November 16, 2020

Virtual tipoff with caution, enthusiasm


Ashten drives toward the basket, defended by Fran in a practice.

Yet another change wrought by the coronavirus pandemic manifested itself in a virtual season tipoff rather than an open practice Nov. 14.

During an hour introduced by radio announcer Kevin Danna, the coaches and players appeared via Zoom as they talked about the season and its challenges.

Kevin introduced head coach Tara VanDerveer, noting her many accomplishments in 35 years at Stanford. Among them are 1,094 wins, just four shy of the record set by the late Pat Summitt at Tennessee.

With an empty Maples Pavilion as her backdrop, Tara noted that the team had just completed a practice that she termed “very exciting.” “This team, our coaches are winners.”

Coaches, staff introduced

She introduced those coaches, starting with associate head coach Kate Paye, who has been with the team for 14 years.

Kate named the three things she’s noticed about the team. First was improvement. Players are in better shape and they’re shooting better.

Second was “how well everyone is supporting each other.”

Third, she said the players are appreciative and grateful to be back in the gym. (As Tara noted later, COVID restrictions had required practices and workouts to be outside.)

Introducing new assistant coach Katy Steding, Tara said she was the first recruit she signed at Stanford, and she was on the 1990 national championship team her senior year.

Changes Katy noted since returning to the Farm included “how massive the campus seems.” She’s impressed by the players and said to Tara, “You still keep them really well oiled.”

The other new assistant coach is Britney Anderson, who received “incredible rave reviews,” Tara said.  Britney said, “I’m enjoying being around these incredible women” as well as the campus and weather.

Tara named the rest of the staff, including Eileen Roche, director of basketball operations, and thanked her “for all her hard work” in assembling a schedule.

Tara also named Ali Kershner, sports performance coach; Katelin Knox, athletic trainer; and Celia Marfone, video coordinator, who’s living in the dorm with the players. Completing the staff are Amy Tucker, basketball administrator, and Samantha Dodd, assistant director finance and administration.

Freshmen get their due

Up next were the freshmen, starting with guard Agnes Emma-Nnopu, Stanford’s second Australian after Alanna Smith, ’19.  A four-time medalist with an Australian national team, Aggie is “a terrific defender.”

Cameron will sport 22 on her jersey.

Forward Cameron Brink is a two-time Oregon high school champion with “good timing and shot-blocking,” Tara said. Cameron worked with former Stanford player and sports performance coach Susan King Borchardt, ’05. Cameron said Susan taught her that “preparation is key.”

Guard Jana Van Gytenbeek holds the Colorado state record for assists and is a 3-point leader, Tara said. One of Jana’s pastimes is scuba diving. She’s gone down as deep as 110 feet and has a shark’s tooth for Tara.

Summing up the freshmen’s experience so far, Tara estimated that they have learned as many as 50 plays.

Sophomores tell what they’ve done

First up for the sophomores was forward Fran Belibi, who shot 58 percent last season and worked out with men during the summer. “I’ve improved my shot the most,” Fran said.

Forward Ashten Prechtel, who was sixth player of the year, advised the freshmen to be confident.

Haley is back after recovering from an injury.

Guard Haley Jones, who can play four of the five positions, played only 18 games last year before being sidelined by an injury. She said it was hard being out, but since her recovery, she’s been working on her shots.

Guard Hannah Jump, a 3-point specialist, focused on getting in shape, a goal helped by working out in a neighbor’s swimming pool.

Hulls try to stay in shape; Jenna out

Junior guard Lexie Hull, who led the team in rebounds last year, said she and her twin, guard Lacie, tried to stay in shape.

Lacie, a top defender, said of the freshmen, “They’re picking things up very fast, (and) all have something different to offer.”

The other junior, guard Jenna Brown, who wasn’t in the session, is redshirting after an injury.

Seniors provide leadership

Senior forward Alyssa Jerome, is “a real encourager,” Tara said. Alyssa said she practiced her shots on a hoop in her back yard to get around Canada’s COVID restrictions.

Tara said the seniors organized small weekly Zoom sessions to connect players when they couldn’t be on campus.

Guard Anna Wilson, a fifth-year senior, is playing her best to date, Tara said. Anna said it wasn’t easy getting that fifth year even though she wanted it. The NCAA turned her down at first, but she appealed and won.

Kiana is looking forward to a great year.

