This is the fourth part of a six-part feature series on Stanford women’s sports.
Stanford’s women athletes have been successful in their sports for well beyond just their time on the Farm. Over the past two seasons, Stanford women’s basketball has had three players taken in the first round of the WNBA Draft: Kayla Pedersen ‘11 (Tulsa Shock, 2011, seventh overall), Jeanette Pohlen ‘12 (Indiana Fever, 2011, ninth overall) and Nnemkadi (Nneka) Ogwumike ‘12 (Los Angeles Sparks, 2012, first overall).
Ogwumike has stepped right into the WNBA without missing a step. Though she hasn’t put up as dominant numbers in her first professional season as during her senior year at Stanford, the former All-American has been a key member of the Sparks since draft day.
Ogwumike started in 33 of the Sparks’ 34 games, averaging 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The elder of the talented Ogwumike sisters earned Rookie of the Year for her big first season. Her transition to life as a professional athlete has been “quite smooth.” After all, not many coaches teach basketball as seriously or as in-depth as Tara VanDerveer.
“[Coach VanDerveer] takes practice very seriously,” Ogwumike said, “and I am the ultimate practice player. I feel that’s where you truly improve as a player. All of the things she stressed during my time at Stanford really helped me understand what it takes to be a great player and leader.”
During the WNBA’s offseason, Ogwumike is starring in the Euroleague. In her first year abroad, Ogwumike is fifth in the league with an average of 17.5 points per game for CCC Polkowice, a team located in the city of Polkowice in southwest Poland.
Not only do professional leagues provide opportunity for former Stanford players to make a living and continue improving their games, they also can provide a platform to avenge some tough losses from their days on the Farm.
Pohlen played during one of the most successful eras in Stanford history. The Cardinal reached the Final Four in all four of her collegiate seasons but never got over the hump to win the National Championship. Much of that was due to the dominance of Connecticut and its star, Maya Moore.
But Pohlen finally got her revenge during the 2012 WNBA Finals. Pohlen’s Indiana Fever was a big underdog to the stacked Minnesota Lynx, led by Moore and two other 2012 London Olympics gold medalists, but the Fever pulled off the upset to win the title.
“Maya’s a great player, and she’s going to continue to be great and continue to grow and get better,” Pohlen said. “[But] to win against them and kind of go against what everybody thought…It was great.”
Though Stanford has had countless Olympians, in both men’s and women’s sports, one stands alone for her fame.
Kerri Walsh Jennings ‘00 (formerly Kerri Walsh), along with her partner Misty May-Treanor, has been instrumental in the rise of beach volleyball to the Olympic spotlight.
Walsh Jennings starred as an indoor volleyball player at Stanford. During her time on the Farm, the Cardinal won two NCAA Championships while Walsh Jennings received first-team All-American honors in all four of her seasons.
Right after her senior season, Walsh Jennings took two quarters off from Stanford to participate in the 2000 Sydney Olympics on the U.S indoor volleyball team, finishing fourth, but it was in beach volleyball where she went from volleyball legend to international superstar.
“In my entire professional career, I just felt Stanford gave me just a great foundation to leap off of,” Walsh Jennings said. “When you’re on that campus, you’re surrounded by so many people who are chasing these big dreams, and their standards are set so high, and they’re juggling so many things, and it rubs off on you. You learn from other people how they’re managing their stress and their workload, and you’re especially inspired because…they’re brilliant, and they’re creative, and they’re freeing themselves out there to try to achieve great things.
“I feel like I was prepared for not only the toughness of the journey, but also it didn’t happen overnight, and I feel like my time on the Farm showed me that—that the process is really important,” she continued. “I walked into Stanford a really young, naïve, scared 18-year-old, and I left as an Olympian.”
Now, Walsh Jennings’ impact has come full circle. On April 2, Stanford played its first-ever collegiate sand volleyball match, defeating Santa Clara 4-1 at the ACSR Sand Volleyball Courts.
But the transition from indoor to beach isn’t quite as “smooth” as the move from Stanford to the professional game; Walsh Jennings still remembers the “humbling” feeling of transitioning from a four-time All-American and Olympian in indoor volleyball to a beach volleyball beginner. After that experience, perhaps some informal coaching is in her future.
“I would love to go and spend time with the [Stanford women’s volleyball players],” Walsh Jennings said, “get on the sand with them and learn from them and show them a little of what I know.”
