Around the Farm Roundtable: Women’s Final Four, Keep Stanford Wrestling?

April 1, 2021, 9:22 p.m.

Women’s basketball played arguably its worst half of basketball this season against Louisville in the Elite Eight on Tuesday, but stormed back with a 52-25 second half to secure a 15-point victory. The Cardinal will face off against South Carolina in the Final Four on Friday, and a victory would set up either a Pac-12 showdown with Arizona or a battle between the two winningest coaches in Division I women’s basketball history in Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies. Does the Cardinal get past the Gamecocks, and if so, does it lift the trophy Sunday afternoon? 

Ells Boone (EB): Against Louisville on Tuesday, we saw what happens when the Cardinal does not play well for even just a half. Going forward, there is no such margin for error: South Carolina will be the toughest test yet for this Stanford team. Coach Tara VanDerveer’s team will not be able to spot the Gamecocks a half like it did to Louisville. However, when the team is locked in and playing well, it is capable of beating anybody. South Carolina has been very impressive so far in this tournament, and it will take a lot to beat them. If the Cardinal ladies can get through them, I think they beat UConn in the championship game, barring a lights-out performance from UConn freshman superstar guard Paige Bueckers. 

Jeremy Rubin (JR): There’s no doubt in my mind that when Stanford is on, it is the best team in the country. From the weapons on offense to defensive versatility to depth, the Cardinal has it all. And the team’s comeback against Louisville once again showed why head coach Tara VanDerveer is the winningest coach in collegiate women’s basketball history — she knows her team and pushed all the right buttons when it mattered most. Two focal points the Cardinal should watch for will be playing disciplined defense and limiting turnovers, but if Stanford can keep up the momentum from the last 20 minutes of basketball against the Cardinals, the team will be cutting down the nets Sunday afternoon.

Sofia Scekic (SS): I’ve been a believer in this team since the beginning of the season, and I still think they absolutely have what it takes to win the national championship. We hadn’t seen a half as bad as the first half against Louisville all season, but the team’s ability to be down 12 at halftime yet end with a 15-point victory should tell you all you need to know: this team is incredibly deep, and when one lineup isn’t working, VanDerveer knows how to make adjustments and do what it takes to win. Senior guard Kiana Williams had a rough first half shooting-wise — one big reason why the Cardinal were down big at the half — but snapped out of it in the second half. If Williams in particular can continue playing well, I don’t doubt this team will lift the trophy on Sunday afternoon.

Jibriel Taha (JT): While I like the Cardinal’s chances, at the moment UConn is most likely to cut down the nets Sunday afternoon because of the bracket. The Huskies undoubtedly have the more favorable Final Four matchup in a three-seed Arizona (UConn is a double-digit favorite), so they remain the favorite to win it all as of Friday morning. If Stanford gets past South Carolina, the Cardinal becomes the favorite in my book. I agree with the sentiment above — Stanford’s best beats anyone. Solid defense, consistent play from Kiana Williams and making sure layups go through the net are the keys for the Cardinal to bring home its first title since 1992.

On Wednesday, forward Ziaire Williams declared for the NBA draft after an up-and-down season for the freshman. Williams was the highest-rated recruit in Stanford history, averaging 10.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per-game, while shooting 37.4% from the field and 29.1% from three in 20 games this season. Where do you think he will go in the draft, and how will you remember his time on the Farm? 

EB: Coming into the season, Ziaire Williams seemed like a lock to be taken in the top 10 of the 2021 NBA Draft. However, after his inconsistent season, most mock drafts have him going anywhere from the late lottery to the 20s range. I think there is a lot to like about Ziaire’s game, and there’s no way he falls out of the first round at the very least. If I had to guess, I’d say that he goes somewhere in the 18-25 range. I will always be disappointed that I wasn’t able to watch him play live in Maples Pavilion but am happy he chose Stanford as the place to spend his one-and-done year. I will remember him and this past year really as a big “what if.” What if the team could have stayed healthy for the whole season? What if Ziaire didn’t have two deaths in the family, subsequently missing a sizable chunk of the regular season? Nevertheless, I will remember those small flashes he showed where he could completely take over a game. Against Alabama in the first game, the triple-double against Washington or the two-minute stretches against Oregon and Oregon State where he scored on back-to-back-to-back possessions with some impressive moves. 

