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Friday, October 14, 2011
Stanford is ready for its close-up

By Michelle Smith

This season, espnW will spend time with the Stanford Cardinal and their Hall of Fame head coach, getting behind-the-scenes access to the players. Come to espnW every Friday throughout the season to get to know the Cardinal and how they live their lives off and on the court, from the start of practice to the last game of the season in March and, perhaps, into April.

STANFORD, Calif. -- "All right, y'all, channel Beyoncé," sophomore Chiney Ogwumike jokingly orders her teammates, over the din of laughter as she smooths her hair, divalike, over her shoulders.

It's photo day for the Stanford Cardinal, and Chiney wants her team looking good for the 90-minute shoot. The photos, and some video, too, will be used for programs, athletic department materials and clips for the video-board introductions in Maples Pavilion.

Things clearly need to be perfect.

Chiney had been standing in the back row next to her sister, senior Nneka, but the older sibling wanted to make some adjustments.

"Chiney, stand over there," Nneka said. "This is my good side."

The nonstop clicks of the camera shutters mean a welcome day off from practice, and a fun time to hone the chemistry of a team undergoing a major makeover. An infusion of young players -- six freshmen in all -- has changed the dynamic of a program that had been defined the past few seasons by its returners, not its newcomers. But that has all changed for the Cardinal this fall.

"It's like a new beginning," Nneka said. "We all feel younger to me."

Fellow senior Lindy La Rocque feels there is "a different energy."

"I agree with Nneka," La Rocque said, "it is like a new start, even for the older players."

With three weeks left until the first game of the 2011-2012 season, new seems to be good for Stanford. The Cardinal were upbeat, loose and funny on this Thursday afternoon. They mugged and laughed and gave each other a hard time. They looked comfortable together.

Unlike some programs around the country, which have gone to evening gowns and more artistic themes for the photos that grace their media guides, Stanford's approach is decidedly understated: uniforms, smiles and a healthy dose of clowning. Stanford's photo day started with head shots in the Stanford Hall of Fame Room, the memorabilia-stocked hall where the newest addition is coach Tara VanDerveer's Basketball Hall of Fame trophy.

The players arrived en masse with makeup, earrings and camera-ready hair. Senior guard Grace Mashore invested substantial time straightening her tight curls. She spent 40 minutes Wednesday night, took another 20 Thursday and added a quick touch-up in the locker room before the shoot.

"I worked on it last night while I watched a movie. That's what I do; it's how I relax," Mashore said. She watched "Morning Glory," with Rachel McAdams and Diane Keaton, while she wielded her flat iron.

"I'm a chick-flick girl," Mashore said.

Assistant coach Trina Patterson, added to the staff in the offseason, comes into the room in a black pantsuit, drawing "oohs" and "ahhs" from the players.

"Aw, come on now," Patterson replied, to deflect the reaction.

The Stanford players were wearing their new uniforms for the first time -- their home whites -- which appear less than perfect at the moment.

"They look like they just came out of the bag," associate head coach Amy Tucker said, with a touch of a grimace, as she looked at the creases.

Tucker is still trying to hire a team manager for the season. She's getting ready to hit up the freshmen to see whether they can tap anyone in their dorm looking for a job. A manager would have had those shorts pressed.

One by one, each player takes her turn in front of the camera. When these pictures are done, it's time to walk across the plaza to Maples Pavilion for team photos and the highly anticipated class photos. It's tradition that the players in each class take a group photo, with poses they've worked out in advance.

That's the idea, anyway.

VanDerveer, always a coach with an eye for detail, looks at her team lined up at center court for its photo, and she wants her tallest player, 6-foot-5 senior Sarah Boothe, moved one spot over to the middle for balance. And she wants a basketball in the photo. The ball gets handed to freshman guard Amber Orrange, who is seated in the middle of the front row.

"Be coachable," assistant coach Kate Paye jokes to Orrange, who smiles sheepishly.

Someone makes a joke, and sophomore Toni Kokenis breaks out in a case of the giggles.

Less than a minute and half a dozen clicks later, the team photos are done.

Freshmen are sent to a back room for their green-screen shots, to be used on the overhead video board during games.

While the seniors get their class poses ready, the sophomores peel off to their corner to get their accessories together: patterned suspenders, plastic sunglasses and a stack of books. They are going geek for their photo.

The seniors take their turn first, with Mashore pointing out that this is their final class photo.

"Guys, we're so old," Mashore said.

The two juniors, Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela Ruef, emerge from the locker room sporting eye-black and tossing a football, their theme becoming clear. Tinkle's and Ruef's poses consist of center-and-quarterback, quarterback-and-receiver, and opposing linemen at the line of scrimmage, nose to nose, and they bust out laughing after every click.

Up next are the three sophomores and their geek squad, led by always effusive Chiney Ogwumike, who serves as the team's de facto cruise director. She has all the poses set for her group.

By now, the Maples floor is clearing as the players go to watch the freshmen in the green-screen room. Four of the six have already gone into the studio to tape their video segments. The last two are Orrange and Alex Green.

"These are two of the shyest people you will ever meet," Tinkle said.

"We've gotta watch this," Nneka added.

And the team gathers at the glass swing-through doors leading to the studio, noses practically pressed up against the glass, resulting in another sheepish smile from Orrange.

"I just want to pinch their cheeks," Nneka said.

Orrange and Green emerge unscathed from their video experience, and the half dozen freshmen head out for their class photo -- without a plan. They've taken suggestions from their elder teammates, including becoming the Six Dwarves for a takeoff on "Snow White."

"How do you do Doc?" Taylor Greenfield asks.

The freshmen come out to center court and begin exploring their options, including a human pyramid.

Paye walks out to take a peek, and says, "Nope. Try again."

There will be no stacking of bodies. There will be no explaining a photo day injury to VanDerveer.

Mashore and La Rocque walk past and laugh.

"Don't judge!" yells out freshman Bonnie Samuelson.

The freshmen come up with a few playful poses and assemble for one more set of shots, the action photos that will run next to their bios in the media guide. Hair that was loose around the shoulders is now back in ponytails.

After the six of them have rebounded, dribbled and shot jumpers for the camera, Aaron Juarez, the team's sports information director, congratulates them on surviving their first photo day.

"See you same time, next year," Juarez said.

And on Friday, back to practice.