September 17, 2008

Insights into the upcoming season

Story: Judy Richter
Photo: Dana Stewart

It was a sunny, pleasantly cool afternoon at Vino Locale in Palo Alto as 53 Fast Break Club members and Stanford staffers enjoyed great wine and food along with some insights into the upcoming season at the annual Wine Tasting on Sept. 14.

Looking relaxed after vacationing in Minnesota, Coach Tara VanDerveer highlighted the afternoon by speaking to the group. After thanking those who had made the event possible, she introduced her coaching staff: Amy Tucker, Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye. She also noted that former player Heather Owen, ’98, will serve a one-year internship to work on marketing and development for the team. “Heather is a worker,” Tara said, saying that she’ll put into practice some of the ideas that the coaches and others have had.

Tara then looked back at 2007-08, when the Stanford women made it all the way to the NCAA national championship game in Tampa. “It was so exciting,” she said of the season. “Our team wanted to keep playing with each other. You can’t buy that.” The star of that team, guard Candice Wiggins, ’08, is expected on campus this fall to complete the coursework for her degree. She suffered a torn meniscus in her right knee late in the Minnesota Lynx’s season and will have surgery.

As for this season, “Our freshmen are arriving on campus,” Tara said, and would attend the team’s first meeting that evening. The only missing player would be senior forward Morgan Clyburn, who was stranded in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Ike. She was expected to arrive in the next couple of days.

Morgan won’t be playing right away because of surgery on both feet – one at a time – but “she expects to be able to play” eventually, the coach said. Junior center Jayne Appel also will be out of action for a while as she continues to recuperate from shoulder surgery, but she’ll be close to readiness by the first game. “She looks great,” Tara said. Juniors Michelle Harrison, center, and Melanie Murphy, guard, have been cleared to play after recovering from knee surgery last season. “Our main goal is to keep everyone healthy,” Tara said.

Once everyone is healthy, the team will field 15 players – seven guards and eight forwards. With Mel and Michelle injured, the team fielded only 11 players for most of last season. Only two, Candice and fellow guard Cissy Pierce, were seniors, so Tara is looking forward to greater depth. She’s hoping to have the kind of options that the gold medal-winning USA women’s basketball team of superstars had at the Beijing Olympics this summer.

With that greater depth, especially at the post, last year’s starters – 6-4 Jayne and 6-4 sophomore Kayla Pedersen -- “are excited they get to foul,” Tara said. “We can be more physical. We can look at more options,” she said. She was referring to the addition of freshman forwards Sarah Boothe, 6-5, and Nneka Ogwumike, 6-2, along with the return of 6-3 Michelle and, later, 6-4 Morgan. The lineup also will feature 6-3 sophomore Ashley Cimino, who was limited by injury early last season, as well as 6-1 senior Jillian Harmon.

Jill is returning from several months of international play on New Zealand’s Olympics team. “If you’re an Olympics player, it helps your confidence,” Tara said, adding that Jill was impressed by the great shape of her teammates and opponents. “That experience will be very valuable for Jill,” she said.

For guard play, the team will be looking to senior Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, juniors JJ Hones and Melanie Murphy, sophomores Jeanette Pohlen and Hannah Donaghe, and freshmen Grace Mashore and Lindy La Rocque.

After Sunday’s first meeting, the team was to begin pre-season practices on Tuesday, Sept. 16. By NCAA rules, those practices are limited to eight hours a week with the coaches – two hours on the court and six hours of strength and conditioning. “They also have to work out on their own,” Tara said. Regular practices begin Oct. 17. FBC members may attend an open practice Oct. 18 at Maples. The exhibition season starts Nov. 1.

Tara has already said that this year’s schedule will be the toughest she has seen during her years at Stanford. “Whoever did our schedule was crazy,” she joked Sunday. “I probably won’t get much sleep this season.”

“There’s a definite sense of urgency” as the season starts. There will be a big void without Candice, leaving some questions: Who’ll take the shots? Who’ll be the leader?

One thing’s for sure. “We can be big.” Moreover, the team “is looking very good,” Tara said. “We’re gonna have fun.”

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