JR: I’m rooting for nothing but the best for Ziaire. Given all the hardship he’s dealt with off the court this year regarding the passing of two close family members, I personally am not looking too much into his per-game stats or his poor shooting numbers. His 19-point, eight-rebound performance to open the season against No. 5 Alabama showed exactly what he’s capable of. He doesn’t force shots, can defend multiple positions and has good passing vision for a forward. His potential to thrive at the next level is evident, and I believe his shot will improve with time. I can see him going roughly in the 12-17 range.

SS: Without considering the circumstances, I’d say Williams’ freshman season was somewhat disappointing. However, as Ells and Jeremy already said, dealing with a global pandemic, multiple deaths in the family, playing on the road for the first half of the season and playing in empty gyms for most of the season makes it tough for anybody to perform up to their full potential. I don’t think this season helped his draft stock very much, but I think he has a lot of potential and hope to see him succeed at the next level. While I doubt he’ll fall out of the first round, I could see him going late in the first round — 20th pick or later.

JT: This season was not what Ziaire or Stanford fans had hoped it would be. The team, as well as Ziaire’s progression, was derailed by a multitude of factors. As others have mentioned, that Alabama game was all you need to know about Ziaire’s potential, and while there were some moments that were troubling, like him being kept on the bench during key moments of that heartbreaking Washington State loss, I ultimately think that his immense potential will prevail in the eyes of scouts. This year certainly hurt his draft stock, but as Ells mentioned, there were multiple stretches throughout the season where he completely took over the game. I see him going in the 10–20 range.

Stanford’s decision to cut 11 varsity sports found itself back in the national spotlight after redshirt sophomore wrestler Shane Griffith captured the national title in the 165-pound weight class. Do you think that this newfound momentum will have any impact on the decision to cut the sports as the final seasons for these programs begin to wind down?

Michael Espinosa (ME): Personally, I don’t think so. There’s no shortage of success from the 11 sports that are getting cut. Three Cardinal fencers earned second-team All-America honors and it seems like synchronized swimming has a good chance at a national title of its own. Keep in mind, lightweight rowing was cut despite the fact the team has won five national titles in a row. The University made the decision to cut these sports in spite of their success, not because of their lack of it. Stanford said the decision was final, and I think its very much means it.  

Jordan John Lee (JJL): Momentum is good to have, but money talks. I have to agree with Michael on this because all the sports who will be cut at the end of this school year have made indelible marks to the rich history of Stanford Athletics. Maybe if the sports conjure up a bunch of money for Stanford, then it might reconsider, but unfortunately, it seems that Stanford does not care about the hard work, sacrifices and dedication of the athletes who devoted their lives to their craft and come to Stanford. 

SS: Unfortunately, no — I don’t think Griffith’s national title will have any impact. It was clear from the beginning that the cuts had nothing to do with team success or lack thereof. It’s also clear now that the decisions are final; if raising millions of dollars, like the wrestling team has done, to be able to self-sustain a team couldn’t encourage the university to reconsider its decision, I don’t think one national title will make any difference. Griffith’s title was “bad publicity,” in a sense, for the University, and while that might make the athletics department pause for a moment (after all, we know no university, especially Stanford, likes bad publicity), I just can’t see this having that much of an impact.

With basketball wrapping up this weekend, women’s volleyball concluded and football’s season-opener still five months away, make a pitch for a program that Stanford fans should pay attention to this spring.

ME: I’ve been hyping up our women’s tennis team in The Daily’s Slack since the season started. The Cardinal was ranked fourth in the intercollegiate tennis association preseason poll, but fell out of the top 20 due to a later start to the season. With a 10-0 record, the team is one of two undefeated teams in the standings. The other? Top-ranked North Carolina. 

JJL: If you have followed any articles I have written the past couple of months, men’s gymnastics has been looking good this season and has been steadily improving every meet. It is heading into postseason competition the next couple of weeks, and there is a good chance men’s gymnastics can earn a second-straight championship. It will all come down to the details. No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Michigan know how dangerous the Cardinal can be when it is on fire. It will come down to a battle of thousandths, and who doesn’t love a close battle? 

