2003-2004 Record: 27-7 (Elite Eight, 1st Place Pac-10)
Tara VanDerveer, Head Coach, 19th Season
Amy Tucker Associate Head Coach, 20th Season
Karen Middleton, Assistant Coach, 8th Season
Charmin Smith, Assistant Coach, 1st Season
Like every collegiate team in the nation, the Stanford Cardinal open the 2004-2005 basketball season with images of Indianapolis (Ind.) dancing in their heads. Home to the Indy 500 and the Indiana Pacers, the capital of the Hoosier State will play host to this year's NCAA Final Four and Head Coach Tara VanDerveer would love nothing more than to have her squad compete in the country's most exclusive basketball tournament.
After coming within inches of last year's Final Four, the Cardinal return a seasoned team that is as deadly in the paint as it is on the perimeter, and observers have taken notice. Despite the loss of guard Katie Denny, center Chelsea Trotter and All-American forward Nicole Powell, Stanford can be found among the Top-10 in all major preseason polls. A key reason for the lofty ranking can be attributed to the talent and leadership provided by this year's seniors. During their years on The Farm, Susan Borchardt, Sebnem Kimyacioglu, Azella Perryman, Kelley Suminski, and T'Nae Thiel have built a lasting legacy that includes an Elite Eight appearance and a remarkable 86-15 overall record.
"Our senior class is exceptional… they have been great stabilizers to our program," states Associate Head Coach Amy Tucker. "While Nicole got a lot of attention, they were actually the foundation of our team. That's Kelley, Seb, Susan, T'Nae, Azella… the five of them."
While no superstars have emerged from the Class of 2005, Borchardt, Suminski and Thiel have been mainstays in the starting line-up for the majority of their careers due to their solid and consistent play. Perryman and Kimyacioglu have also played an integral part in the Cardinal's recent success, as the latter's versatility and the former's tenacious rebounding have bolstered the team's depth. Stanford will heavily depend on the quintet for their experience and maturity; so far, the impact they have made has been quite noticeable. Setting the tone in practice with their impressive work ethic and incredible hustle, the seniors have issued a challenge to their younger teammates to constantly push themselves, and the entire squad has responded remarkably well. In Borchardt's mind, the team's unspoken agreement to never settle for mediocrity is what separates this year's squad from the previous ones she has played on.
"I think one thing that I've noticed is that in practices, everyone just goes really, really hard. It's not like ‘Oh, I'm having a bad day today' or anything like that." observes Borchardt. "Everyone is going hard all the time and… people are really pushing each other, but not in a negative way, but rather in a positive way."
The journey to Indianapolis, however, will require more than just veteran leadership. Fortunately for VanDerveer, she has plenty of talent at her disposal. Two highly recruited athletes join the Cardinal this Fall and their presence will be immediately felt on the court. Hailed as Stanford's Backcourt of the Future, Cissy Pierce and Candice Wiggins bring an up-tempo brand of basketball to The Farm that will have fans constantly on their feet, cheering in amazement. With their unparalleled athleticism and astonishing offensive capabilities, the precocious duo will undoubtedly continue to keep Stanford a national powerhouse for years to come. Wiggins has been particularly remarkable, as her overall play early this year has left quite an impression on the coaching staff.
"First of all, it is really hard to consider Candice a freshman when you watch her play. She doesn't play like a freshman, act like a freshman - she doesn't work like a freshman," comments Tucker. "Candice is just a highlight film. She is capable of making a great play offensively or defensively at any time on the floor."
Another newcomer who is expected to play a large role in Stanford's rotation is redshirt sophomore Brooke Smith. A local product out of Marin County, the former Duke Blue Devil will make her Cardinal debut after sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. A 6'3" center who possesses a variety of post moves, Smith also has a knack for finding the open shooter deep within the paint. Despite only averaging 9.3 minutes per game in Durham, expect the former High School All-American to log major minutes over the next three years.
"She gives us a legitimate low post game, which I think we have not had in several years. She is a go-to block player," declares Tucker. "She is extremely versatile and she is an excellent passer from the post."
Adds Borchardt, "Brooke is going to be a presence inside, someone who can score."
The addition of Smith to the Cardinal's already deep and talented frontcourt of Thiel, Perryman, and sophomores Eziamaka Okafor and Kristen Newlin will allow Stanford to run a versatile line-up, creating match-up nightmares for opponents. Traditionally, Stanford has been viewed as a guard-oriented team, but the presence of five quality post players will alter that perception. Whatever forward-center combination VanDerveer decides to put out on the floor, the offense will first and foremost run through the paint.
"I really think post play will be a much bigger part of our game from what people have seen in the last three or four years," opines Tucker. "We'll be going to Brooke more. We'll be going to Kristin and T'Nae on the block… I think our first priority is to get the ball inside."