Stanford volleyball does have some alumnae who have stuck it out on the indoor side, leaving the sand and the ocean breeze to Walsh Jennings.
Alix Klineman ‘11, who like Walsh Jennings earned All-American recognition for all four of her collegiate seasons at Stanford, has taken her professional career to Europe.
After the Farm, Klineman joined Scavolini Pesaro, an Italian League team based in Pesaro, a town just south of Rimini on the eastern coast of Italy. For Klineman, the experiment turned out better than expected.
“To be honest, I was really nervous to play abroad,” Klineman said. “I was worried that I wouldn’t like it, that I would be lonely and that I wouldn’t succeed. I went into my first season with very low expectations, and I was surprised in every way possible. Not only did I land in the cutest Italian beach town, I made some lifelong friends and had a successful rookie season.”
Klineman has enjoyed her experience so much that she has stayed in Italy. This season, Klineman plays for MC Carnaghi Villa Cortese near Milan.
Though situated thousands of miles from Stanford and her hometown of Manhattan Beach, Calif., Klineman is not as isolated from the Farm as one may think.
In her professional career, Klineman has played against former Stanford teammates Foluke Akinradewo ‘09 and Cynthia Barboza ‘09, as well as Kristin Richards ‘07, who finished her Cardinal career a year before Klineman’s arrival.
“I stay in touch with most of the [still-playing] alums mostly through the national team,” Klineman said, “but it’s always fun to run into each other overseas and catch up.”
Though this series honors the anniversary of Stanford’s first women’s national championship, a few of Stanford’s most recent Olympians are closing in on the Cardinal’s next trophy.
Stanford women’s water polo head coach John Tanner, after winning the NCAA title in 2012, added three Olympic gold medalists from last summer’s U.S. National Team.
Senior Melissa Seidemann, junior Annika Dries and freshman Maggie Steffens all took a year off from Stanford to train full time for the Olympics, and it paid off with gold.
For Steffens, the Olympic water polo tournament was her own personal coming-out party. The freshman was named the most valuable player of the tournament with an Olympic-leading 21 goals in six games, including a game-high five in the gold medal-winning victory over Spain.
“She’s a great goal scorer,” Tanner said of Steffens. “She can score in so many different ways. She’s brilliant reading a goalie and dueling with a goalie…It’s easy at the Olympics to watch highlights of her just scoring goals, but she does so much more to have an impact on a game.”
Steffens and Seidemann have lit up the scoreboard. Through 24 games, the Olympic duo has combined for exactly 100 goals, just three fewer than their opponents’ total for the entire season, and that’s a big reason why Stanford is 23-1.
Seidemann’s offensive skillset got a big boost from her Olympic experience: Seidemann’s goals-per-game average has increased by over 30 percent to 2.3 this season.
“She has the ability now to take command in all phases of the game,” Tanner said. “In the semifinal game against Australia, which was really the one really close, intense game at the Olympics, she controlled the tempo of the overtime periods almost singlehandedly.”
Though spread out around the country and the world, each athlete is staying in touch with Stanford in her own way.
Walsh Jennings hopes to stop by a sand volley practice or game sometime soon to offer advice on the transition from indoors to sand. But the birth of her third child, Scout Margery Jennings, early Saturday morning might postpone her coaching career for a while.
Klineman finds opportunities to catch up with Stanford women’s volleyball whenever she’s back in California. In September 2011, Klineman even joined the squad for a team dinner during its trip to Los Angeles to take on USC and UCLA.
Los Angeles was the reunion hub for Pohlen and Stanford women’s basketball as well.
“I went to their USC game [in February],” Pohlen said. “Tara brought my mom and I into the locker room, and we got to say hi to the team. And I still keep in touch with the girls.”
But no one had it tougher in March than Ogwumike. In her role as supportive big sister of junior forward Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka has had some late nights listening to Stanford games on the radio from Poland.
“I follow every game,” Nneka said. “It’s tough being in Poland and nine hours ahead, but that never stops me from keeping up with my favorite college athlete and the Card.”
As for Steffens, Dries and Seidemann, well, they just catch up every time they put on their caps for practice. Reunion talk will have to wait until after their Stanford careers end.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, The Daily misidentified a photo of Kayla Pedersen, ’11, as Jeanette Pohlen, ’12. The Daily regrets this error.
Previous installments in The Stanford Daily’s women’s sports feature series: