the team shot only 25 percent overall and just 10.3 percent on three’s.

Its 55 points tied its fewest in an NCAA tournament victory since Stanford beat Xavier, 55-
53, in the Elite Eight in Sacramento on March 29, 2010.

Remember that thriller? That’s when Jeanette Pohlen, ’10, streaked across the entire court with only 4.4 seconds left to score the winning basket and send her team to the Final Four.

Alanna leads the post-game celebration, quite a contrast from two days later (see top photo).
Alanna leads scoring against Missouri State

In the Missouri State game, Alanna scored a team-leading 13 points. Coming off the bench, junior guard Anna Wilson provided a needed spark with 11, the only other player in double figures.

One might chalk up the nine-point win on two statistics: The Cardinal made 18 free throws, the Bears 12. That’s six points.

The other winning points came from the Cardinal’s three three’s versus the Bears’ two. Stanford’s three’s came from Anna, Lexie and Shannon with one each. 

Shannon sets a screen while Anna goes for three.
Shannon does seem to have a knack for helping to knock off Bears with three’s, a la Baylor and others, according to head coach Tara VanDerveer.

Now it’s back to the books with spring quarter under way. Fans will have one last chance to see the players at the annual banquet April 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Arrillaga Alumni Center.

After that they can look forward to what appears to be a highly promising 2019-2020 with 11 returning players and four highly touted freshmen.

Photos by Bob Drebin/ISIPhotos.com