In the end, just as in the beginning, there was a challenge, and in the end, love one out. One woman’s love for the game and for her players, spanning 37 years and counting, would be way too much to deny an adoring crowd at Maples Pavilion. On a night that once more saw excellence culminate in pure joy, Tara VanDerveer joined Pat Summitt and Mike Krzyzewski as the only Division 1 basketball coaches to ever win 1,000 games.
The details of Stanford’s 58-42 triumph over USC will likely be forgotten very quickly in the wake of the emotional scene that played out in the hour after the game ended, but for posterity’s sake: Stanford overcame some nerves in the first half to put on a dominant performance in the third quarter, creating the margin that would carry it to victory. Karlie Samuelson hit three consecutive three-pointers on her way to a game-high 21 points, her fellow senior Erica McCall added 18, and the rest of the Cardinal held off a game USC team who joined 999 others amongst VanDerveer’s vanquished.
Confetti blanketed the court as the vast majority of the crowd remained to watch Coach VanDerveer honored in a pitch-perfect ceremony emceed by former Cardinal player Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, one that didn’t take long to produce water works from her current players, her former players in attendance, and pretty much everybody who heard her heartfelt thank you to the crowd. This was a moment for everybody to stop, from Jennifer Azzi to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott to Stanford Football Coach David Shaw, and recognize what has been and continues to be an unparalleled ride for fans of Stanford.
The moment was seized.
Even Coach VanDerveer was a bit misty-eyed as a video of her former players and colleagues played, each paying tribute high above the court at Maples Pavilion. Azzi and Ruthie Bolton, who played for VanDerveer (and with Azzi) on the legendary 1996 USA Olympic team stood by the coach, as the memories, and the emotion rode in like a wave. As his her nature, VanDerveer was as inclusive as ever, thanking countless individuals, reflecting on all that had contributed to this moment.
Seniors Erica McCall and Karlie Samuelson were giddy as they expressed their joy and relief about delivering 1,000 on the first try. When asked about her message to her players, VanDerveer’s message brought everything back to where it’s always been: the joy that can be found be living solely in the moment.
“But what I felt today from our team is they felt the love that I have for the game and also for them.”
It’s tough to match the focus, dedication, and savvy of Tara VanDerveer. It’s even tougher to match the love she has for the game, for her players, for her peers.
But for one night at least, we were awfully close.