Q&A with head coach VanDerveer and sophomore Maya Dodson
Stanford is back to work and with three new faces. The Cardinal had a fast paced practice Tuesday with freshmen Lexie and Lacie Hull and Jenna Brown absorbing information as fast as they could take it in from Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer and their teammates.
VanDerveer and rising sophomore center Maya Dodson talked about what they took away from last season and the work to get ready for the next campaign.
When you look back at last season and the progress made, how do you feel about where the program is right now?
"You always look at games and you think we could have, should have won that game. You learn from losses. We have a lot to learn from last season. I will say that this past year's team with great leadership from Brittany McPhee and Kaylee Johnson, they were an extremely resilient team. If there's nothing else, that's something to be really proud of. The team stuck together with great camaraderie, great cohesiveness. It was tough with the injuries and the schedule that we played, the start that we had, for them to pull out of a tailspin like that is really impressive.
"We finished second in the Pac-12, an extremely competitive conference. Personally I thought if we finished second, why don't we get a three seed (in the NCAA Tournament)? Going to the Sweet 16, there were times last year when I wasn't even sure we were going to the tournament. I'm extremely proud of the team -- how hard they worked, how they stuck together and how much they improved. And now we need to build on the success and have the sting of losing still in us, which is still in me.
"We don't want to be that team that is happy to be in the tournament. We expect to go to the tournament. We expect to go to the Sweet 16. Our goal is to go to the Final Four and win a national championship. We have to get back on that horse."
Last year with the loss of Erica McCall, Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson there were specific categories that it was obvious people would need to step up to replace. How do you that process this season and what is missing without Kaylee Johnson and Brittany McPhee?
"Britt was a great creator. She created her own shot and created shots for other people. She was an attacker. Kayl was a great rebounder. She graduated as one of our top (career) rebounders and shot blockers. We do have a lot to replace. Two isn't as many as three, but when you look at over the past two years we're replacing a lot.
"This is where it's going to be a great opportunity. You have someone like Kiana (Williams) who had a spectacular freshman year. We're going to need her to have an even better sophomore year. We need Maya Dodson to step up. Nadia (Fingall) -- a lot of people who were maybe role players last year are going to have to be our stars, our centerpiece players. I don't know who that's going to be just, yet."
You started last season against elite teams. You ended the season against Louisville, another elite team. What was the biggest impact the Louisville game had on you in terms of assessing where you are and where you're trying to get to?
"Louisville was more physical. They were more aggressive. They rebounded much better than we did. We turned the ball over too much against them. I wasn't impressed with our defense. Our defense had been a strong suit of ours all year long and our defense let us down. We stayed with them early, we were scoring, and we need to improve. They have a great player (Asia Durr). A player of the year candidate, an All-American, she's fantastic. We can be better. I'm very confident that we'll work very hard. I think our team had a great spring, academically and conditioning wise. Things are going in the right direction. We were a young team last year and we're still a young team."
One of the players you just mentioned is Maya Dodson. Maya seems to be a player who is capable of a significant jump. When you look at Maya, how much of her is unmolded clay?
"She's extremely coachable. She's a very bright player and great teammate. We have to unleash that potential. I think she's working really hard in the offseason. I saw just in the one little practice we had yesterday, I saw improvement. She knows we're going to be counting on her and I think she has to be ready to deliver.
"Whether it's Maya, Nadia, Shannon (Coffee) -- the only tested post player is Alanna (Smith). So, Alanna is going to have to hold down the fort. Who is going to play with her? Maybe Alyssa (Jerome). We're playing her at the four a little bit. And try to figure out some different things for these people to do."
Last year much was made of changes to the offense. Some of the things that happened was Stanford got to the free throw line less than the previous year and more three pointers went up? How happy were you with how many shots were threes and what year one produced?
"We'll always tweak things a little bit more. I'm not going to say it was the offense, but we need to shoot the three better. More teams played us in zone and we need to finish at the free throw line better and get to the line more. So, we definitely need to be more aggressive."
How would you assess the defensive performance?
"I think that has to improve. What I see with our team right now with basically 15 players, you can only play five at a time. Someone is going to figure out, 'I want to be out there. I'm going to work extra hard in the summer. I want to start and be All Pac-12. I want to play 30 minutes a game.' We're not going to play 15 people. People are going to decide in the offseason that they want to be the person out there. We've always had great role players and they're really key. We value everyone's contribution. But this is the time people individually decide, and collectively as a team decides that there are a lot of real positives from last year's team but there were some things that stick in my craw that we want to do better."
How does it feel getting back to work?
"It's great. The second year I understand things a little bit better and I'm just trying to work and get ready for the season."
What does feel different heading into your second season?
"I think just being able to know what's coming. When you're a freshman everything is new. Now with one year under my belt I'm able to know what's going on and that helps out a lot."
What were the biggest differences from the start of your freshman year to the end?
"I think the biggest thing was being confident. It's really hard coming in and everything is new, everyone is stronger and faster. You have to be confident in what you're doing. Finding that confidence is the one thing I tried to work on."
In terms of the speed and physicality of the college game, how much of a leap did it end up being?
"I think it's always going to be different from what you expect. You can think about what it's going to be, but it's definitely different. After a while you get accustomed to it. It wasn't too bad."
What are the goals you're working on that are immediately in front of you?
"I think it's always getting stronger and in better shape. Also, find moves that I can score with around the basket. That's definitely something I need to work on."
With diversifying your offensive game, how much of that is building up what you're comfortable and how much of that is seeing what the other posts do?
"I think last year was more seeing what the other posts do to know what moves you can do in college. Some high school moves that I would do obviously don't work in college. I think now in this summer I'm of course still looking at Alanna, Nadia and Shannon, but also now trying to find moves that are more tailored to my style of play."
Defensively, if you can target an area on the ball and off the ball that you want to get better?
"I think on the ball, still trying to play better defense and be more aggressive. Off the ball, I think sometimes it's easy to not move. Maybe try to get in passing lanes more. There are always little things on defense you can work on."
This will be a different summer than last because you had a big trip to Italy with games. What have the coaches set for team goals by the end of the summer?
"With the trip it was helpful because we got to play against older, more experienced teams. I think it's still going to be the same mindset, but obviously we won't have as much practice and be able to play games. I think it's more on us, since we don't have practice, to work on our skills."