Guard Kiana Williams, who started 33 games last year, is becoming more vocal, Tara said. “I think it’s going to be a great year,” Kiana said.

Senior forward Maya Dodson is on the roster, but is opting out of playing this season as allowed by the NCAA because of the pandemic. The NCAA said student-athletes who opt out this season will retain a year of eligibility. That means Maya may return if she wants to.

With this team, Tara said, “Going into the gym every day is an absolute pleasure.”

Some of the new rules that the players must follow are that they have to sit 10 feet apart in the locker room and get their food to go in their dorm.

Nneka joins in

After Tara excused the players to tend to academics, Nneka Ogwumike, ’12, made a guest appearance. She was among the alums and others who spoke to the team during the summer.

She plays professionally with the Los Angeles Sparks and serves as president of the WNBA Players Association.

Tara told Nneka she enjoys this team. “We started from behind” with no one on campus in the summer. Still, the team has shown experience, depth and competitiveness, she said, adding that she’s pleased with the sophomores’ improvement.

Kevin cited the Pac-12’s depth, with Stanford No. 2 in a pre-season poll and several other conference teams in the top 20.  Tara said she’s not concerned about the other teams. “We just have to stay healthy … There’s a good vibe in the gym.”

“You’ve got to be a strong family” in light of the required isolation, Tara said.

Playing without fans in the stands for the WNBA season, Nneka said, “We had to be our own energy” and looked to the bench for support.

Relief for Kiana

Because Anna and Jana can play the point, Tara said she’s glad Kiana will get more rest this season. “We’re counting on everyone stepping up their game.”

As a side note, Tara said she’s pleased with former assistant coach Lindy La Rocque, ’12, who left this season to become head coach at UNLV.  “She’s going to do a terrific job.”

Nneka, Lindy’s teammate and classmate, said she was an on-court coach during their days together.

Tara mentioned the recently signed recruiting class for next season: Elena BosganaBrooke Demetre, Jzaniya Harriel and Kiki Iriafen.

In the meantime, Tara wants the team to stay connected with fans even though they can't attend games. One way is that most games will be televised. "It's a tough road right now, but we're going to get through it together," she concluded. 

Stanford Athletics photos

September 26, 2020

Season plans still in flux

Fans won't be able to see the team in person as they did last year, but they hope they can celebrate when play resumes this season. (Stanford Athletics)

“Stay tuned.”

That’s associate head coach Kate Paye’s advice to Stanford women’s basketball fans who are wondering when and how the 2020-21 season will proceed.

“Things are changing constantly,” she said in a recent phone interview.

Despite the fluid situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, several things are known for sure.

Games to start Nov. 25

First, the NCAA Div. I and Pac-12 will allow competition to begin Nov. 25. However, the schedule is still in flux. Moreover, Stanford’s start must also be cleared by Santa Clara County health authorities.

There might be more conference games than usual because all Pac-12 teams are following the same testing protocols.  Assuming other schools adhere to the same health guidelines as Stanford, colleges closer to home might be scheduled to avoid plane travel, Kate said.

In the meantime, some players are working on shooting and ball-handling skills on outdoor courts in accord with county rules. An outdoor weight training facility has been set up for conditioning.

Practice can resume Oct. 14 if the county approves.

Sorry, no fans

Second, no fans will be allowed at the games. That situation will be revisited in January, said Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

Third, all of the players are on campus and healthy. They include the two international players, senior forward Alyssa Jerome from Canada and freshman guard Agnes Emma-Nnopu from Australia.

New coaches Katy Steding and Britney Anderson also are on The Farm, joining Kate and head coach Tara VanDerveer.

Fourth, everyone is undergoing COVID-19 testing in accord with university and Santa Clara County protocols.

Fifth, along with all other athletes, they’re staying in the new Escondido graduate student housing complex. Looking ahead, there might be what Kate called Olympic village-type housing. Officials are “refining housing plans,” she said.

Besides men’s and women’s basketball, sports hoping to resume are football, wrestling, women’s gymnastics, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving.

Maya opts out of season

Sixth, the team is missing senior forward Maya Dodson, who has opted out of the season and is at home in Georgia. Like everyone else at home and on campus, she’s taking her classes remotely.

“I have spent time reflecting on my personal circumstances navigating the midst of vast uncertainty, be it college sports, the gravity of the pandemic, or the complicated political and social justice climates,” Maya said on social media.

Like Maya, the players are closely following the issues, and the U.S. citizens have registered to vote, Kate said.

