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Beyda: Characters fuel Stanford women’s basketball’s Final Four run

Football season is long gone, Stanford men’s basketball’s magic run is over and the NHL playoffs don’t start until mid-April, but none of that stopped me from losing my voice earlier this week.

Up in one of the dark corners of Maples Pavilion I swayed, belting every word of “Hail, Stanford, Hail” so loudly that sports editor Do-Hyoung Park and editor in chief George Chen had trouble containing their laughter, as the Cardinal women’s basketball team celebrated its Elite Eight victory over North Carolina on Tuesday night. Passover doesn’t start for 10 more days, but I’ve definitely had my religious experience for the month.

For some background, I watched the men’s team cut down those Maples nets four times in six years while I was growing up. “That’s just what we do around here,” I figured at the time. The last decade has proven me, well…wrong.

But in those 10 years, the very same nets have kept coming down, season after season, at the hands of that other basketball team that calls Maples its home.

And after I personally witnessed that emotion-packed ceremony for the first time since 2004 on Tuesday, Stanford women’s basketball became a part of me, even if it wasn’t a big part of my childhood. Meeting each year’s team for the first time in the Final Four, as I used to, just doesn’t do the Cardinal justice.

Speaking of the Final Four, we’ve got a game to watch this Sunday.

Yesterday, Do analyzed some of the basketball reasons that Stanford could make its trip to Nashville special. I agree wholeheartedly, but what stand out to me the most aren’t stats or matchups; they’re characters.

There’s the grizzly Tara VanDerveer, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coach who dumped her stern sideline demeanor for an enthusiastic fist pump late in Tuesday’s emotional win. Tara’s last NCAA championship came 22 years ago, and since then, she’s seen the likes of Wiggins, Appel, Pedersen, Pohlen and one Ogwumike leave Stanford without reaching that final pinnacle. Chances are, she’s motivated to prevent the same from happening to Ogwumike number two.

There’s the fiery Mikaela Ruef, who somehow balances a 5-to-9 schedule of work, school and basketball and still manages (even with the nickname “Ruefie”) to be the least sleepy player on the court game in and game out. As Stanford struggled to battle back against the Tar Heels, the 6-foot-3 Ruef couldn’t have picked a better time to knock down the seventh, eighth and ninth 3-pointers of her five-year career. Ruef may have had trouble putting her emotions into words after the win, but it’s clear what she means to this team; Ruef may spend her days working on the pipelines around campus, but she spends her nights making the Cardinal’s pipe dream a reality.

And, of course, there’s Chiney Ogwumike, the founder and president of Nerd Nation — sorry, Mr. Hennessy — whose charisma hasn’t waned since she stepped onto the Farm. I’ll admit, the Bookstore’s looping of “N-E-R-D-S” feels a bit repetitive after several textbook trips this week. Yet the video captures so much of what makes Chiney arguably the University’s best representative, somehow encapsulating both the classic Stanford image of an Andrew Luck and the more vocal personality of a Richard Sherman. And as North Carolina learned on Tuesday, Chiney can be (temporarily) defeated, but she cannot be destroyed.

Many people — including one recent Daily sports editor — believe that everything in sports can be broken into some stat, explained by some number. Maybe that’s true. As a fan, however, I’ve always found the characters way more compelling, and whether or not you think the Cardinal’s unique cast will itself be enough to upset UConn on Sunday, you have to acknowledge how special this group is.

Stanford women’s basketball has been dominant for far too long to not have earned that third national title. They’re the new, “that’s just what we do around here,” and this is the year they get it done.

Joseph Beyda’s emotional rendition of “Hail, Stanford, Hail” showed The Daily’s staff that there is, in fact, somebody on campus that knows every word of the school’s hymn. Little did he know that a hidden camera was capturing his deep fervor. Give Joey your support as The Daily aims to make him a YouTube sensation at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Joseph Beyda

Joseph Beyda is the Football Editor at The Stanford Daily. Previously he has worked as a sports desk editor, the paper's summer managing editor and a beat reporter for football, baseball and women's soccer. He co-authored The Daily's recent football book, "Rags to Roses," and covered the soccer team's national title run for the New York Times. Joseph is a junior from Cupertino, Calif. majoring in Electrical Engineering. To contact him, please email jbeyda "at" stanford.edu.
  • jerry m

    a lot of wishful thinking here :)

  • ROBERT R. LINDH

    I would think same could be said for the UCONN!!!

  • Gary

    The keys are to (1) make shots including free throws, and (2) point out to the officials every instance of illegal contact by the semi-pros from UCONN. If UCONN wins, the players will still just be enrolled at UCONN – not a top school – and will still have to play for a JERK headcoach. Stanford – that is the place to be.