Women Aim For '04 Final Four

You nibbled your fingernails to the quick through a mess of preseason injuries, and then you celebrated some surprise contributors in the pair of exhibition openers. Friday the regular season tips off for Stanford Women's Basketball, and we think this 2003-04 season could be a great one. Read on for an in-depth preview of this team, including some big games lurking in the next 30 days...

2003-2004 Stanford Women's Basketball

Players

Seniors: Nicole Powell, 6'2", G/F; Katie Denny, 6'1", G/F

Juniors: Kelley Suminski, 5'9", G; Azella Perryman, 6'1", F; T'Nae Thiel, 6'1", F/C; Sebnem Kimyacioglu, 5'11", G/F; Susan King-Borchardt (Redshirt), 5'7", G; Chelsea Trotter (Redshirt), 6'3", C/F

Sophomores: Krista Rappahahn, 5'11", G/F; Shelley Nweke, 6'5", C; Clare Bodensteiner, 5'9", G; Brooke Smith, 6'3", C (Transfer)

Freshmen: Kristen Newlin, 6'5", C/F; Eziamaka Okafor (Redshirt), 5'11", F; Markisha Coleman, 5'5", G

Returning Starters: 5

2002-2003 Record: 27-5

The date was March 24, 2003. The place was Maples Pavilion, located on the campus of Stanford University. The Stanford Women's Basketball team was playing Minnesota in front of a televised national audience for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament. A Nicole Powell-led squad was eager to advance far into the tournament and prove to the nation that Stanford had returned to the elite circle of collegiate women's basketball. However, when the buzzer sounded, it was the Minnesota Gophers, rather than the Stanford Cardinal, that celebrated a path into the Sweet Sixteen.

Fast forward 6 months. The date is October 18, 2003. The place is once again, Maples Pavilion. The Stanford Women's Basketball team is having their first official practice to open up the 2003-2004 season and spirits are high. After a successful 12-day Italian tour in September, where the Cardinal posted a 4-1 record against professional Italian clubs, the players are ready and determined to show that last year's season-ending loss to Minnesota was a fluke.

The last time Stanford went to a Final Four was seven years ago in 1997 and for coach Tara VanDerveer, this year's squad has the personnel and talent to compete for a spot in New Orleans. Returning to lead the Cardinal is 2-Time Kodak All-American and 2002 Pac-10 Player of the Year, Nicole Powell. The 6'2" senior guard/forward is on a mission prove that Stanford is once again a basketball powerhouse. Touted as the country's most versatile player, Powell has the ability and athleticism to play all five positions and will likely be a Top 3 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft in April 2004. The only thing missing from Powell's impressive resume is a trip to the Final Four.

Powell will receive plenty of help, as the Cardinal have many players that can score either from the perimeter or down on the blocks. Guard Kelley Suminski came to Stanford as an unheralded freshman from New Jersey and she quickly established herself as one of the best shooters in Stanford history, hitting 46.3% from beyond the three-point line her frosh year. The 5'9" junior has proven that she can be counted to score from the outside and with improved fitness and quickness, she is looking to become an even better player this year. To compliment Suminski on the inside will be junior center Chelsea Trotter. The 6'3" forward/center redshirted two years ago due to knee problems, but played very well last season, despite limited practice time. She is Stanford's best offensive post player and a great rebounder as well. She is a seasoned veteran who will make sure Stanford is well-manned in the post.

Coach VanDerveer has the luxury of having three strong players at her disposal in Powell, Suminski and Trotter. This year, however, Stanford is a deeper team than just these three players. The Cardinal have quality depth at every position, something that Stanford has lacked in previous seasons. With a rotation that could possibly go 8 or 9 deep, Stanford indeed has the talent and experience to compete with the best in the nation and if Stanford manages to go through their tough non-conference schedule unscathed, there is a good possibility of turning the team's dreams of playing in the Final Four in New Orleans into a reality.

Guards

After many seasons of point guard woes, the Stanford Cardinal look to be back on track with redshirt junior Susan King Borchardt at the helm this year. Her comeback from three ACL surgeries is remarkable and she has shown she can still compete at the Division I level despite all of her injuries. Last year was King Borchardt's first full season of collegiate basketball and even with a broken toe midway through the season, she played through the pain to give Stanford a solid performance at the point. King's strengths start with her defense. Despite her 5'7" frame, she is Stanford's best perimeter defender, as her quick hands and overall quickness can shut down an opposing player. Her offense is another obvious strength that shines through. King Borchardt has the potential to be one of the best offensively minded guards Stanford has seen in a long time and it is easy to see why. She can hurt an opponent in many different ways, whether it be off of a three-pointer or driving to the hoop for a lay-up. King Borchardt averaged a respectable 6.3 points a games in 2003, but look for her scoring production to rise this year.

