This is the tenth of a 10-part series previewing the Pac-10 teams
by Daniel Uribe
Stanford has come exceedingly close to claiming the National Championship the last three seasons, and they are poised to make another run for the title this year. The reason? Depth.
Though they lost team leaders Jayne Appel and Roslyn Gold-Onwude to graduation, the Cardinal have many to take their places: National Player of the Year candidates Kayla Pedersen and Nneka Ogwumike, and Ogwumike’s freshman sister, national high school player of the year Chiney Ogwumike – just to name a few.
During a recent press conference, 24-year Coach Tara Vanderveer acknowledged that there are several things her team needs to work on, but she said this is possibly the most versatile teams she’s ever coached.
Without dispute, the Cardinal is led by senior all-everything player Pedersen, even if she tends to downplay her contributions and give much credit her fellow teammates. Pedersen (15.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg) is probably the most versatile player in women’s college basketball, and is back this year with an enthusiastic attitude. Because of injuries to guards Melanie Murphy and Lindy La Rocque, Pedersen will be asked to carry a huge load for the team, and may even play point forward if necessary.
Despite the seemingly endless questions about the guard rotation, Stanford will once again boast arguably one of the best forward and center combinations in the college game, with the best set of players with size. Nneka Ogwumike will lead the charge at the forward position. The junior forward and reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year averaged 18.5 ppg and 9.9 rpg in her sophomore season, and is ready to solidify her position as one of the Stanford greats.
Expectation are high for her 6-2 forward sister, but do not expect Chiney to be an identical copy of Nneka. Chiney is a player that is more comfortable on the perimeter, and is more of a finesse player with a lot of upside.
Despite losing Appel, Stanford will have plenty of size at the center position with Sara Boothe and sophomore Joslyn Tinkle.
Boothe, a 6-5 red shirt sophomore, was a solid contributor her freshman year coming off the bench and averaging 5.5 ppg and 2.7 rpg with a 51.9 percent field goal percentage. Vanderveer has mentioned that Boothe is a player that can switch on offense with all the Stanford bigs and can play on the perimeter.
Tinkle will add to the versatility of the Cardinal and adds a solid three-point shot as well as the ability to play in the low-block averaging 4.6 ppg and 2.9 rpg last year. She is currently nursing a left-ankle sprain and will be expected to sit out for a few weeks.
Another player that Vanderveer is seeing with potential is Mikaela Ruef. Despite not getting a lot of playing time her freshman year, Vanderveer has mentioned that Ruef has put in a lot of work. Ruef is a player that at 6-3 has substantial size, but has a great handle and can knock the long-range shots. She will perhaps be a player that is added to the regular rotation of players coming off the bench.
In terms of the guards, senior Jeanette Pohlen (9.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.5 apg) will anchor the point guard position for the Cardinal. The 6-0 guard had the most heroic moment of the NCAA tournament as she scored a winning lay-up as time expired against Xavier in the Elite Eight. Many more heroics will be expected of her but solid play and an improved three-point shot will be something the Cardinal will need most of all.
Both guards, junior Lindy La Rocque (1.2 ppg) and red shirt senior Melanie Murphy (2.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg) were expected to carry a lot of the load at the guard position but both will sit out for a while. La Rocque has a bone problem in her foot and is unsure of when she’ll return. Murphy is recovering from micro-fracture knee surgery and is expected to start practicing either this month or next.
Vanderveer is however very high on her incoming freshmen guards Toni Kokenis and Sara James, both of whom are expected to see immediate playing time. Kokenis, a 5-11 guard from Oak Brook, Ill., is very fast according to Vanderveer and will likely help back-up Pohlen at point guard. Sara James is a 5-10 guard from El Dorado Hills, CA, and will be expected to play a lot of off-guard.
Also returning for the Cardinal are: junior guard Grace Mashore, senior forward Hannah Donaghe; and senior forward Ashley Cimino.
Michelle Harrison will also not be returning to the team. The red shirt senior has decided to transfer to Utah and has received a waiver from the NCAA to play this upcoming season.
The Cardinal will not lack in the motivation department after coming tantalizingly close to winning a national title last year, leading UConn for a half before losing to the defending champions, 53-47. Stanford will again face the Huskies in regular season play this year, as well as Baylor, Tennessee, and the team that nearly knocked them out of the tournament, Xavier.
Over the last few years, Vandeveer has brought the Stanford program back to the prominence it experienced in the 1990’s with a third, consecutive Final Four last year, and the thought of adding another national title is on her mind.
Stanford will open its season at home versus Rutgers on Nov. 14.
Daniel Uribe is an LA native and a freelance writer