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Women’s basketball preview: Newcomers

Freshman guard Kiana Williams (above) is part of a talented group of freshmen ready to make an impact in the upcoming season.(BOB DREBIN/isiphotos.com)

For a Stanford women’s basketball team that was propelled to the Final Four last season by strong senior leadership, it may be the young guns who help them return this year. The Cardinal’s freshman class — forwards Alyssa Jerome, Maya Dodson, Estella Moschkau and guard Kianna Williams — are talented, versatile and confident. Even though these freshmen are yet to play a collegiate game, their teammates and coaches have been impressed by what they have seen in practice.

“Our freshman have come in, and they’ve just settled right in,” sophomore guard Mikaela Brewer said. “They’re all extremely talented. Estella’s a great shooter, Maya’s arm are just so long — she gets so many boards and blocks. Kianna’s making great plays. Alyssa, my fellow Canadian — she’s playing really well and making good decisions on the floor. They’ve come in really seamlessly.”

This transition to college ball will be critical for a Cardinal team that has early games against Connecticut and Ohio State, two traditional powerhouse programs. And while most freshmen may not be expected to assume critical roles right from the start, Stanford’s freshmen will be expected to contribute early and often.

“We lost a shooter, a rebounder and a superstar defender, and we need people to step up in those places,” Brewer said.

All four freshmen were top recruits out of high school, but Williams may be the gem of this class. Ranked by HoopGurlz as the eighth-overall recruit in the nation in 2017, the 5’8″ guard is the Cardinal’s first top-10 recruit since former star Chiney Ogwumike. And while that may seem like big shoes to fill, she has the speed and ball-handling skills to make her presence felt right away.

“I think I fit in really [well],” Williams said. “[Head coach] Tara [VanDerveer] wants us to push the pace and get into the offense quick, and I like playing fast.”

Williams has been learning from junior guard Marta Sniezek, who is likely to take over the starting point guard duties this year. Together, the two guards should give Stanford an elite backcourt.

While Williams is expected to play more of a traditional guard role, Jerome is a versatile forward who can play a variety of positions on the court. Her size allows her to play a physical post game in the frontcourt, but she can shoot from the outside as well. She also brings some valuable playing experience to the Farm after representing her country at four international FIBA tournaments, including the U19 World Cup in Italy this past summer.

“There are a lot of things that crossed over, which has been really helpful for me,” Jerome said of her international playing experience. “A lot of the defensive positioning is very similar, and also just the speed and the physicality of the game is very similar from what I am used to with Team Canada.”

Dodson and Moschkau will also be prominent members of a Cardinal frontcourt that lacks a traditional center but instead consists of multifaceted forwards. Dodson was the 11th-overall prospect, according to HoopGurlz, while Moschkau was 41st overall.

Dodson is a strong rebounder who can also move well in transition, while Moschkau is a solid shooter and a tough defender.

Both players stressed that while roles are beginning to emerge, nothing is set in stone, especially before any games have been played.

“We just have to work hard and try to learn everything we can and just be ready to change things on the spot,” Dodson said.

Losing such crucial senior leaders could have easily affected the Cardinal team dynamic, but all players echoed a similar sentiment: The chemistry may be different from last year, but it’s not any weaker.

“I think we do a good job of welcoming in freshmen, making them feel like they aren’t freshmen and that they can do what the upperclassmen are doing,” junior center Shannon Coffee said. “It really helps our team when we’re getting into season because we don’t want anyone feeling like ‘Oh, I’m just a freshman, I can’t guard this senior on the court.’ We try to take that away.”

Together, armed with their own talent and the guidance of upperclassmen leaders, the Cardinal freshmen are poised to help their team return to the Final Four, a responsibility that none of them are overlooking.

“It’s really exciting to be on such a great team with such a great history, not only last year but just in general,” Jerome said. “It’s definitely motivation. I think all of us are here to really work hard, and we have the same goal as they did last year.”

It won’t be an easy task, and as is true for all freshmen, there are likely to be bumps and bruises along the way. But the coaching staff is excited, the upperclassmen speak highly of their younger teammates, and the freshmen themselves appear ready for the season to get started.

“[We] freshmen are trying to fill their shoes,” Williams said about last year’s team. “It’s a big task, but I think we are taking big steps towards that goal.”

 

Contact Gregory Block at gblock ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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