Junior Kelley Suminski is the odds on favorite to start at the shooting guard and with her sharp-shooting skills, it will be hard to bet against her. While Suminski has shown the ability to drive to the hoop, her strength lies in strong shooting from the outside. She has worked hard over the years to find ways to create her own shot and not be just a catch-and-shoot player. With increased fitness and quickness, Suminski will be looking to score even more points off of her deadly jumper. After averaging 18 points in Stanford's first two exhibition games, Suminski has already proven she can be a consistent threat from the outside. Suminski is a player with basketball savvy and great court instincts. She is also a solid passer who can find the right person at the right moment. Together with King Borchardt, these two will form a formidable scoring backcourt that will direct the Cardinal offense.

This team also has many quality back-ups to spell either King Borchardt or Suminski. Senior superstar Nicole Powell has been trained as a point guard since her freshman year and her overall play has improved because of it. Her 6'2" frame allows her to have incredible court vision and she is one of the best passers on the squad. With Powell at the point, Stanford will suffer no drop-off in offensive production, as she can either score herself or distribute the ball to the open player for an easy bucket. Sophomore Clare Bodensteiner is a 5'9" guard out of Idaho who will most likely back-up Suminski at the shooting guard. Her ballhandling skills need some work in order for her to challenge for a starting position, but she is a great competitor, a skilled defender, and a great leader on the court. Local product Markisha Coleman is a 5'5" point guard who will see some time playing behind King Borchardt and Powell. The freshman walk-on is an asset to the team, as her speed and ability to slash to the hoop gives Stanford diversity in their offense.

Wings

Nicole Powell has accomplished much over her Stanford career. She has won numerous awards, broken many Stanford records, and been hailed as one of the greatest players to don a Cardinal uniform. However, the only thing that would complete her Stanford experience would be a berth to the Final Four and a possible national championship. Powell is the type of player that a team can be built around and over the last three years on the Farm, she has been the cornerstone of this program. She has been described as a guard trapped in a forward's body and her skills show she is the most versatile player in the country. Whether it be scoring down low, nailing a trey, or driving to the hoop, Powell has shown she has a variety of ways to hurt the opponent. However, her skill set does not stop with her offense. Powell is one of the best passers on the team and can deliver the ball with ease. It is no mistake that she is averaging 9.1 rebounds a game over her entire career, as Powell is phenomenal on the boards, both the offensive and defensive end. In addition, Powell has the enviable ability to make clutch plays, as she demonstrated many times last year. Though she could start at any of the five positions, Powell will most likely be penciled in at the wing, where she will be able to utilize her size, speed, and outside shooting to Stanford's advantage. However, with her versatility, she will be able to play many positions and give Coach VanDerveer a bevy of line-up options throughout games.

After two seasons of being Stanford's three-point specialist, junior Sebnem Kimyacioglu is ready to show that her offensive skills extend beyond to just hitting the three-ball. In Stanford's Italian tour this September, she averaged over 18 points a game and if she continues her torrid scoring pace, she will become Stanford's secret weapon this year. She can hit the jumper, drive to the hoop, and of course, nail the triple. The 5'11" local product showed flashes of her offensive brilliance in last year's loss to Minnesota, as she nearly single-handedly brought Stanford back into the game. The game showcased her skills and offered glimpses of her potential in the future. In addition to her scoring, she passes the ball extremely well and is considered a great defender. If Powell starts at the power forward position, Kimyacioglu will be slated to start at the small forward position.

Sophomore Krista Rappahahn and senior Katie Denny will also challenge for time at the wing. Rappahahn is a 5'11" player who has many assets that will help the team. She is a good passer and has range on her jump shot. She is a very heady player with great court awareness and will play solid minutes for Stanford. The 6'2" Denny will also add depth to the wings. A scoring machine in high school, she has a solid jumper and is a good passer.  She suffered a preseason injury when she hyperextended her knee, but is on the mend and should be back in action very soon.

Post

This season, Stanford has many post players who will contribute to the team and in addition to its outside shooting, the interior play of the Cardinal could become one of its strengths. Leading the way will be redshirt junior Chelsea Trotter, who has all the skills to become a star for Stanford. Adept at playing either the power forward or center position, Trotter has developed into a fine offensive player and during the course of the Pac-10 last season, earned a place in the starting line-up. She is also a ferocious rebounder who has the strength to snatch the ball away from the opposing team. The only thing that could hold Trotter back is the amount of practice time she gets in. Due to her weak knees, Trotter rarely practiced with the team last season and it was amazing how well she performed with so little practice. If she is able to work out with the team, Trotter will be a force to be reckoned with in the paint.

Due to the injuries of juniors T'Nae Thiel and Azella Perryman, Coach VanDerveer will be looking to freshman Kristen Newlin to provide a solid presence in the post. The 6'5" center/forward out of Riverton, Wyoming might turn out to be the hidden gem of the Class of 2007 and with two exhibition games under her belt, she has not disappointed her coach or her fans, averaging 13.5 points and 9 boards. She is a solid fundamental player with great footwork, who also possesses an array of post moves. However, the biggest impression Newlin has left is that she has the confidence and court-savvy of an upperclassman and with time, she will only get better. Her time will decrease when Thiel and Perryman return from their injuries, but if she continues to shine, it will be difficult for Coach VanDerveer to take her off the court during crunch time.