In accord with rules regarding student-athletes who opt out of this season, Maya is still a Stanford student and will retain a year of eligibility, Kate said. “We respect everybody’s decision.”

Maya wrote, “As a senior, I will take leadership in stride and support (my teammates) in any way I can from afar.”

Also missing is senior guard Estella Moschkau, who graduated early and has transferred to grad school at the University of Wisconsin in her home state.

Staying flexible and positive

Despite the masks and social distancing, Kate said, “we’re really excited to see each other.”

On a personal note, Kate’s daughters, like the Stanford players, are studying online. Anne is in kindergarten while Cassie is in fourth grade.

Kate praised campus leaders for all they have been doing to make sure everything goes right.

In the meantime, “we’re trying to stay flexible and positive,” Kate concluded.

 

 

 

 

July 13, 2020

Team faces unprecedented challenges

The team's freshmen, from left: forward Cameron Brink, guards Jana Van Gytenbeek and Agnes Emma-Nnopu

Several themes dominated associate head coach Kate Paye’s comments during a recent phone interview.

Two of them were uncertainty and hope for the Stanford women’s basketball team. Another was pride in how well the players and staff are growing.

Yet another was the challenges the team and university face in light of the coronavirus pandemic gripping the nation.

Kate
It’s a “very unusual time,” she said. (Except for a few centenarians), this is everyone’s “first time through a pandemic.”

Everyone went home

It all started March 12 when the NCAA cancelled the tournament, in which Stanford was expected to do well. Instead, the coaches held a team meeting, and all of the players went home.

That’s where they are now, but they’ve adjusted well, Kate said. They’re taking classes online.

Everyone has a place to work out, and strength and conditioning coach Ali Kershner has crafted individual plans.

Players stay in touch

Returning players have created workout videos for the freshmen: guards Agnes Emma-Nnopu and Jana Van Gytenbeek and forward Cameron Brink.

Jana and sophomore forwards Fran Belibi and Ashten Prechtel, who all live in Colorado, have worked out together, sometimes joined by other teammates.

Weekly calls on Tuesdays feature speakers such as SWBB alums Nneka Ogwumike, ’12; and Susan King Borchardt, ’05; along with retired WNBA great Kara Lawson, Duke’s new head coach; and others.

The players also stay in touch through small group Zoom calls. They have to be timed just right because Agnes lives in Victoria, Australia, which is 17 hours ahead of PDT. The staff meets via Zoom, too. “Zoom is our new best friend,” Kate said.

Social unrest adds to issues

On top of coronavirus and all the havoc it has caused, the team is acutely aware of the social unrest sweeping the country as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The players have had some tough conversations around this issue. Each week an individual player shares her thoughts in a Facebook video.

It’s “a tremendous learning and growing process. I’m proud of our team,” Kate said.

Two new coaches

Here’s yet another wrinkle. The team has two new assistant coaches, Katy Steding and Britney Anderson.

Katy
Katy,’90, head coach Tara VanDerveer’s first signed recruit, helped lead the team to its first national championship her senior year. She played professionally before becoming a coach, most recently at the University of San Francisco. She and her husband, John, have moved closer to Stanford.

Britney
Britney comes from coaching at her alma mater, Virginia Tech. She and her mother were on her way to Stanford as Kate spoke.

Katy and Britney succeed assistant coaches Lindy La Rocque and Tempie Brown. Lindy is head coach at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, her hometown.


Tempie moves, stays home with kids

Tempie has stepped away from coaching to be more involved with her family. She and her spouse have moved to Michigan, where her spouse has a new job. Tempie is a stay-at-home mom with their two youngsters, ages 4 and 1.

She’s doing well and stays in touch with her Stanford colleagues.

In the meantime, Kate has had to help her two daughters, ages 9 and 5, with their at-home schooling. It didn’t go well at first, she said, joking that she realized she’s a better coach than elementary school teacher.

Kate gave the interview while on vacation with the girls.

Back to sports, Kate said “it’s really sad” that Stanford Athletics made the tough decision to eliminate 11 varsity sports at the end of the 20-21 academic year for financial reasons. “These are our family members,” she said.

Uncertainty for international students

Adding to the uncertainty is the status of the team’s two international players, Agnes and senior forward Alyssa Jerome, who lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said that international college students might not be allowed into the country if classes are online only. Stanford, along with other schools, has asked the department to change that stance, Kate said. (That policy was rescinded July 14.)

