With 12 of its 13 national championship players returning and five highly regarded newcomers arriving, the outlook for the Stanford women’s basketball team’s 2021-22 season looks bright.
“There’s a lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement,” associate head coach Kate Paye said in a recent phone interview.
These feelings are heightened by the expectation that campus life will be close to normal for the fall quarter. By then coronavirus vaccinations will be required for everyone, with exceptions only for medical or religious reasons.
Team faced adversity last season
The coronavirus pandemic played havoc with everyone in the nation starting in March 2020.
Forced out of its Maples Pavilion home for most of the ’20-21 season, the team had to be flexible, a trait that paid off in games. The players faced a lot of adversity, but “they really rose to the challenge,” Kate said.
She believes that the team’s chemistry and culture along with its flexibility were the biggest factors in its success.
Game after game, someone different, often a bench player, might come through with a winning play. It’s called “benergy. It’s all about our team,” Kate said.
Now the players are enjoying being on campus. Sixteen of the 17 are there. Most of them recently were honored at a San Francisco Giants game when junior guard Haley Jones threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Agnes visiting family in Australia
The only player not on campus is sophomore guard Agnes Emma-Nnopu. She’s visiting her family in Australia while taking classes remotely.
She hadn’t been home in a year, but when she arrived in Australia, she had to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks before being allowed to go home. She’s expected to return to campus in about a week, Kate said.
Point guard Kiana Williams, who graduated and opted to turn pro, is the only player not returning from last season. She’ll be missed, Kate said.
Finding someone to fill her spot at point guard is the team’s biggest question mark for now, Kate said. Possible replacements are sophomore guard Jana Van Gytenbeek, sixth-year guard Anna Wilson and graduate transfer guard Jordan Hamilton.
Besides Jordan, who comes from Northwestern University, the team's other newcomers are all freshmen: guards Brooke Demetre, Jzaniya Harriel and Elena Bosgana, and forward Okikiola (Kiki) Iriafen. Elena, who hails from Greece is the program's first European player.
Kate praises newcomers
Kate had high praise for all of them and noted that they’ve been welcomed and mentored by the returning players.
Both Anna and fifth-year forward Alyssa Jerome are returning thanks to an NCAA rule that grants an extra year of eligibility to last year’s winter sports players who were affected by pandemic restrictions. Jordan also is taking advantage of the rule.
Redshirt junior guard Jenna Brown hasn’t been cleared to practice while recovering from a knee injury that kept her out all of last season, but “she’s making a lot of progress,” Kate said.
|Andrea Hayden confers with Sergio Romo of the Minnesota Twins in 2020. (Minnesota Twins photo)|
Yet another newcomer is strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hayden, who recently had a similar role with Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins.
“We are thrilled with Andrea,” who was one of the first women in MLB, Kate said. Well organized with a good personality, she replaces Ali Kershner, who was named director of creative strategy for The Art of Coaching, based in Beaverton Ore.
Internships offer experience
Several players are getting valuable experience from internships. Anna is with a firm that does creative work for Nike. Jordan is in commercial real estate.
Junior forward Fran Belibi is doing research at a hospital. Two other juniors – forward Ashten Prechtel and guard Hannah Jump – are working at youth sports camps.
|Tara at the ESPYs (Getty Images)|
Summer classes end Aug. 27. Fall classes start Sept. 20.
Championship players to get rings
Championship rings for the ’20-21 team are being ordered, but Kate wasn’t sure when or how they will be presented.
Although the season schedule won’t be announced until late summer or early fall, Kate said exhibition games will probably start in late October or early November.
Fans, who will be in Maples, too, can expect “an extremely challenging schedule,” she said.
With an unusually large roster, Kate expects things will be “extremely competitive (but) we consider depth a plus.”