After years of using Powell as the first option on offense, the 2004-2005 season opens up without a proven scorer on the roster. Although Suminski, Borchardt, and Kimyacioglu have been known to light up the scoreboard from time to time, no one has been able to score quite as consistently, or as often, as Powell has in the past. This year, however, balanced scoring will be an advantage and make the Cardinal that much more difficult to defend against.
"This will be a team that will score more by committee rather than relying on one person like we did last year," stresses Tucker. "It could be a different person on any given night that steps up for us."
Ever since VanDerveer became the head coach of Stanford in May 1986, the goal of every Cardinal team is to reach the Final Four and compete for a National Championship. The mindset of this year's squad is no different; however, rather than fixating on the destination, Borchardt reveals that the constant improvement throughout the season will be the sole focus of the team.
"We were really close last year and I think what we are going to do this year is take it one step at a time. Have a great practice today, have a great practice tomorrow and just build on every opportunity that we get."
And hopefully, those opportunities will result in a one-way ticket to Indianapolis in April 2005.
With Stanford great Nicole Powell graduating to the ranks of the WNBA, she has left the team in the very capable hands of returning seniors Susan Borchardt and Kelley Suminski. As the incumbent guards from last year's Elite Eight squad, the two will once again lead the Cardinal's famed three-point attack. Borchardt shot an astounding 43.7% from downtown, while Suminski managed to "only" hit a 38.1% clip from three-point land. Originally a member of the Class of 2004, Borchardt is in her fifth year on The Farm, the recipient of a medical redshirt as a result of an ACL tear her sophomore year. A complete all-around player whose offensive skills are as good as her defensive ones, the 5'7" guard faces the challenge of taking charge and being more aggressive with her shot. Thanks to her quick first step, Borchardt is able to blow by her defender for the easy deuce; her accurate marksmanship makes her a threat from long range. Labeled by the coaching staff as one of the most competitive players in Stanford history, Borchardt plays swarming defense, fueled by her burning desire to win, and she is regarded as one of the top perimeter defenders one the West Coast.
As a combo guard with the ability to post up or launch the long range bomb, Suminski has blossomed into one of the best guards left of the Mississippi. Under the tutelage of VanDerveer, the Mendham (NJ..) native has gradually developed her game as the years have gone by, culminating in an accurate shooter who stays cool under even the most difficult circumstances. As Stanford's only preseason candidate for the John R. Wooden Award, given to the country's top female player, the 5'9" Suminski gained national attention last year with her buzzer beater in the NCAA Tournament that propelled the Cardinal into the Elite Eight. Look for her point production to increase after gaining an enormous amount of confidence that comes with hitting such a pressure shot.
Challenging the upperclassmen for playing time at the guard slots will be McDonald High School All-Americans Candice Wiggins and Cissy Pierce. As a 5'11" guard with the rebounding skills of a post player, Wiggins is looking to excel at a variety of positions and the coaching staff is not shy at utilizing her versatility. Projected to play anywhere from point guard to small forward, the San Diego product is too talented to keep off the floor. Averaging over 30 points a game as a senior for La Jolla Country Day High School, the Stanford freshman has a variety of ways to put the ball through the hoop. Breaking down defenses will at times look like child's play for this talented youngster; the real challenge for Wiggins over the next four years will be to develop a mid-range game to complement her outside shooting and knack for drawing fouls. While most incoming freshmen do not immediately understand the concept of defense, Wiggins takes pride her in her ability to deny her opponent the opportunity to score. After averaging just under seven steals a game in her final prep season, a warrant may be issued for Wiggins' arrest if her pick-pocketing tendencies continue at the collegiate level.
Pierce has the potential to make the same impact as her fellow classmate, but the early going has not gone as expected. After learning she developed a stress reaction in her leg in June, Pierce took the rest of the summer off and as a result, she came to Stanford at less than 100%. The coaching staff has slowly brought Pierce back to health, not wanting to aggravate her injury any further. While it could take weeks before the true Pierce emerges on the court, the raw athleticism and polished offensive game she brings to the court will unquestionably make the 5'10" guard a fan favorite by the time she leaves Stanford. With her quick foot speed and smooth ball-handling skills, Pierce will be another versatile player at VanDerveer's disposal, playing both guard positions during game situations.
Adding to Stanford's depth in the backcourt is junior Clare Bodensteiner, a 5'9" player who has come off the bench the previous two years. A good defender with a nice shooting touch, Bodensteiner is a tremendous competitor who will use her status as an upperclassman to provide leadership for her younger teammates. Sophomore Markisha Coleman often came into games last year when the outcome was already decided, but the 5'6" sparkplug from nearby East Palo Alto was still a huge crowd favorite. This year, the walk-on will offer relief at the point guard position, as her quickness will be an asset to the team.
