The Cardinal are ready and raring to go
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. -- For the first time since last spring, the scorer's table at Maples Pavilion is set up for basketball. Folding chairs are out on the opposite sideline for spectators.
At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Stanford staffers are booting up the stat monitors, while another worker is pulling the tape off the floor that marks the perimeter of the volleyball court.
And the hallway in front of the Stanford women's basketball locker room is quiet.
But open the door, peer inside, and the player lounge is clearly not empty.
Sophomore Sarah James and freshman Taylor Greenfield are sitting at the computer monitors. Greenfield is doing homework. James has her headphones on, surfing the Internet. Freshman Erika Payne is sitting on one of the black leather reclining couches, working on her laptop.
Two other players are taking a short nap. Most of them have been here since the shootaround ended at 2 p.m., relaxing, resting, getting into game mode. And so it begins.
Wednesday marked Stanford's first game, an exhibition against UC San Diego, the first time that the players pulled on their uniforms this season and played against an opponent.
"We wore the uniforms for picture day, but that doesn't compare," says freshman Bonnie Samuelson, grinning on her way into the locker room on game day for the first time in her college career. "It's pretty exciting."
James comes out of the locker room, making a quick phone call to her dad.
For James, this is a new start and a different experience than a year ago. She did not play major minutes as a freshman. She's looking to play a bigger role as a sophomore on the wing.
"I'm more relaxed this year," James says. "Last year was a big adjustment."
Out in the hall, longtime team trainer Marcella Shorty brings out the pile of brand-new game towels from the coaches' lounge -- so fresh that the clean smell is still coming off of them.
Junior Mikaela Ruef stops to talk with Shorty. Ruef is undergoing rehab for plantar fasciitis and will miss both of the Cardinal's exhibition games. Coach Tara VanDerveer wants to give Ruef time to heal.
Assistant coach Trina Patterson is the first of the coaches to arrive downstairs. It's her first game day at Stanford as well, so that's no surprise.
Senior Sarah Boothe makes her way in, throwing the door open and shouting to the group, "Ready for game day?"
And just a few minutes later, the music starts -- a little Lupe Fiasco "The Show Goes On" -- and the locker room door is propped open.
The Cardinal players are moving around now, some of them making their way to the training room for tape. Others are still arriving, like junior Joslyn Tinkle, who passes freshman Alex Green in the doorway.
"You guys are here early, geez," Tinkle says. "I'm a vet."
Freshman guard Amber Orrange, the team's most highly rated recruit, says it was "hard" to sleep last night.
Like the night before Christmas?
She nods, smiles and ducks in to the locker room.
Jasmine Camp, another of the six freshmen, looks like she's walking laps. She's in her own world, with her headphones on, passing down the same stretch of hallway three times.
"Just warming up," she says. "No, I'm looking for [strength and conditioning coach] Susan Borchardt."
Borchardt is out on the court rebounding while Ruef gets some shooting in.
About 10 minutes later, five of the six freshmen are on the floor at Maples, shooting around, warming up, working out their nerves.
Senior Lindy La Rocque comes out for the last first game of the season in her college career.
"I know, it's weird," La Rocque says.
Nneka Ogwumike and sister Chiney come out to the floor, with Nneka letting the marketing director know that she's having technical difficulties with the pregame warm-up music playlist.
The staff improvises, and "Twist and Shout" comes blaring through the speakers. The players respond by twisting, laughing and singing.
UC San Diego, ranked No. 13 in the country in the national Division II poll, enters the building at 5:30 p.m., peering through the curtains to watch the Cardinal warm up. With 75 minutes on the clock before tipoff, Stanford breaks into pregame warm-up drills.
VanDerveer makes her way to the bench after the drills have started. Despite her plethora of freshmen, she's going with a veteran starting lineup of sophomores Toni Kokenis and Chiney Ogwumike and James, and seniors Nneka Ogwumike and La Rocque.
The freshmen will come in off the bench.
"They don't know what we are doing just yet," VanDerveer says.
When the entire roster is introduced before tipoff, Payne -- who grew up 45 miles away in the East Bay -- bounds from her spot near the bench onto the floor; her parents are in the family section.
The crowd is decent, a couple of thousand coming out for the exhibition
The Ogwumike sisters lead the pep talk in the huddle, and the Cardinal are off.
Camp is the first freshman in at 17:20 in the first half, and scores the first basket of her career on a dribble-drive 30 seconds later.
It is not dramatic and it is not supposed to be, as the Cardinal win 106-56.
The freshmen comport themselves well. Samuelson comes off the bench to hit five 3-pointers for 15 points. Orrange finishes with six points and seven assists. Camp has seven points and six rebounds.
Greenfield, Payne and Green all had moments of promise.
"That was fun," VanDerveer says. "This group is really growing on me."
Did she see any nerves?
"I didn't," VanDerveer says. "Did I miss something?"
Orrange helpfully points out, "I dribbled the ball off my foot the first time I touched it."
The fifth-ranked Cardinal will play one more exhibition on Saturday afternoon against Vanguard before opening the season Nov. 11 at No. 20 Texas.
But by the end of Wednesday night, the Cardinal have put the first game under their belts.
"So relieved," Samuelson says.