|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 Bosgana, Brooke 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