“We are hopeful of returning (to campus) in the fall, (but) we don’t know,” she said. Classes start Sept. 14.

“We’re trying to keep everybody healthy” in all ways. The players are getting out the message to wear masks, wash hands and maintain social distance.

“There’s so much uncertainty,” she said, summing up the current outlook.

Nevertheless, the team has adopted “Widen the gap” as this year’s theme. It means widening the gap between SWBB and its competitors.

Photos from Stanford Athletics


May 14, 2020

Virtual spring banquet a time for thanks, recognition


To say that this year’s Stanford women’s basketball banquet on May 12 was unusual would be an understatement.

Yes, the format was similar to past banquets with head coach Tara VanDerveer serving as emcee. In the process, she thanked all the Stanford people who support the team, starting with university and Athletic Department administrators and ending with the interns and student managers.

Nevertheless, it was all different. No alumni center. No round tables seating 10 people. No lavish buffet. No hobnobbing before and after.

Everything is virtual

Instead it was all virtual. Everything appeared on viewers’ screens with head shots of some people and Zoom shots of everyone else.

“How quickly our lives have changed,” Tara said in her opening remarks. Because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the SWBB season was cut short before the NCAA tournament, the nation was ordered to shelter in place, and students were sent home to complete their classes online.

No one knows when things will return to some semblance of normal.

Many accomplishments for the team

Meanwhile, Tara ticked off the team’s accomplishments. Among the many were winning 20 or more games for the 19th year (27-6), making the most 3-pointers in Pac-12 history (162) and placing nine players on the Pac-12 academic honor roll.

She introduced her surprise “Bear-buster” guest, Shannon Coffee, ’19, who was in her Ohio home after playing professionally in the French-speaking area of Switzerland. Tara was referring to Shannon’s 3’s that helped Stanford defeat Cal last year.

One of her thank you’s went to Tony and Linda Meier, who gave a pool party for the team in September.

Freshmen cited

Next she began introducing each player by class, starting with the freshmen. As they were named, they were seen at home along with photos of them as pre-schoolers.
n  Forward Fran Belibi: consistent attitude and effort.
n  Guard Haley Jones: savvy and versatile. After being injured for part of the season, she’s expected to be at 100 percent in the fall.
n  Guard Hannah Jump: 43 3’s. Tara added that she would love to see a 3-point shooting contest between Hannah and Karlie Samuelson, ’17, another 3-point hotshot.
n  Forward Ashten Prechtel: second on the team in blocks, 31.

Sophomores come next

Next came the sophomores.
n  Guard Jenna Brown: a hard worker in practice.
n  Guard Lacie Hull: second on the team in free-throw percentage.
n  Guard Lexie Hull: started every game, the leading rebounder (six per game) with the most steals.

Juniors get face time

After a slide show of various non-game team activities, Tara introduced the juniors.
n  Forward Maya Dodson: came back to play in the last nine games after rehabbing an injury for 10 months.
n  Forward Alyssa Jerome: an unselfish player.
n  Guard Kiana Williams: the team’s leading scorer (15 points per game) who started every game and garnered numerous honors.
n  Guard Estella Moschkau: a great practice and team player, she’ll graduate in August and will complete her final year of eligibility at the University of Wisconsin.
n  Guard Anna Wilson: an academic senior, she’ll be back as a red-shirt next year.

Assistant coaches introduced

The assistant coaches were next, starting with Lindy La Rocque, who has moved to UNLV as head coach, where she finds “a new challenge every day,” she said.

Assistant coach Tempie Brown coordinates recruiting. She also was named this year’s winner of the staff award honoring the late Dee Dee Zawaydeh, who ran the SWBB office for 30 years.

In addition to her other duties, associate head coach Kate Paye is good for a last-minute play, Tara said.

Seniors have their say

Finally the seniors appeared and had a chance to speak.
n  Guard Mikaela Brewer, the team’s first Canadian, missed 25 games because of an injury and has written a novel. She thanked the coaches and her teammates for their support during her struggles with mental health.
n  Guard DiJonai Carrington, despite playing only the first five games and missing the rest because of injury, had many accomplishments. DiJonai responded by saying what she’ll miss about each player.  (It wasn’t mentioned that because she missed so many games, she’s eligible for another year and hopes to transfer to either UConn, Baylor or Oregon.)
n  Forward Nadia Fingall also missed games because of injury but showed improvement from last season in every category. She had thanks for everyone, including fans.

