Coming off of two decisive exhibition victories last week, the Stanford women’s basketball team is primed and ready to start the 2012-13 regular season campaign. The No. 4 Cardinal opens the season tonight against the Fresno State Bulldogs hoping to continue its dominance in season openers. It has been a decade since Stanford lost its first game of the year.
It won’t be a walk in the park against the Bulldogs, who won the Western Athletic Conference last year but are now part of Mountain West Conference and are pegged to finish fourth. Preseason All-Mountain West selections Kiki Moore (16.8 ppg last year) and sophomore Alex Sheedy (6.0 ppg) lead Fresno State into Maples.
The Cardinal enters the season ranked fourth in the nation, the 5th consecutive year that they have been pegged as a top five-team. This is also the 13th straight season that the Card has been a clear favorite to win the Pac-12, and they will get plenty of media recognition this season, as they are featured more than any other team on the Pac-12 Networks.
The future success of this team, however, is by no means guaranteed, as the team is looking to regroup after losing Nneka Ogwumike to graduation. Ogwumike was an All-American and the No. 1 pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft.
“Let’s not sugarcoat it — we miss Nneka,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “We counted on one player a lot last year, and this year we’re going to count a lot on a lot of players.”
The core of this year’s team will be comprised of Wade Trophy-candidate and Chiney Ogwumike — Nneka’s younger sister — sophomores Amber Orrange and Taylor Greenfield, senior Joslyn Tinkle and junior Toni Kokenis, the likely starters on the court.
VanDerveer will look to a variety of players to fill the gaps in rebounding and defense left by Nneka Ogwumike.
“Even though [sophomore forward] Erica Payne is small, she’s aggressive when she gets in there. We’re also counting on getting some rebounding from someone like Taylor [Greenfield] as a guard, or someone like Bonnie [Samuelson],” VanDerveer said. “I think Bonnie has improved her rebounding.”
Orrange did an excellent job defensively in the exhibition game against Corban, recording eight steals on the night. Her presence at point guard will be instrumental in leading the team.
“I think she can compete with any point guard in the country… As long as she’s confident, that makes us super, super aggressive, because defensively she’s all over the ball pressuring,” Chiney Ogwumike said.
The exhibition game over Vanguard also showed VanDerveer that the team needed to focus on defense and rebounding in practice before starting the season.
Freshman Tess Picknell should be able to jump in and grab rebounds off the bench. Picknell, who is 6 foot 5 inches tall, is the Card’s tallest player and the biggest post presence on a team that has good size but less authority in the paint.
The coaches also expect a lot out of Samuelson. As the sixth man off the bench, they are confident that she will be more than just the three-point specialist of last year.
With a young team that has loads of talent, VanDerveer expects there to be an 11-player rotation to start the season off “until the players start to separate themselves.” In the past, Stanford has relied on only seven or eight players to consistently contribute throughout the season. VanDerveer says that an early rotation should help “complete the puzzle.”
The glue of this Stanford team, however, lies in the veteran partnership of Ogwumike and Tinkle.
“Chiney and I have a very close, really special friendship bond, and it portrays over on the basketball court as well, because we want to play hard for each other and we know that we have to not only rely on each other, but on ourselves,” Tinkle said. “We’re held accountable to help lead this team and take it where we want to go.”
This season, Tinkle realizes that she will have to step up her rebounding and aggression, and Ogwumike says she is focused on getting her hands onto every loose ball as well as on blocking out defensively.
The Card takes on the Bulldogs tonight in the season opener at 7 p.m. at Maples Pavilion.