January 14, 2014

Reflections on 900 Wins!

Last month in Mexico, our team won a game that was my 900th win as a college head coach. We all took pictures in front of a nice banner (compliments of Fast Break Club member Su Schaffer who flew down for the tournament!). The game (and some of my bleeped comments during the game) was chronicled by a Pac-12 camera crew. I was up late answering hundreds of text and email messages from many thoughtful people. Some coaches reminded me that they had contributed to the 900! Later that evening our team met and watched video. We had a cake specially made as a surprise from the hotel chef to celebrate. After 15 minutes, we were back to video for the game the next day!

At our first home game after returning home, we had a postgame celebration (actually win 902!). WOW! There were sunglasses (designed by Toni Kokenis), cool 900-win shirts, the 900 game ball, a framed Stanford jersey numbered 900 and a sextant from Nike! (You ask why a sextant? That is another story!) Stanford University President Hennessy along with Athletic Director Bernard Muir congratulated me at half-court. I was TOTALLY surprised by my mother who with great friend and fan Nancy Sabbag showed up at my house the night before the celebration!

I am a person who lives in the present. I also don't like to be the center of attention. I will say that 900 wins did get me thinking and reflecting on all those games so I thought I would share 13 of the 900 that REALLY stand out in my mind.

1. Idaho vs. Western Washington, 1978: Our point guard was Willette White, who is currently an assistant at Utah! This game stands out because we were beaten REALLY badly by them earlier in the season. Our team simulated the Western Washington offense every day in practice to get ready for the rematch and the hard work paid off! We also went from a gym where I pulled the bleachers out (maybe could seat 25) to drawing over 3,000 for our AIAW Tournament game at the end of the season!

2. Ohio State vs. South Carolina, 1980: This was my first year at Ohio State. Our team was a .500 team just learning a new system. South Carolina had been in the Final Four the year before. They were LOADED! My sister Marie was in grad school at OSU. She had a class but told me she would be at the game at halftime. I told her, "The game might be over by halftime." Marie looked at me and told me, "Well, if you don't believe you can win, why would your players?" This may have been one of the biggest upset wins of my career. Thank you, Marie, for the important lesson!

3. Ohio State vs. Iowa, 1985: On the way to the Sunday afternoon game, I said to my assistant, "Did church just let out? Where are all of these people going?" My assistant replied, "They are all coming to our game, Tara." Iowa Head Coach C. Vivian Stringer and I stood together looking into a packed Carver-Hawkeye Arena. All the yellow and black made it looked like a beehive. This was a women's basketball record attendance - 22,157. We were down 12 at half time but the 2-time Big Ten Champions pulled it out!

4. Stanford vs. Tennessee, 1989: After losing to Tennessee in Knoxville in 1988, I went back to my hotel room distraught. Could we ever beat them? Thanks to my sister Heidi, we broke down the game tape all through the night. When Tennessee came to Stanford the next year the game was a break out game. Led by Jennifer Azzi, Sonja Henning, and Stacy Parsons in the backcourt along with Trisha Stevens, Katy Steding, and Val Whiting up front, we prevailed for the first time over the Lady Vols!

5. Stanford vs. Arkansas, 1990: This game was only the second time Stanford had been in the Elite Eight. The year before we had lost to Louisiana Tech with Venus Lacy. After that game, I said, "How can we beat them?" Associate Head Coach Amy Tucker said, "We have (incoming super frosh) Val (Whiting) next year!" We played the game at Stanford. There were 7 of the top 20 teams in our West Bracket. The Sweet Sixteen game before had been a nail biter vs. Mississippi. We barely survived. Afterwards I told our team, "Pack for spring break. If we continue to play like this we will not get to Knoxville." As I entered Maples for the Arkansas game, one of the "red coats" (ushers) handed me a note. It was from Jennifer and it said, "Tara relax, this one is for you!" We played GREAT, scoring over 100 and we even had a 6-point play! That was an incredible atmosphere. The bouncy Maples floor and band played on and on! I never wanted that night to end! We would go on to win Stanford's first NCAA Championship in Knoxville. Our team and band celebrated at the Azzi house that night. It was AWESOME!

6. Stanford vs. Tennessee, 1991: Without Sonja and Jennifer our backcourt had some new faces - welcome Molly Goodenbour and Christy Hedgpeth! The frontcourt had Rachel Hemmer, Chris MacMurdo and old timer Val Whiting. We also had a great captain in Ann Adkins. We were down 10 with just 2 minutes left in the game at Maples. Behind really loud fans we mounted a tremendous comeback. The last play was an inbounds offensive rebound that freshman Rachel Hemmer grabbed and put in to seal the victory. Beating Tennessee became a good omen! Our team went on that year to beat Dawn Staley's Virginia team and Western Kentucky to win the 1992 NCAA Championship!

