As Tara VanDerveer enters her 31st year as head coach of the historically successful Stanford women’s basketball team, she is looking to the entire squad to contribute to the success of the 2016-17 season.
Last season, the Cardinal showed up to compete, fighting their way to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, where they bested the now-No. 1 ranked Notre Dame — a matchup that Stanford did not win the year before. Finishing in the Elite Eight with an overall record of 27-8, the 2015-16 season was even more successful than the previous year, and the Cardinal are only looking to continue this upward trend.
While last year there was a tone of uncertainty surrounding lack of experience as the young Stanford squad entered the season, this year is filled with more excitement and optimism. Even with the loss of three-year starting guard Lili Thompson (14.7 points per game), there is a confidence in the depth of this year’s squad.
“We have really great freshmen coming in, so we’re excited to see how they do this season. I think that the depth that we have really will make up for the loss we had,” senior forward Erica McCall (14.9 PPG) said.
McCall’s sentiments were echoed by fellow senior leader, Karlie Samuelson (9.8 PPG), who noted that “the freshmen are really coming along well.”
Currently working to come back from a hairline fracture in her hand, Samuelson serves as a sixth starter of sorts for the squad. Heading into the season opener, however, VanDerveer has narrowed her starting lineup to five: sophomore guard Marta Sniezek (2.9 PPG last year), senior guard Briana Roberson (5.8 PPG last year), junior guard Brittany McPhee (6.5 PPG last year), junior forward Kaylee Johnson (2.9 PPG last year) and McCall.
Contributions will come from deep into the bench, beyond just these starters. Specifically, VanDerveer pointed out the development of sophomore forward Alana Smith.
“She is being much more aggressive and confident,” VanDerveer said. “We are expecting great contributions from her.”
Although the transition from high school to college basketball certainly provides a challenge for freshmen, VanDerveer does not shy away her belief that freshmen will be able to make a difference. She noted the real presence brought to the team by these fresh faces, especially on defense with the addition of guard Dijonai Carrington.
VanDerveer has a lot of enthusiasm for this mix of veteran experience and new perspective brought to the squad. And while now-seniors McCall and Samuelson had considerable success last season, the focus is on the development of the entire team and the incorporation of leadership from many classes.
“We are really excited about everyone contributing,” VanDerveer said. “I don’t see this team being any one person’s team.”
Stanford women’s basketball will be diving headfirst into a challenging preseason, facing NCAA Tournament-level teams such as Texas, Tennessee and Gonzaga. The Cardinal will bring a high level of play and a tradition of excellence to the court.
“We’re really trying to play with pace,” Samuelson said. “We want to get out and transition and really move it.”
And while this team is no stranger to speed and high-tempo play, the focus this year will also be on defense.
“We want to be an excellent defensive team, and we want to be a great rebounding team. Not good — great,” VanDerveer said.
While VanDerveer pays little attention to the current polls, Stanford is ranked in the top 10 among a handful of Pac-12 schools. For now, these nonconference games will help prepare the Cardinal for a tough Pac-12 slate, in which, VanDerveer noted, “any night, any team is capable of winning.”
Led by veterans and complemented with depth and versaility, the 2016-17 Stanford women’s basketball team has really focused on each other.
“Our togetherness really helps us become super successful … that chemistry really shows when we have games, whether it’s a small game or a big game,” McCall said.
“We have an excellent energy in the gym. People have been working hard. We have to make statements with our play, not in the paper,” VanDerveer said. “We are making great strides. I’m really excited.”
The Cardinal’s season kicks off this Friday at 7:00 p.m. in Maples Pavilion against Cal Poly.
Contact Lauren Wegner at lwegner ‘at’ stanford.edu.