“We’re going to be really good”

“We’ll miss you,” Tara said to the seniors. Looking ahead to next season, she recognized the three highly regarded recruits, Cameron Brink, Jana Van Gytenbeek  and Agnes Emma-Nnopu.

“We are going to be really good,” Tara said about the 2020-21 team, with a “tough Pac-12 season.”

The program lasted just over an hour. The traditional video of season highlights wasn’t available then, but it’s on the Fast Break Club site, www.stanfordfbc.org, where it can be enjoyed more than once.



March 24, 2020

Thanks for the memories, Part 2 of 2


After the Stanford women’s basketball team had completed the pre-conference season with an 11-1 record, senior forward Nadia Fingall helped the team get the Pac-12 season off to a good start with 20 points, her season high, in the 77-58 home victory over Washington State on Jan. 3.

Her accomplishment came almost exactly a year after she had suffered a torn ACL at home against USC on Jan. 4, 2019.

After the team beat Washington 77-56 at home on Jan. 5, the players celebrated in the usual way by tossing victory balls into the crowd.

Tara joins the team and Stanford Soul Line Dancers to celebrate after the Washington game. (John Lozano/ISIPhotos.com)
Players join in on line dance

The celebration became more joyous when some members of the Stanford Soul Line Dancers, who had entertained at halftime, joined the players for a spontaneous line dance at center court. Even head coach Tara VanDerveer got in on the fun.

Yet another win came Jan. 10 when Stanford sailed over Cal 73-40 in the first round of the Battle of the Bay.

The game had a festive air starting before the game when fans could avail themselves of freebies like pens, pompons, rally towels, glow sticks and lighted head bands. The latter two items cast a red glow throughout Maples as the lights were dimmed for introduction of the starters.

Freshmen help to beat Cal

The freshmen played a major role in the win. One more point from them would have tied Cal’s total output, and two more would have defeated the Bears.

Guard Haley Jones with 17 points, forward Ashten Prechtel with 13, forward Fran Belibi with 6 and guard Hannah Jump with 3 combined for 39 points. That was more than half of the team’s total, yet the four rookies played just under of third of the total minutes.

More festivities came during halftime, when the women’s soccer team was honored for its second national championship in the past three years.

Following the game, it was announced that Tara had just won her 500th conference game, the most by any Division I coach with one women’s basketball team.

After Stanford won round two of the Battle of the Bay by defeating Cal 79-65, Haley was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the third time.

Journeying north, Stanford split a pair of games, losing 87-55 to Oregon on Jan. 16 and defeating Oregon State 61-58 on Jan. 19.

Injury at OSU takes Haley out for season

The latter win proved costly as Haley suffered an injury that kept her out for the rest of the season.

Hannah hugs Ashten as Nadia (4) and Fran add their congratulations. (Stanford Athletics)
It took overtime, but Stanford defeated Colorado 76-68 at home on Jan. 24. With less than 2 seconds to go in regulation, Colorado was 64-62, but Ashten took the inbound pass and made a layup to tie the score.

Senior guard Mikaela Brewer was in uniform for the first time but didn’t play. Junior forward Alyssa Jerome was in street clothes along with senior guard DiJonai Carrington and junior forward Maya Dodson.

Defeating Utah 82-49 at home on Jan. 24 was a lot easier. Among the stat sheet highlights were only five turnovers, compared with Utah’s 16.

Mikaela played for the first time. She entered with game with about two minutes to go and snared a rebound.

1990 national championship team honored

The afternoon started on a celebratory note as players and staff from SWBB’s 1990 national championship team were saluted at center court.

At the Behind the Bench afterward, associate head coach Kate Paye called for a moment of silence in memory of retired NBA great Kobe Bryant, who, with his daughter and seven others, had died in a helicopter crash in Southern California earlier in the day.

A trip to the Evergreen State netted two wins: 58-41 over Washington on Jan. 31 and 71-49 over Washington State on Feb. 2.

After enduring a 79-69 home loss to UCLA on Feb. 7, the Cardinal rebounded with a 79-59 victory over USC on Feb. 9, also at home.

During the game, the volleyball team was honored for its second consecutive national championship and its third in four years.


Seniors and their families gather with Tara at center court on Senior Day. (Stanford Athletics)
Senior Day celebrated after USC win

Afterward, the four seniors were honored. Even though two more home games were scheduled, this one was more convenient for the families of DiJonai, Mikaela, Nadia and guard Anna Wilson.

Venturing to the mountain schools, Stanford returned with a 97-64 score over Utah on Feb. 14 and 69-66 over Colorado on Feb. 16.

These two games marked Maya’s first for the season. Although her minutes were limited, she scored 7 points against Utah and 6 against Colorado.

Everyone celebrates as her teammates swamp Kiana (seen above the ref's head) after her game-saving heroics against Colorado. (Cliff Grassmick/Boulder Daily Camera)
Kiana makes historic scores against Colorado

The Colorado game was one that likely will go down in SWBB history thanks to junior guard Kiana Williams. With a mere 13 seconds to go, she hit a game-tying 3, then stole  the ball and made a 3 from about 40 feet out with just four seconds to go.

Another home win came Feb. 21 – a tight 63-60 defeat of Oregon State.

Oregon came away with a 74-66 win on Feb. 24. In this game, sophomore guard Lexie Hull had a team-high 27 points, the bulk of them coming from her career-high six 3’s

Stanford then traveled to the desert, where it lost a 73-72 heartbreaker to Arizona on Feb. 28 but defeated Arizona 55-44 on March 1.

That wrapped up the regular season, but it ended with some conference honors for the Cardinal. Kiana and Lexie were named to the All-Pac-12 team. Lexie was named to the All-Defensive team, with honorable mentions for Kiana, Nadia and sophomore guard Lacie Hull.

Fran and Ashten merited honorable mentions for the All-Freshman team.

Entering the Pac-12 tournament, the team delivered a birthday present to Kate by beating Oregon State 68-57 on March 6. It followed that up with a 67-51 defeat of UCLA, avenging its regular season loss.

Nadia makes football-like pass to Fran

That game featured another memorable play when Nadia was to inbound the ball under the UCLA basket. She did so with a vengeance, hurling the ball to Fran nearly the entire length of the court, enabling Fran to make an easy layup.

Oregon knocked off the Cardinal 89-56 to capture the Pac-12 championship on March 8.
Afterward, Lexie and Kiana were named to the All-Tournament team.

Four days later, on March 12, Tara met with the team for the last time. There were tears aplenty as this group of players realized they would never play together again.  

And in keeping with Stanford’s order to close the campus because of the coronavirus, they were all on their way home that evening.

As the San Francisco Chronicle’s Ann Killion reported March 15, Mikaela and Nadia have completed their last year of eligibility and will graduate. However, Anna has already applied for a fifth year, or redshirt, and DiJonai is expected to do the same. One scholarship is available for next year.

Now that this 27-6 season is over, we can look forward to the promise of next season. Assuming life has returned to something more normal, the 2020-21 team will start summer classes on June 22, arriving a few days before that.

It'll be without assistant coach Lindy La Rocque. Stanford announced on March 18 that Lindy will become head coach at UNLV in her hometown. She will be missed.









March 19, 2020

Thanks for the memories, Part 1 of 2




The Stanford players always supported and cheered for their teammates. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

With apologies to T.S. Eliot, this is the way the season ends: “not with a bang but a whimper.”

The Stanford women's basketball season had been filled with memorable plays and games, but it  abruptly ended March 12 when the NCAA announced that it was canceling both the men’s and women’s tournaments because of the spreading coronavirus. 

Other amateur and pro sports also were shut down, along with much of the rest of the world.

After an 89-56 loss to Oregon in the March 8 final of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, the team was expecting a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and a chance to host the first two rounds.

Instead, it had to settle for its 27-6 overall record, 14-4 in the conference.

Thus the players, especially the seniors, the staff and the fans were greatly disappointed that there would be no more games this season.

Freshmen bolster hopes for team

Tara is flanked by the freshmen, from left: Haley, Hannah, Fran, Ashten. (Stanford Athletics)
Everyone had high hopes for this team even though it was relatively young but with a highly promising freshman class with guards Haley Jones and Hannah Jump along with forwards Fran Belibi and Ashten Prechtel.

Fans got their first look at the team during an open practice Oct. 26. Afterward, head coach Tara VanDerveer said, “We’re going to have a good year.”

With the team ranked third in the AP poll behind Oregon and Baylor, the players gave an enticing preview of coming attractions by hosting a Chinese team, Beijing Normal, and defeating their guests 100-58 on Oct. 29.