7. Stanford vs. Oregon, 1997 and 2003: Playing at Mac Court was ALWAYS tough! For 2 years Oregon won the Pac-10. They had great crowds and Mac Court had the BEST popcorn in the league! I picked 2 games because in each game we were able to make spectacular plays at the end of the game. First in 1997 with only seconds remaining we ran a side out of bounds play for Kate Starbird. She came off a double screen and knocked down a 3 pointer to win the game! In the same gym six years later, down 1 with 3.3 seconds, post T'Nae Thiel threw a long bomb to Nicole Powell who was TACKLED going to the basket. It felt like an eternity but finally the whistle blew and Nicole calmly sank 2 FT to win.

8. Stanford vs. Vanderbilt, 2004: This year we were a 6-seed. After beating Missouri and Oklahoma (the 3-seed), we were not welcomed warmly in Norman for the Regionals! The newspaper reporters didn't give us much of a chance against the Commodores. Behind a great team effort led by Susan King, Sebnem Kimyacioglu, T'Nae, Nicole and the heroine of the game Kelley Suminski, we fought hard. Again it came down to the last play. We called a clear out for Nicole. As she started her move she was doubled. She pitched to Kelley and just like she had practiced over and over in her NJ driveway - nothing but net! Kelley's vertical after that made basket had to be 40 plus inches!!!

10. Stanford vs. Maryland, 2008: After struggling to get back to the Final Four, this Candice Wiggins lead team got us back in a BIG way! Candice along with Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen, Ros Gold-Onwude, and JJ Hones took down the defending National Champions with brilliant passing and shooting. This was a team that didn't want to stop playing with each other! We went on to beat UConn in Tampa before our loss in the Championship game to Tennessee.

11. Stanford vs. Xavier, 2010: Another Regional Final game. Xavier was BIG. I mean REALLY BIG! It was not a pretty game. Both teams struggled to make shots. On top of that Jayne fouled out. Freshman Joslyn Tinkle responded with great play! The game was tight. We were down 2 with under 30 seconds. Ros smartly fouled. They missed both FT. We came back and always-steady Kayla Pedersen put a shot up that bounced on every piece of the rim before dropping in. With the game tied and Xavier ball, we knew who was getting the shot - All-American Amber Harris. We doubled her but didn't rotate to the player under the basket. The open player missed two point-blank shots that would have put Xavier ahead. After the rebound and time out, Associate Head Coach Amy Tucker drew up the game-winning play and Jeannette Pohlen took it the length of the court in 4.4 seconds for an ESPN Top 10 Sports Center highlight!

12. Stanford vs. UConn, 2010: I hope you were at this game! Maples was ELECTRIC! Behind the great shooting of Jeanette (31 pts), the hustle play of Kayla, rebounding of Nneka, and defense by Chiney and Jos, we broke the amazing record of 90 wins. Coincidentally we had been the last team to beat them, as Notre Dame was the bookend with the UCLA men's record.

13. Stanford vs. Baylor, 2012: This was a game that no one thought we had a chance to win. We had lost to Baylor in the national semifinal the year before. They had gone 40-0 and looked unstoppable. Our team didn't get that memo way over in beautiful Hawaii. What a game Chiney, Mikaela, Taylor, Toni, Amber and Jos had! Our team followed the game plan flawlessly. We shot the ball extremely well. It was too bad the game wasn't televised because it was a great game. On the final play Baylor was down 2 with a side line out of bounds. Everyone in the gym knew where the ball was going. We sandwiched Brittany and the shot fell short. ALOHA!!!

There are so many other games that I could reflect on. I have been so fortunate to work with outstanding assistants and coach incredibly talented players. Each year and team is amazing to work with. Why did I pick 13? If you watch our team this season you know 13 is a great number! I am excited about this year's team and our Pac-12 season! I hope you will have a chance to see our team this season. A top game that really stands out could happen and you don't want to miss it!

-Tara VanDerveer

Note: Tara's blog was originally posted to the Stanford WBB Alum newsletter.


  1. Unfortunately, I did not witness all of these games, but those I did are vividly described and I appreciate the description of those beyond my personal experience.

    I think this is an excellent selection of memorable games. Thanks, Tara.

  2. Thanks, Tara. I was able to appreciate in person many of the games you have described so well. Thanks for being here coach, and contributing to the FBC blog!

    1. Oops, I forgot to mention what an honor it was to be at your 900th win in Vallarta! Congrats again.