Azella Perryman is recovering well from her foot strain injury, but the sooner she returns, the better Stanford will be. Perryman's biggest asset is her rebounding, as she is very aggressive and goes hard for rebounds. She boxes out well and has a natural instinct for the ball. She is one of Stanford's quickest and athletic players and can run the floor like a guard. The 6'2" power forward has a variety of spin moves down low, can hit the jumper, and possesses a wonderful fade-a-way that is unstoppable when she is on. Perryman started off strong early on, but faded as last season wore on. If she can maintain her confidence and health throughout this season, Perryman will find a spot in Coach VanDerveer's rotation in March, as she is an invaluable member of the squad when she is at her best.

A starter since her freshman days, T'Nae Thiel is a big body who has established herself as the Cardinal's best post defender. Despite her small size, the 6'1" center/forward out of Texas uses her strong fundamentals of basketball to her advantage and is able to defend larger post players. In last year's Pac-10 Championship game against Arizona, Thiel played a large part in holding the Wildcats star center, 6'5" Shawntinice Polk, to only 5 points. Thiel has continually proven that she can play with the big girls and bang with the best of them. In addition, Thiel is a strong rebounder and uses her strength to get in good position. While Thiel needs to develop her offensive skills, she is a great passer, as she lead all post players in assists last season. Her injury has not been devastating to the Cardinal, thanks to the emergence of Newlin, but a healthy Thiel will strengthen the depth of the team. She is not expected to return from her stress fracture (leg) until at least December for the start of the Pac-10 season.

Sophomore Shelley Nweke, redshirt freshman Eziamaka Okafor, and transfer Brooke Smith will add to the post depth. The 6'5" Nweke is probably a year away from contributing to the team during games, as she is not as offensively polished as some of her teammates. However, the center is a wonderful defender, whose long arms and big body alter many shots in the paint. Okafor is a 6'0" power forward who is very athletic and has major hops. She already redshirted her freshman year, as she tore her ACL before the season began. Her debut this season was much anticipated, but unfortunately, she ruptured her Achilles heel in the summer and will try to be back by the middle of the Pac-10 season. As Stanford's first ever transfer student, Smith will be redshirting this year, due to NCAA transfer rules. While the 6'3" center cannot play in games or travel with the team, she brings a great work ethic and a strong post game to practice. By the time she will take to the court at the beginning of next year, she will have been acclimated to the Stanford system and be counted on as a valuable contributor during games.

Important Games This Season

Every year, Stanford has tough match-ups with quality teams throughout the country and this season is no different from the rest. Three key pre-conference games will determine how far Stanford has really come along on the national scale. First up will be Georgia on November 30. Andy Landers has assembled a wonderful team, lead by the awesome post play of senior Christi Thomas and junior Kara Braxton. The 6'5" and 6'6" duo will be a great test for Trotter, Perryman, and Powell and they could give Newlin a rude awakening as to how college ball is really played. In addition, Georgia has a speedy and athletic backcourt in sophomores Alexis Kendricks and Sherrill Baker, as well as freshman Cori Chambers. Talent wise, Georgia will be a good measuring stick to see where Stanford stands with the rest of the nation.

The annual Tennessee-Stanford grudge match is the next big game for the Cardinal. While the perception around the nation is that the talent is less in Knoxville, TN this year, the Lady Volunteers will still be very difficult to beat. They have had Stanford's number the last couple of seasons and while Tennessee is not as talented as Georgia this year, a win over the Lady Vols would prove to be a psychological victory for Stanford. Pat Summitt is a tough coach and she still has some great players on the court for her, including junior point guard Loree Moore, sophomore shooting guard Shanna Zolman and junior wing Brittany Jackson. Add post players Shyra Ely and Ashley Robinson into the mix and the Tennessee will still be very difficult to beat on December 14.

The last telling game for Stanford in their pre-season schedule is Texas Tech in Lubbock, TX on December 21. The Lady Raiders will be led by senior guards Jia Perkins and Natalie Ritchie. Perkins is a scoring machine and her athleticism could potentially cause havoc for Suminski and King Borchardt and Ritchie is a huge threat from beyond the three-point line. Directing the offense for coach Marsha Sharp will be sophomore Erin Grant. As a freshman, Grant established herself as one of the best point guards in the nation with her accurate passing and will look to build upon her great freshman year. In addition, 6'5" Cisti Greenwalt will be no pushover in the paint. If Stanford manages to win all three match-ups, then a trip to the Final Four will be looking more like a reality than wishful thinking.

The 2003-2004 edition of the Stanford Cardinal is a stronger, quicker and more experienced version of last year's team. With the entire squad back and three new teammates, Stanford will be a force to be reckoned with this season. In addition to its barrage of three-pointers, Stanford will be looking to score points in transition, something that really hasn't been seen since the days of Starbird and Wideman. The Cardinal will also be looking to pound the ball into the paint as often as possible, thanks to skills and talents of Trotter, Newlin, Powell, Perryman, and Thiel. With a diversified offense and a motivated and determined group, the Stanford Cardinal will accept nothing less than a Final Four berth this season. Lord help the teams that get in their way. Go Stanford!


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