Like many of her Stanford teammates, T'Nae Thiel began her basketball career at a relatively young age, taking to the court in the third grade. However, unlike many of her basketball peers, Thiel could not be found diving for balls or muscling for position in the paint. She detested the physical nature of the game and was worried more about her appearance than grabbing rebounds and scoring points.
"I didn't really like people touching me and was always concerned with my hair getting messed up," confesses Thiel. "I wasn't much of a player."
Luckily for Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer, Thiel changed her tune in the fourth grade. Her innate competitiveness did not allow her to shy away from the action for very long and ever since she has been a force to be reckoned with on the hardwood. Now a member of the 4th-ranked team in the country, the 6'1" senior is part of Stanford's tough four-man post rotation, consisting of Thiel, fellow senior Azella Perryman, and sophomores Brooke Smith and Kristen Newlin. While Smith and Newlin provide the necessary scoring punch and Perryman energizes the team with her aggression, Thiel brings a strong defensive presence to the table. Throughout her years on The Farm, the center has firmly established herself as one of the premier post defenders in the country, routinely frustrating her opponents with her physical play and excellent understanding of the game. Thiel understands that her defensive efforts are the one facet of the game that she can control and takes satisfaction in shutting down her assigned player.
"I take [defense] very seriously and I take it personally if someone scores on me," she comments. "Defense is extremely important to me and I take a lot of pride in it."
Rebounding is another area in which the native of Weatherford, Texas can be counted on for consistent production. Since joining the Cardinal in 2001, Thiel has ranked among the team's top rebounders and currently leads Stanford with 5.4 boards a game. Her career total of 626 rebounds places her in the Top 10 of Stanford's all-time career rebounders. In addition to her defensive and rebounding abilities, VanDerveer looks to Thiel to be a solid option on offense. A versatile scorer who is averaging 5.0 points a game, Thiel can run the floor for a transition basket, power her way to the hoop, or nail a shot from beyond the three-point line.
"With T'Nae, you know what you are going to get every game and it's great to have such a reliable presence on the court, defensively and offensively," states senior teammate Sebnem Kimyacioglu. "She is always doing the right thing and knows what to do out there."
Ever since her arrival to The Farm, Thiel has been a mainstay in VanDerveer's line-up, playing in 117 career games, with 92 starts. The only contests she has missed were a five-game stretch during the beginning of her junior year when she sat out with a stress fracture in her leg. Although Thiel is somewhat undersized for the post, she has managed to play such a pivotal role for the Cardinal throughout her collegiate career with her solid fundamentals and blue-collar work ethic, enabling her to compete against the 6'3"-plus giants that roam the paint.
"I like to think of myself as a smart player," Thiel shares. "I'm not necessarily the most athletic, or as fast or as tall as a lot of the other players out there, so I just make it a point to make few errors and know all the plays."
While the savvy senior possesses many strengths in her game, there are still areas where she would like to improve to give her team a shot at the Final Four and beyond. A quiet person on and off the court, Thiel has always been the type of player to lead by example. However, VanDerveer has been trying for years to get Thiel to be more vocal during game time and the senior hasn't always responded to the challenge. As a player who is familiar with the Stanford program and all the responsibilities that come with donning the Cardinal and White, Thiel realizes the importance this season of being the voice of experience out on the court.
"Some of our younger players don't know what we should be doing in certain situations and so it has become important as a senior, and having the experiences that I have, to be vocal and be a leader," describes Thiel. "I have tried on being more vocal because I know it is important to our success."
Adds Kimyacioglu: "She's more mature and she has become a leader on the team. She's very quiet, but now she's more of a vocal leader as well."
Coming out of high school, Thiel had a glowing resume full of accolades and awards. The 2001 Texas 5A Player of the Year had good reason to believe she would excel at Stanford, considering that not only was heralded as the ninth-best player in the country by the Blue Star Index, but she was an All-American by virtually all the major publications that cover high school girls basketball. Despite all the success that she achieved in her prep days, Thiel came to Palo Alto without any unreasonable expectations, understanding that college basketball was a different ball game. The only way to succeed at the next level was through hard work and effort.
"In high school, you don't really have a clue what college is like. I came to college not really knowing what to expect, so I decided to make all that I can out of my four years here," says Thiel. "I just tried to do the very best that I could without having expectations because I knew it was going to be a completely different atmosphere."
One of the reasons Thiel had been able to adapt to the higher level of college basketball early on was her superb grasp of the fundamentals of basketball. She credits her mother, Aricka, for providing such a sound foundation.
"She was knowledgeable about basketball, so she would always be there for me to make sure I was doing things correctly," Thiel credits to her mother. "She is the reason why I am a fundamental player because she would never let me get away from the fundamentals and doing things correctly."
As the end of her collegiate career approaches, what is the next step for the Texan? Graduating sometime next year with a degree in English, Thiel professes to have no idea what she wants to do for the rest of her life. While she has entertained the possibility of law school, nothing has been set in stone. The only aspect of her future that Thiel is certain about is her location after graduation.
"I'll probably go back to Texas. I've been homesick ever since I've been here," she admits. "I've enjoyed being in California, but Texas is always going to be my home."
But before Thiel can think about riding off into the Texas sunset, she has the rest of the season to play out. After losing to Tennessee on a last-second shot in last year's Elite Eight, the team is motivated and ready to use that experience to fuel an even deeper post-season run come March.
"It was a hard loss because it was so close and we came so close to making it to the Final Four, as it was a goal of ours," declares Thiel. "So having that pain has been really motivating for our team. It was also motivating because we know we can do it and there is not a whole lot between us in accomplishing those goals. We know we have what it takes to get there."
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