Celebrating The Stanford Women

Contributing writer Mark DeVaughn offers this look back at Stanford' success this decade, especially after their current run to the Final Four, in comparison to other teams in the Bay Area that have stumbled so far in the 21st Century.

What the "brain drain" term is to academics, perhaps the "fame drain" applies to Northern California sports.  Where have you gone, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Terrell Owens, and Chris Webber?

Examining their respective legacies however reveals the painfully obvious. These players' charismatic qualities were matched only by their spectacular playoff failures.  When it comes to defining moments in the postseason, the teams they defined – the BALCO-fueled Giants, Billy Beane's star-crossed A's, Steve Mariucci's flawed 49ers, and the freewheeling-but-doomed Sacramento Kings – offered a how-to in heartbreak.

Where is the local counterpoint?  Where are the stars who deliver down the stretch?  Look no further than Arco Arena, site of one of the above-referenced meltdowns.

Credit the winning moxie of Stanford women's basketball, which again in Monday night's buzzer-beater over Xavier, got exactly what it needed when it needed it most.

Even in not playing its overall best, the Cardinal again showed why they provide the antidote to the aforementioned chokers.  Consider the Stanford women a collective Lady Liberty in high-tops, calling out to the huddled masses of Bay Area fans who yearn to breathe free of losers.

Make it three straight Final Four berths for Stanford.  Not since 2000 has the Cardinal failed to win a Pac-10 regular season title.  When Jayne Appel and company stomped Georgia to reach Monday's tilt with Xavier, it allowed for making their sixth Elite Eight appearance in seven years.

It's easy to dismiss these streaks, given that women's college basketball will always trail the men in the fanfare department.  Arco Arena was basically two-thirds empty for Monday's coronation.  At Stanford, football and men's basketball have a hard enough time drawing outside attention. The major pro sports are king in this region.

But the latest in a series of major accomplishments for the Cardinal women is cause for reflection.  The mirror shows wins.  It also shows scissors, ladders, and championship nets. The snapshots beg comparison with more familiar – and far less-jubilant – moments in recent memory.

The Warriors are consistent the way Ralph Wiggum is "special," as in one appearance in the bloated NBA playoffs since 1994.  Your 49ers and Raiders remain mired in streaks of seven straight postseason-less seasons.

The Pac-10 finally became a women's basketball conference way back in 1986-87 – the last time the Stanford women missed the NCAA tournament.

Let's play word association.  The term is "playoff collapse."  I see Jeremy Giambi not sliding and Dusty Baker handing Russ Ortiz a souvenir ball, among others. With Kansas' second-round exit from this year's NCAA men's tournament, the Jayhawks became the first top-ranked team since 2004 to leave so soon.

Does 2004 ring a bell?  Pity the No.1 Stanford men, who after winning their first 26 games of the year, couldn't even survive the tournament's second weekend. "The Magic Hour" had a longer run in late night.

Days after Mike Montgomery's last Stanford team tripped all over themselves, the Stanford women provided a lesson in the clutch.  With her team trailing by one in the closing seconds, Kelley Suminski's three-pointer gave the Cardinal women a 57-55 win in the Sweet 16 over Vanderbilt. Tara's team hasn't missed a regional final since.

On an otherwise ideal Sunday afternoon in June eight years ago, the host Sacramento Kings bricked on 14-of-30 free throws in a Western Conference finals Game 7 overtime loss to the Lakers.

Too bad the Kings couldn't channel Stanford's focus in the NCAA women's tournament first round from two years earlier.  The Cardinal drained nine of 10 free throws in the overtime session to down No.25 Michigan.  After making only 47 percent of her foul shots during the season, Sarah Dimson went 6-for-7 from the charity stripe in the victory.

Arco Arena was a fitting, yet bittersweet, setting for Monday night's heroics. Four months ago, the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs – the one pro franchise to bring the city a championship – announced they were no longer.  Former Stanford star Nicole Powell was the star rookie on that 2005 WNBA title-winner.  She's now a member of the New York Liberty, her former Sacramento teammates having been scattered all over the league in a dispersal draft.
 
But Tara VanDerveer's team is once again elevating under pressure, fine-tuning their efforts when it matters most.  Watching them this time of year brings to mind one of ESPN's better commercials from years past.  The visuals were teams in the NCAA women's tournament, the soundtrack provided by a punk band's version of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" theme song. These girls have made it, after all.

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