EB: Men’s soccer is currently the No. 10 team in the country and already has beaten one of the other top-10 schools in Oregon State. I think it has a pretty good chance to do well when it comes time for the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore forward Ousseni Bouda is yet to play this season and will instantly improve the team when he returns from injury. Women’s lacrosse is another team to watch, and it is currently enjoying an undefeated season. 

JR: I won’t pitch just one program, I’ll pitch seven: You should be tuning into any and all of the sports cut by the university that are still in season. I’ll go through each one and give you a reason why you should be watching.

Field hockey is undefeated and is led by senior attacker Corinne Zanolli, who has 78 career goals in just 68 games. After losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 1 UNC last year, expect a deep run this season from the team. Lightweight rowing has won five straight Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) titles and the team will be seeking a sixth straight in 2021 with an experienced roster. Men’s rowing is coming off of a top-three finish at the Pac-12 Championships in 2019 (the team’s last full season) and has the talent to improve upon its 10th place IRA finish that same season. Sailing’s coed team was the top-ranked program in the nation prior to last season’s cancellation — the women’s team was sixth — and the 2020 National Sailors of the Year for coed (senior Jack Parkin) and women’s (sophomore Michelle Lahrkamp) are both Cardinal. Synchronized swimming finished a close second at Collegiate Nationals in 2019, qualified for another berth in 2020 prior to the cancellation and is currently undefeated in 2021 — the team has its sights set on winning a National Championship. Men’s volleyball is fighting for its life as the regular season winds down over the next week and a half, and the energy the team competes with is infectious. 

Moral of the story, this could be your last chance to see all of these sports compete at the varsity level, and many of them are seeking national championships. Any of these teams is more than deserving of your support.

SS: Although both have already been mentioned, women’s tennis and women’s lightweight rowing are the two sports that I think have a good chance of winning a title this year. Women’s tennis has already swept five of ten matches this year en route to a 10-0 record and returns every player from the previous national championship-winning roster. Keep an eye out for this team to bring the Cardinal’s second trophy of the year (after women’s basketball wins on Sunday, of course) to the Farm. Women’s lightweight rowing will look to come back hungrier than ever this year after seeing its 2020 season cancelled due to the pandemic, as well as learning last July that it is one of 11 sports the university intends to cut after the 2021 season. It is the most dominant team in women’s collegiate lightweight rowing and is always a safe bet to row well in the postseason and potentially bring back its 10th championship in the last 11 seasons.

Ells Boone is the former managing editor for the sports section, serving for Volumes 262 and 263. He is a senior from Virginia Beach, Virginia, studying communication. You can usually find him chasing after rebounds in Maples Pavilion or recording a podcast with Jibriel Taha. Contact him at eboone24 'at' Rubin was the Vol. 260 Executive Editor for Print and Sports Editor in Vol. 258 and 259. A junior from New York City, he studies Human Biology and enjoys long walks, good podcasts and all things Yankees baseball-related. Contact him at jrubin 'at' Scekic '22 is a former managing editor for the sports section. She is from Wisconsin and is studying Public Policy. An avid Green Bay Packers fan, she has watched nearly every game for the past nine years. Contact her at sscekic 'at' Taha is a senior staff writer for the sports section. He is from Los Angeles and studies economics. Contact him at jtaha ‘at’ Espinosa '22 is majoring in international relations. He's the head of The Daily's social media team, and editor for the University beat and also occasionally writes for sports, arts, and The Grind. He's the biggest Taylor Swift fan at Stanford and the proudest New Yorker you will ever meet. Contact him at mespinosa 'at' John Lee is a staff writer for the Sports section and occasionally writes for the News section of The Daily. Fresh off graduating with majors in Biology and Classics, he is a second-year master's student in Epidemiology and Clinical Research. From the 626, he has grown up watching his Los Angeles teams, the Dodgers and Lakers. His dream is to watch tennis at all four Grand Slam tournaments. Contact him at jjlee 'at'

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