2009-10 Stanford Women's Basketball Preview
Oct. 28, 2009
All of the experience, all of the preparation that goes into a game plan sets a team and its players up for that moment. When the pregame countdown up on the scoreboard gets under the one-minute mark, everyone inches forward, tenses up a bit, anticipating the jump ball that is soon to come. At that moment, when the clock hits '00:00' one thought is at the forefront of everyone's mind:
The 2008-09 season marked Stanford's second consecutive trip to the Final Four, and by now the giddy first experience of the marquee event two years ago has evolved into an experienced, focused drive to return and bring home a national championship in 2009-10.
Stanford posted its second straight 30-win season a year ago, going 33-5 overall and winning its ninth consecutive Pac-10 regular season title with a 17-1 mark. The squad repeated the feat of reaching the Final Four, but the journey wasn't without its bumps. Non-conference losses at Baylor, Duke and Tennessee, along with a Pac-10 road loss at California early on in the conference schedule served as tests for the young Cardinal, which boasted just one healthy senior.
Yet behind the leadership of that senior, Jillian Harmon, as well as State Farm Coaches' All-America center Jayne Appel, Stanford learned from those early losses, re-focusing on the goal and re-dedicating itself to winning. The approach worked as the Cardinal ripped off a 20-game winning streak that led to the Pac-10 regular season title, the Pac-10 Tournament title and only came to a halt with the season-ending 83-64 defeat at the hands of eventual national champion Connecticut in the national semifinal.
Heading into the 2009-10 season, Stanford returns 13 players that felt the sting of that defeat as well as a pair of talented rookies who are eager to make their mark on the Cardinal's fortunes. The return of Appel, an early-season favorite for national player of the year, along with fellow Wade Trophy candidates Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen and sophomore sensation Nnemkadi Ogwumike, to name a few, has the Cardinal possessing lofty national-title aspirations.
The Cardinal back court not only welcomes second-team All-Pac-10 selection Jeanette Pohlen and Pac-10 All-Defensive Team honorable mention Rosalyn Gold-Onwude back into the fold in 2009-10 but also has point guard JJ Hones back at 100 percent.
Hones, whose 2008-09 season ended in the team's fourth game due to a torn left ACL, has worked diligently to return to form as well as to her natural role as the quarterback of the team's prolific offense. Despite playing in just two games last season, the Beaverton, Ore. native drained 6-of-8 three-pointers, passed out six assists and scored a total of 21 points, showing how much more dangerous she had become since her big 2008-09 season.
Pohlen, who has played in all 77 of the team's games through her first two seasons on The Farm, enjoyed a breakout season in 2008-09, draining 83 triples and averaging 10.7 points per game, third-best on the team. One of the hardest workers on the team, Pohlen not only led the team with 1,212 minutes played (31.9 per game) but also shouldered the load of playing both guard positions throughout the season. As a shooting guard, Pohlen was the conference's main three-point threat, keeping defenses stretched out on the perimeter due to her itchy trigger finger, while at the point, she did just as much damage, passing out a team-leading 146 assists and posting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.72, second-best in the Pac-10.
With the return of a healthy JJ Hones in 2009-10, Pohlen should be able to comfortably slide back into the shooting guard role, leaving her free to launch threes or drive the lane.
Another guard who will get her share of playing time in 2009-10 is redshirt senior Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who started 24 games last season and proved herself as one of the Cardinal's top defensive threats on the perimeter. Showcasing her two-way ability on the court, Gold-Onwude made 32 steals while often drawing the unenviable task of defending the opponent's top guard, while passing out 90 assists and hitting 29 three-pointers on the offensive end.
The Queens, N.Y. native gives head coach Tara VanDerveer yet another option at both guard positions as well as a key presence on defense.
Returning for her second year on The Farm is a guard who is fearless on either end of the court. Lindy La Rocque, out of Las Vegas, Nev., will bring her limitless energy to the team as both a defensive pest as well as an emerging gunner from behind the arc. Last year La Rocque attempted 119 three-pointers (making 37), second only to Pohlen on the team, while showing her mettle on defense with 18 steals. Her defensive efforts were highlighted against California on Feb. 14 of last season, when La Rocque outran California's Natasha Vital to a loose ball and dove under her rival to make the steal while in the same motion twisting up to flip the ball to Harmon who was waiting to lay it in the bucket.
Melanie Murphy also returns to the backcourt rotation, following a season in which she averaged 2.2 points while seeing 11.7 minutes of action per contest. A capable point guard and defender, Murphy proved in 2008-09 that she can take the reins of the Cardinal offense when necessary, dishing out 58 assists.
Junior Hannah Donaghe will return for her third season after having her 2008-09 campaign cut short due to a torn ACL suffered last February. In 17 games last season the Atascadero native averaged 2.4 points per game and hit six three-pointers.
Rounding out the Stanford guards is sophomore Grace Mashore, who hit went 2-for-4 from behind the arc and passed out a pair of assists in 11 games last season.
As the heights increase, so does the depth of the 2009-10 Stanford team, and that rings true as the analysis progresses to the wing players. Returning third-team All-Pac-10 selection Kayla Pedersen headlines the wings, which also feature redshirt junior Michelle Harrison and freshman Mikaela Ruef.
Pedersen returns for her third season in 2009-10 after a sophomore effort that served as an appropriate follow-up to her successful rookie campaign. Last year Pedersen started all 38 games, averaging 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds a game while rotating between the '3' and the '4' spots.
Already one of the Cardinal's top rebounders and scorers underneath, the Fountain Hills, Ariz. native added a new facet to her game last year, moving behind the arc to drain 34 three-pointers, tripling her 2007-08 output.
Harrison, meanwhile, returned from a knee injury last year that curtailed just about her entire 2007-08 campaign. The Orem, Utah native saw action in 30 games in her return, draining 11 triples and providing key depth as a rebounder, shooter and ball-handler.
The group is rounded out by freshman Mikaela Ruef, a Beavercreek, Ohio native who comes to The Farm with an impressive resumè of honors. Ruef was honored as the 2009 Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year as well as with a spot on the Parade All-America Third Team. An adept ball-handler and shooter, Ruef adds height (6-3) and depth to the Cardinal wings.
It would be a tall (no pun intended) understatement to call Stanford's post players the group that strikes the most fear into an opponent's heart. Led by the 6-4 Jayne Appel, who is on pace to become arguably the greatest post player in Stanford history, the Cardinal front line boasts an array of talent and depth with the potential to simply wear down even the hardiest of foes.
The buck starts and stops with Appel, who entering her senior season is already Stanford's all-time leading shot blocker, second in field-goal percentage and rebounding, and sixth in points scored. She is on pace to become just the third Stanford player to score 2,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds in a career, and is an early favorite on the preseason lists of multiple national player of the year awards.
Appel is coming off of a season in which she was named to the State Farm Coaches All-America Team, claimed the Pac-10 Player of the Year honor and bulldozed through some of the nation's top defenses on the way to 16.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Those totals, along with her 60.9 field-goal percentage, ranked second in the Pac-10, and she highlighted her postseason with a school single-game record 46 points and the Berkeley Regional MVP award.
Alongside Appel is the 6-2 sophomore, Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who continued Stanford's tradition of breakout rookies in 2008-09 by leading the Pac-10 with a 62.9 shooting percentage while averaging 10.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Ogwumike's effort landed her a spot on the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team, and the Cypress, Texas native continued her steep ascent during the postseason, which she highlighted with a career-best 27 points and 13 rebounds in Stanford's second-round NCAA Tournament victory over San Diego State.
A fellow freshman who made an impact last season alongside Ogwumike was Sarah Boothe, a 6-5 center from Gurnee, Ill. Boothe saw action in all 38 of Stanford's contests last season, averaging 5.0 points and 2.7 rebounds a game while serving as a capable backup for Appel. The Midwesterner also showed her touch around the basket, shooting 51.9 percent from the floor .
This trio is joined by returner Ashley Cimino, who enters her junior year at Stanford in 2009-10. After battling a back injury for much of her freshman campaign, Cimino came back in 2008-09 to see action in 21 games, shooting 60.0 percent from the field and blocking a shot.
Joining this deep group of returners is a star-studded freshman in Joslyn Tinkle, a 6-3 forward who two summers ago was part of the USA Basketball U18 Team (along with Ogwumike and Boothe) that captured the gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championship.
Out of Missoula, Mont., Tinkle was named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior and senior as well as being a McDonald's and WNBA All-American. She was also named to Parade's All-America First Team in 2009 while taking home Montana's Female Athlete of the Year award.
The 2009-10 season features the usual slate of highly-touted opponents for the Cardinal, a fine mix of established contenders in defending national champion Connecticut (Dec. 23), Duke (Dec. 15) and Tennessee (Dec. 19) and hungry up-and-comers in Utah (Nov. 27), Gonzaga (Nov. 29) and Fresno State (Dec. 30).
Stanford will battle its Pac-10 foes once again, looking for an unprecedented 10th consecutive regular season title. The Cardinal will also head to Los Angeles from March 11-14 in search of its seventh Pac-10 Tournament crown before putting on its dancing shoes in what it hopes will be the program's 23rd straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The road to the 2010 Final Four in San Antonio, Texas starts off at Maples Pavilion, as Stanford will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament this year. Just like in 2008-09, the Cardinal has a chance to play all of its postseason games leading up to the Final Four in The Golden State, as the regional is set to be held at Arco Arena in Sacramento.
But before the team can dream of the Alamodome and the Riverwalk, the final seconds are ticking off towards the start of the 2009-10 season, and business is at hand.