Jayne Appel: Fun and Games

Junior Jayne Appel was always the center of the offense if not always the center of attention last year. This year Appel steps even farther to the fore as Stanford's focal point.

Life is curiously quiet for Jayne Appel just now. The season is almost upon her yet the media hoards have not been gathering and fussing as one might expect given her status as Stanford's new biggest deal. Maybe folks are distracted wondering about the hole at guard. Or perhaps Appel has gotten lost in the lull between the previous biggest deal, Candice Wiggins, and the excitement over the possible next biggest deal, Nneka Ogwumike. For whatever reason, the outside world seems to be taking Appel a tiny bit for granted. Opposing teams never do. Priority #1 is always stopping #2 inside. Though Appel has recently been hampered in her preparation by the need to rehab an injured left knee, if her career trajectory continues as it has during her first two seasons, Appel might go from the sublime to the ridiculously dominant in her junior season. Appel spent the summer relaxing and rehabbing after spring shoulder surgery. She also suffered a torn Meniscus in September that required surgery.

How is Appel feeling now? How close is she to full participation in practice?

"I've been good. Busy trying to get back. I hope to be back on Tuesday (October 28th). That's the goal."

Appel believes she will be ready for the first game of the season on November 14 against Minnesota. Why did she decide to have the shoulder surgery this summer? Was it causing her problems even during the fine season she had in 2007/08?

"I actually had it since freshman year, so I've had it for two years now. I wasn't able to fix it last summer because of USA Basketball. (Appel was a member of the USA Basketball Pan Am Games team that won a gold medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the summer of 2007.) Having an open summer and finally having the time, I figured I might as well do it. It wasn't really hurting me. It's more for the future, so I can continue to get stronger and weight lift. I needed to do it to be able to weight lift."

What were Appel's impressions of her first Final Four?

"It was actually kind of overwhelming at first. It was so much fun because of who our team was when we were together. We want to get back there again. There were so many people. It was really cool to see how big the fan base was for women's basketball and for some of the other teams. Playing for the USA team the summer before that opened my eyes to how many people you could play in front of. When we were in Brazil the games were in front of 20,000 people, so the Final Four wasn't really surprising in that sense. It was cool to see it though. It was fun to play in front of all those people."

How did she feel after losing in the championship game after such a great run?

"I'd say it was bittersweet. Yes we got that far, but we were knocking on the door. It would have been nice to open it and get there, win a national championship. But now I have two more years to try and do that with my team. We'll get it done eventually!"

What were her favorite memories of the Final Four?

"It's hard to pick one moment. I'd have to say the Connecticut game was awesome. But I think in general it was just being with the team. It was so much fun off the court, on the court. We were always joking around and laughing in the locker room. One of the most memorable things was before every game we would just sit and talk about past things we had done that whole year, how they're funny now but at the time we were all dying during that one drill and look where that got us now."

How would Appel describe the personality of the team this year?

"I would say hardworking fun. Our team, we're in the gym going hard and saying this is our three hours we have today so how can we get better in that three hours? But also our team has gotten so close over the past two years and the freshmen have also bonded into that, so it's really good. Now the freshmen are really close with us. And the incoming for next year will be really close because now that's just how our team is. We just want to play with each other. We realize how much fun it is. To get to that level we did is awesome. So I would call us hardworking and fun. We want to work really hard so we can do well and in turn that will make us have a lot of fun."

Speaking of fun, we hear that a certain someone has a reputation as a bit of a joker…

"Yeah, that's usually me! I've been known to pull a few pranks."

But senior and therefore authority on everything, Morgan Clyburn, told us in a recent interview that Appel was only Goofball #2, that a 2010 classmate claimed the prize as Goofball #1. Any comment from the runner-up (whenever she stops laughing)?

"Mel (Murphy, a.k.a. Goofball #1) is a goofball in what she says but I think I pull more pranks than Mel. When we were in Washington, JJ Hones and I had a room right across the hall from Hannah (Donaghe) and Ashley (Cimino) in the hotel. And when they walked in the room, just being freshmen, and let the door close behind them, JJ and I grabbed the door and held it for about three minutes. Then we went back in there and scared them to death. Stuff like that is usually what I'm good for. Stealing a backpack and hiding it for a while, just to see how people react is pretty fun. Just to keep things alive, you know?"

After sneaking a quick peek at our belongings, we asked if Appel thought she could get to #1 on the Goofball list.

