There is a lot that is new for Stanford as they start a full practice schedule this week. There are four freshmen, new assistant coach Lindy La Rocque and, just to keep things interesting, a new offense.
Each time they’re on the court the Cardinal are taking steps to build a new team after losing an elite trio of leaders: Erica McCall, Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson. Players and coaches have been tight lipped about how much will be different on the court this season, but they all agree it was necessary to give them their best chance of reaching the program’s 14th Final Four.
“Tara obviously knows what she is doing and has been doing it for a few years now,” deadpanned senior Kaylee Johnson. “I think it is a good idea because it’s a very different team. I don’t know if we would win if we did the same things that we did last year. I think not trying to force us to be the same team as last year, force people into the same roles, this allows us to really optimize what we have and try to fit people into roles that will make them most successful.
“We’re all learning different things, a newer system, and I’m excited. I really like it and I think that we’re all committed to it and really invested to try to make this work. I’m excited to see how much we have improved from the first few practices in the summer, to Italy to now. I think it’s looking promising.”
Helping the transition is a former Stanford guard, La Rocque. While a student-athlete on The Farm she was known for her toughness on the court and trying to cram as much basketball knowledge as she could into her brain.
“Coming to work everyday I still have the biggest smile on my face,” she said. “I don’t think that will ever go away because this place is so awesome. That’s not a surprise because I knew how awesome this place was as a student.”
She was called “coach” as a player and there were times when the actual coaches would lean on her ability to quickly take in new information to explain it back to the team. She is putting that natural ability to understand the game to help teach Cardinal players going through a transition.
“It’s going great," La Rocque said. "It’s new for everyone. So, that’s kind of a cool, weird feeling ... (and) it’s something that is bringing us all together because we all want to be good.”
La Rocque works with the guards, but she said that is a broad term that can also include wings. Senior Brittany McPhee is one of the players who can fit into either category.
“It’s awesome,” she said of La Rocque joining the staff. “It’s always good to get different perspectives. Amy is still around so it’s good to still see her. Lindy has a ton of experience playing here and she was super successful, so we really value what she has to say.”
McPhee and Johnson are the only two seniors on the team. They understand there is a greater expectation of leadership from them this season.
Johnson doesn’t see her role on the court dramatically changing, though. Her strengths are rebounding and playing tough defense, which fits into her mentality to be a facilitator for her teammates to be successful.
She has a similar job off the court and she emphasized how important it will be to maintain the team culture that was built last season.
That process got a big boost during the Italy trip, which was an interesting experience for La Rocque, who went to Italy as a Stanford player.
“To be on the other side was cool to watch some of the eyes of our players light up when we went into the Colosseum. We did some really special sightseeing,” she said.
“That trip especially helps everyone grow together very quickly and get to know each other. It’s similar to the trip when I was a player. That’s really where great friendships are forged and the games obviously help us figure what is going on. We got some court experience that we really can’t duplicate at any practice.”
Favorite class for this quarter
The quarter is still young for Stanford students, which means it will be over in no time at all. Johnson is a political science major and McPhee's is human biology. They each shared a class they're excited about for this quarter.
McPhee: "Orthopedic exam. We learn about all the tests you do when you get a sports injury so that’s kind of cool."
Johnson: "Justice. It’s a political philosophy class so it drives me crazy because you never have a right answer. It’s also a lot of fun. I’m in it with Alexa (Romano). I feel like such a nerd. We leave class and we’re still talking about the same problems. Walking into the gym we’re talking about the same problems. I’m like, ‘Stop, I’m not actually a nerd. It just seems like it.'"