Probing the Depth

Contributing Correspondent Warren Grimes compares two possible contenders for the Pac-10 title.

There are two teams that could win the PAC-10 title this season. Both are a bit thin – each would have to prevail playing just 7 or 8 players. To win it all, the players would have to play a lot of minutes, avoid foul trouble and, above all, skirt the injury nemesis. But each team is loaded with talent and could easily win it all.

The Cal Bears might easily be one of these teams, although at this point in the early season one wonders whether California can actually field 7 healthy and competitive players. I have two other teams in mind.

Team Appel has 7 players. The starters would be Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen, Jillian Harmon, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, and JJ Hones. Lindy La Rocque and Morgan Clyburn would come off the bench. Team A has 4 of the 5 players that started in last season's NCAA final game. Two players (Appel and Pedersen) are on preseason All-American lists. Hones is establishing herself as one of the premier point guards in the country. And Gold-Onwude has proven a sound defender and a clutch player in big games. The fifth starter, Harmon, started and excelled for the New Zealand Olympic team last summer. Newcomer Lindy La Rocque could be a potent perimeter threat off the bench, and Clyburn, if she bounces back from off-season surgery, has demonstrated an ability to defend, board, and block coming off the bench. This team could win it all.

Team Boothe, with 8 players, would be the greatest threat to Team A. Team B would start Sarah Boothe, Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Michelle Harrison, Jeanette Pohlen, and Melanie Murphy, with Ashley Cimino, Hannah Donaghe, and Grace Mashore off the bench. Now this team is relatively inexperienced. I'd expect them to stumble more at the start of the season, but come on strongly at the end. The talent and credentials of these players kind of hits you in the face. Ogwumike was high school Gatorade National Player of the Year last year, and she is certainly in contention for Freshman of the Year honors in the Pac-10, if not nationally. She and Boothe (Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year) were prominent players on the USA under-19 team that won the international competition in Argentina this past summer. The list goes on. Michelle Harrison was a McDonald's All American. After suffering the dreaded knee injury early last season, Harrison could be ready to impress. Jeanette Pohlen is a cool hand, an all-cylinders-firing kind of player, also on high school All American lists, who logged major minutes last year. She can play any position from point guard to power forward. The final starter for team B, Murphy, also has a long list of high school accolades and a lot of raw talent. Murphy appears recovered from an ACL tear and ready for a break out year. She had experience running the point as a freshman, and appears ready to do it again, better than ever. How many of the coaches in the Pac-10 would trade their entire squad for Team B? Most, I'd say. The five starters on Team B would be in the starting lineup on Pac-10 teams outside the Bay Area. Other than inexperience, the only weakness of Team B may be its off-the-bench support, but I have no doubt that Cimino, Donaghe and Mashore would rise to the occasion.

So what's the point of this fantasy exercise? It's the depth – the awesome depth – of this year's edition of the Stanford team. There's no precedent for this in my years of following Stanford. In the 1990s, Stanford had teams with a lot of post depth – think of Olympia Scott, Kristin Folkl, Naomi Mulitauaopele, and Heather Owen on the same team. Top to bottom, however, I don't think the mid 1990s team could match the depth of this year's edition.

So is there any team in the country that can match Stanford's depth? Connecticut is the preseason top ranked team – and certainly their rotation of perimeter players including freshman of the year Maya Moore is superior – but no, their post depth is not comparable to Stanford's. Tennessee has a bunch of new McDonald All-Americans on their team, but on experience alone, one would have to give the depth award to Stanford.

So who would win an intra-squad scrimmage between Team A and Team B? I'd best not say – don't want to get into deep waters on this depth thing.


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