"Maybe I'll get to #1. But Mel is hilarious. The whole class of 2010 is awesome. I love our class. We have a lot of fun."

How does Appel see the increased depth inside affecting the way the Cardinal play this season?

"To me it's all good. The deeper we can go, the better. It was kind of tough last year when Kayla (Pedersen) and I played a lot of minutes. We had to be really careful with fouling. This year will be awesome! We'll be able to be much more aggressive, run a lot more, run harder, run faster for shorter amounts of time, because you know the next person coming in is going to provide just as much as you are. It also helps in practice. We're a lot more competitive with each other, knowing this person is right on your tail."

How difficult was it for her last season to be so careful about picking up fouls?

"My freshman season was disastrous! (Appel committed 98 fouls in 636 minutes as a freshman compared to 114 fouls in 1129 minutes as a sophomore.) Last year I got a sign in my locker that said, ‘Thou Shall Not Foul.' Well this year Amy (Tucker) wrote, ‘Thou Still Shall Not Foul.' I got a new one. It didn't stress me out but it was always in the back of my mind, that this is Tara [VanDerveer's] big thing for me. I've got to be in the game and be able to produce for her."

Appel did a whole lot of damage while avoiding those unwanted whistles. She averaged 15.0 points on 58.8 percent shooting, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. She also had 34 steals and blocked a school-record 84 shots. Within that sea of great stats, what is the least appreciated aspect of her game?

"I'd have to say passing. I really enjoy passing. I love giving that backdoor pass. It was one of my favorite things. It was like yeah we got this team again. You fell for the backdoor again. I love being able to be the one who dishes the ball out. I kind of wish I was a point guard in that sense. I'd be able to do it all day! Pretty much at this point it's whatever my team needs me to do, I'm willing to do."

Is she working to improve anything specific this year?

"Probably my goal for this year is to improve my outside shooting, maybe get to the point where Tara is more comfortable that I'm able to take those shots. But it's not a big concern of mine. We have a lot of outside shooters, a lot of that. So right now, if we need someone big inside, I'm willing to take that role."

How does Appel see the leadership on the squad evolving?

"I think it is mostly decided by the team and who they look up to - who they see in practice really trying to go at a faster pace, constantly being vocal, and being on the court. If someone is doing something wrong and the coaches yell at them, just going up to that person and saying, ‘It's all right. You'll get the next one.' Maybe silently encouraging them too, showing them what to do, so they know it's ok. A freshman, if she messes up, is distraught. When I got yelled at my freshman year, it was like oh my gosh, that's the end of this practice - I can't do anything good. Well Brooke (Smith) came up to me and said, ‘Don't worry about it. You'll be fine.' I think little things like that will enable our leaders to come forth on the team."

A few weeks back we discovered (through diligent investigative journalism) that Tara VanDerveer was "toying" with the idea of doing a triathlon, motivated in part because Appel's mother had successfully done a few.

"My mom is really into it. She gets a bunch of her girlfriends together and they do it. It helps my mom more mentally than physically I think. She just likes to get out and do things. She's like me. When I get to go out and run, it's great. When I wasn't allowed to run a few weeks ago (when she injured her knee and required surgery) I thought, ‘This is terrible! I can't function, you know, physically or mentally!' On the day I found out I tore my Meniscus, I said, ‘I'm going to go run on the treadmill.' They said, ‘You can't. You have a torn Meniscus.' I told them, ‘It's not going to make it any worse till I have surgery anyway.' So I ran."

Does she have any parting thoughts on the upcoming season?

"I think our pre-season will really help us. It will point out all our weaknesses like it did last year when we got killed by Connecticut (in November). It should be a great season overall. I'm really excited. Our team is really ready to get going. We watched the Cal [volleyball game at Maples] on Sunday (October 19), and it was like, ‘OK when are we going to be on the court?' It will be good! I'm excited."

If the pre-season games point out many weaknesses in Appel, that would be an accomplishment - there just aren't many to find. With all the wondering about who might emerge for the Cardinal, we may be neglecting what is staring us in the face. Appel is Stanford's marquee player, very possibly the best player in the conference and a probable All-American. Truly dominant centers are not exactly thick on the ground, so savor watching Appel have her fun in the paint. And anyone who rates up there on the Goofball Scale deserves extra applause in our book. Fun and games, fun in games would be just the ticket for a memorable season.

To view a slide show of Don Anderson's photos taken during this interview with Jayne Appel, click HERE.

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