And perhaps in a preview of coming un-attractions, three players were unavailable: Haley, senior guard Mikaela Brewer, who was wearing a walking boot on her left foot; and junior forward Maya Dodson, recovering from an injury sustained the previous season.


Stanford hosts Team USA in exhibition
Stanford and Team USA players get together before  the game. (Bob Drebin/ISIPhotos.com)
A sterner test faced the team in another exhibition Nov. 2. This time the guest was Team USA, on a tour of top colleges to get ready for the 2020 Olympics. Among the WNBA greats on Team USA was esteemed Stanford alum Nneka Ogwumike, ’12.

She had game highs of 23 points and 12 rebounds in just over 27 minutes, thus upping her Maples win-loss record to 65-0 as Team USA won 95-80.

Haley was able to play, but Maya and Mikaela were still unavailable. It would be months before either of them returned.

Games that counted started Nov. 5 when the Cardinal routed visiting Eastern Washington University 92-27.

Stanford, USF play in Warriors’ Chase Center

Stanford, technically hosted by the University of San Francisco, made Bay Area basketball history by playing the first college game ever in the Golden State Warriors’ shiny new Chase Center in San Francisco on Nov. 9.

Stanford won that one 97-71, led by sophomore guard Lexie Hull with 27 points. Also in double figures were senior guard DiJonai Carrington with 16 and junior forward Alyssa Jerome with 11.

Chalking up another win, Stanford defeated its Northern Colorado visitors 90-36 on Nov. 14. In what became a ritual before every game, Fran delivered a dunk.

Sophomore guard Lacie Hull led all players with 19 points.

It takes OT to beat Gonzaga

Winning was far more difficult Nov. 17 when Stanford eked out a 76-70 home win over Gonzaga in overtime. Lexie helped make the win possible with 8 points and an important rebound in the final three minutes of OT. Senior guard Anna Wilson helped, too, with three free throws during the final minute or so.

Junior guard Kiana Williams led the team with 22 points, while Lexie had 20 and Haley had 11.

Still at home, Stanford beat Buffalo 88-69 on Nov. 24. Lexie wound up with 21 points, and Kiana had 14. Ashten had her first career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Three games, three wins during Thanksgiving break

The team spent Thanksgiving weekend at a tournament in Victoria, B.C., Canada, and returned with three wins: 83-78 over California Baptist on Nov. 28, 77-59 over Syracuse on Nov. 29 and 67-62 over Mississippi State on Nov. 30.

Senior forward Nadia Fingall was named the tournament’s MVP, and Haley was named to the all-tournament team. Her accomplishments in Victoria led to her being named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week.

However, DiJonai didn’t play at all, nor did she play any games after that. Her hustle was sorely missed, but she exhibited leadership throughout the season.

Estella (left) and DiJonai like what they see in the Ohio State game. (Don Feria/ISIPhotos.com)

Back home, the team upped its record to 9-0 with a 71-52 over Ohio State on Dec. 15. It was the 1,100th win in program history. The victory propelled Stanford to No. 1 in AP’s weekly poll.

Although the team’s ranking moved up and down throughout the season, it never fell below No. 8 and finished at No. 7.

Lexie makes seven steals against Ohio State

Among highlights in this game, Lexie had a career-high seven steals while adding 13 points. Haley had a team-high 15 and was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the second time. Also in double figures were Fran with 13 and Kiana with 13.

As had become her habit, Hannah made three 3’s in seemingly effortless fashion – just catch and shoot – swish.

Yet another home win came Dec. 18 when Tennessee fell 78-51. During the fourth quarter, Kiana made a free throw that gave her 1,000 points for her collegiate career, the 41st player to do so in the program’s history.

Playing in all 33 games, she led the team with a total of 494 points, an average of 15 points per game.

Going on the road, the team suffered its first loss, 69-64, at the hands of Texas on Dec. 22.

Memorable play in win over UC Davis

Back from the holiday break, the Cardinal defeated UC Davis 67-55 at home on Dec. 28.
One of the game’s more memorable moments came during the second quarter. Fran blocked a shot, Lacie grabbed the rebound, took a few steps and hurled the ball to Fran, who scored, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Haley, trailed by Nadia, takes the ball upcourt. (Karen Ambrose Hickey/Stanford Athletics)
Haley had her first career double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds.

Thus the team ended the pre-conference season with an 11-1 record as it geared up for Pac-12 competition.

Next: Part 2, the Pac-12 season