Sebnem Kimyacioglu has been the consummate team player throughout her Stanford career. The versatile wing fulfills many roles out on the court and does so without complaining. Her penchant for firing the three has launched the 5'11" Kimyacioglu into the Cardinal record books, as her 169 made three-pointers is good for 6th place all-time. After connecting on just 33.5% from beyond the arc last year, the Mountain View (Calif.) native hopes to rediscover the sweet stroke that has made her one of Stanford's deadliest weapons out on the perimeter. Although only averaging 6.7 points a game last season, Kimyacioglu has the potential to score many more, as her game extends beyond being a three-point specialist. The senior has shown flashes of putting the ball on the floor and driving to the hoop, making her a much more potent scoring threat. In addition to her shooting abilities, Kimyacioglu is a proven defender who is also willing to dive to the floor to retrieve a loose ball. This type of all-out effort and hustle exemplifies the senior's commitment to playing hard each and every minute she steps out onto the court.
As the most experienced small forward on the roster, Kimyacioglu has the inside track to the starting line-up. However, there are many others who could challenge for court time. As mentioned earlier, Candice Wiggins has the versatility to play many spots and she is certainly capable of doing well out on the wing, with her incredible quickness, great hops, and three-point shot. Junior Krista Rappahahn played a pivotal role last season in executing Stanford's bread and butter, the three-pointer. Shooting a team-leading 50.9% from long range, the 6'0" wing out of Lebanon (Conn.) will look to increase her role in 2005 and earn more minutes on the court. Possessing a high basketball I.Q. and good court awareness, Rappahahn is a heady player who will continue to make significant contributions, both in games and in practices. With such a logjam out on the perimeter this year, it is unlikely that freshmen Christy Titchenal and Jessica Elway will see much court time, although they both have the necessary tools to assist the team if duty calls. Like Kimyacioglu, the 6'1" Titchenal is a natural born shooter who showcases an excellent all-around game. The Sonoma (Calif.) resident missed her entire senior year of high school due to a bout with mononucleosis, but she is ready to suit up in the Cardinal and White this upcoming season. Playing in the post all through high school, Elway is making the transition to the wing in her first year at Stanford. As John Elway's eldest daughter, she inherited his mental toughness; the 5'11" Colorado native will do whatever is necessary for the "W." Elway is a versatile athlete who will be a valuable competitor over the next four years.
With all the depth and talent that Stanford possesses in the frontcourt, a case can be made that the Cardinal have the deepest post rotation in the country. Leading the way is senior T'Nae Thiel. As a three-year starter, the 6'1" forward/center uses her basketball smarts and brute strength to play great defense and outmaneuver opponents for rebounds. A physical presence on the court, Thiel has worked hard to become more aggressive on the offensive end. She is quick enough to run the floor, powerful enough to muscle her way to the hoop, and versatile enough to go out beyond the arc to pop a three. Look for Thiel to take a more active role in creating more scoring opportunities for herself, whether it be inside or outside. Fellow senior Azella Perryman has had an up-and-down career at Stanford. While the forward from Anchorage, Alaska has struggled at times to play defense, lacking the necessary intensity and footwork to stop the opponent from scoring, Perryman has shown that her forte is rebounding and offense. An athletic and aggressive leaper, the 6'1" forward has a good nose for the ball, allowing her to be in the right place to snatch the rebound. Perryman scores in a variety of ways, either streaking towards the basket on a fast break play or with a variety of moves down low. In addition, she has a sweet fade-a-way shot that is money when she is on.
Sophomores Brooke Smith and Kristen Newlin will give Stanford a huge presence in the middle, as their 6'3" and 6'5" frames will enable the Cardinal to have a size advantage in many situations. Smith is a former Top-10 recruit who will fit in nicely with Stanford's offensive scheme. During her redshirt year, Smith spent her time in the weight room, which resulted in a stronger and quicker player who is ready to do some serious damage at the collegiate level. With a polished low post game and wonderful passing skills, Smith will be very difficult to stop in the paint. Her defense will be an area of focus, but the coaching staff is confident that Smith will eventually be as solid on defense as she is on offense. Newlin hails from Riverton (Wyo.) and brings with her a game bursting with exceptional talent. A blend of athleticism and court-savvy will create difficult match-ups for opponents to counter, allowing Newlin to capitalize and dominate the paint. Though injuries slowed a promising freshman campaign, fans recognized Newlin's potential and are excited to see her back in action. A gifted shot-blocker, Newlin will enter her sophomore year as a stronger and more confident player whose offensive abilities will blossom with year of experience under her belt.
Sophomore Eziamaka Okafor and junior Shelley Nweke will look to challenge for playing time upfront. Dogged by injuries her first two years on The Farm, Okafor is prepared to showcase why she was considered a top player coming out of high school. As a healthy prepster, the 6'0" forward was a rebounding force, averaging over 10 boards a game for her entire high school career. If she is able to return to her old rebounding form, look for Okafor to contribute immediately on both ends of the court. Nweke is a 6'5" center who provides another strong, physical presence under the basket. In addition, she has proven to be a defensive force in the paint, as her long arms and excellent instincts make her an tremendous shot blocker.
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