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April 4, 2009
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
THE MODERATOR: Pleased to be joined up here on the podium by Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer as well as student-athletes Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen.
COACH VANDERVEER: Thank you, Amy. We're really excited to be here. Our team has worked, I think, very hard all season long, and we've improved a lot.
And we're very excited to have an opportunity to play in the Final Four and to play Connecticut. We have our work cut out for ourselves, but we're confident we'll do a good job.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for student-athletes.
Q. Kayla, I know I've asked you this already, and I apologize, but I'm going to ask it again anyway. Can you talk about how you view this year's team's toughness, especially now that you're going against a team that's purported to be, perhaps, the toughest in the country?
KAYLA PEDERSEN: I think that defines our team right now, especially with those big losses at the beginning of the year. I think we really got after it and worked hard and everybody adjusted to their new roles.
And I think that takes a lot of mental toughness, more than physical. And I think that we're running the floor better. We're stronger. Just in every aspect of the game I just think we're more cohesive and tough together.
Q. Jayne, you guys have won pretty decisively in the last few weeks, do you have any sense if in a late-game situation, if it's to, say, a two-possession game late in the game, how you guys are going to react?
JAYNE APPEL: I think that even though the scores might have seemed like they were big games for us, we felt they were close the entire game, especially for us, Ohio State, we felt it was an extremely close game the entire time.
So I think we'll have confidence if that situation were to come up against Connecticut.
Q. Jayne, could you just talk about the success that you have had individually during this tournament as well as your matchup with Tina Charles tomorrow night?
JAYNE APPEL: I couldn't take any credit, really, for my individual success without my teammates. It takes all five of us on the court and really all 12 of us on our team in order for me to achieve what I have so far this season.
They push me every day in practice. Sarah Boothe has become one of my -- we all dread guarding her in practice because she has elbows that just go everywhere. So I give all the credit to my teammates.
And in terms of the matchup with Tina Charles, I think she's a great post player. We definitely have our work cut out for us, and it will definitely be a team effort in stopping her and their other great players.
Q. Jayne, do you still have the promise with your coach that she has to get a tattoo this year if you guys go?
JAYNE APPEL: Yes, we do. We decided -- we don't know what it's going to be yet. We decided it's going to be on her foot. That's as far as we've gotten.
Q. Going against a tough team like UConn, how do you mentally prepare to win this game as well as balance being student-athletes?
JAYNE APPEL: I think we have to go and play with confidence is one thing and come out and not be timid and be able to try and react to runs they're going to make.
KAYLA PEDERSEN: I didn't bring any of my books with me here because I wanted to focus on the Final Four. But, yeah, we just started a new quarter so we're not really worried about academics right now. So we're just totally mentally focused.
JAYNE APPEL: We did have to finish finals last regionals so that was pretty tough.
KAYLA PEDERSEN: But we're mentally ready to go.
Q. Jayne, I'll ask you this. For fans or for outsiders they see this rematch as kind of a dÃ©jÃ vu for obvious reasons. But talking to Connecticut players, they didn't put necessarily a whole lot of focus on that, even though a lot of people are returning. What's it like for you guys?
JAYNE APPEL: I think we feel the same way. I feel like both teams are extremely different in the -- not only the style of play but the players who have a big impact on the team.
Last year we relied a lot on Candice to do a lot for us and they had a different starting lineup as well. Definitely I agree with them in the sense that they were two different teams taking the floor, so it's not so much a big rematch as it is just the names matching up again.
Q. Do you have any stories about some of your early battles with Tina over the years in AAU?
JAYNE APPEL: On the court? I mean, we've battled it out every summer. We've played AU basketball actually -- Melanie Murphy on our team was her teammate when they played for the Gazelles, I believe. So I always give Mel a hard time. They had this whole Gazelle chant they used to do. So we've played since seventh grade against each other. So she's one of my great friends off the court, but on the court we're going to battle it out.
Q. Kayla, there's a perception that Connecticut's strength is in its transition. Most of the teams that have played them have marveled at how fast they get up and down the floor. How would you classify Stanford as a transition team, and do you think you can keep pace with them?
KAYLA PEDERSEN: I think that one of the things we take pride in is our ability to run. And I don't think a lot of those people give us credit for that. But that's our game. We run the floor. No other post can run like Jayne can.
So it will definitely be a fast-paced game.
Q. Jayne and Kayla, you talk about UConn being on a mission since they lost to you guys last year in the Final Four. Just talk about the mission that you're on, too, as a team this year after losing in the title game last year.
JAYNE APPEL: I think it's the same motivation that we want to get back to where we were and get to where we're knocking on the door of happening. It was so close last year and playing in the championship game. But we had a lot of work to do in the off season. We've really changed.
Even Coach has told us if I were to take a bet from the beginning of the year to now on how much improvement we've made and how much of a different team we are in just one year, starting from the beginning to now, it's a dramatic difference. So I think we've definitely worked really hard to get to this point so far.
KAYLA PEDERSEN: Yeah, I mean, everybody remembers what it felt like to lose to Tennessee last year. I think that makes us really hungry and we don't want to be in that same position; at the same time, we're not content just being here. We're here to play to win. And we've been here before. So that's our next step. We want to get the whole thing now.
Q. Jayne and Kayla, I realize Wiggins is gone and UConn has also lost their seniors, but is there confidence to be gained as to how the matchup against the existing players played out in Final Four and how you guys were able to play Maya and Renee and Tina Charles?
KAYLA PEDERSEN: Yeah, we have -- I know JJ's not here for us and Candice isn't here. But us two are playing, Jill, Jeanette, we had crucial roles in the last game, same as their players.
So it is a similar matchup but not totally the same.
JAYNE APPEL: I think there's the experience that both teams gained last year. I know I think the first time anyone comes to a Final Four it's a whirlwind of a weekend. I was more nervous for the open practice than I was for the actual game.
So I think that this year it will be I think for both teams, you know, a lot more, okay, we're here to play a game instead of it's great, we're at the Final Four, it's always fun activities going on. But I think it's more focus and get down to business.
Q. Jayne and Kayla, how is this a different experience than it was last year, maybe from the moment you guys won that Iowa State game to sort of getting back here?
JAYNE APPEL: I think it was more of an expectation rather than some goal that we hadn't achieved yet. I know Candace worked extremely hard during her four years to get to that point.
So I think this year we have the mindset we weren't going to be happy unless we got here and had a chance to compete in the Final Four.
KAYLA PEDERSEN: I think last year like after winning the Maryland game I was ecstatic because nobody thought we'd ever get to the Final Four. But after the Iowa State game we were all excited. But from the very beginning of the year that's what we knew we wanted to do and we were capable of it. So it really was expected.
Q. How is the preparation and the emotion different going into a game where you're the underdog rather than the favorite?
JAYNE APPEL: We were the underdog all last year. And I don't really think we really take that into account, we prepared exactly the same way. Our coaches provided us with hours of film, scouting reports that have everything on it that you could imagine.
So I think that we go into the same preparation mode, the same energy amount that we have with the past games. That's why we do it against the teams every year or every game during the season, so we can know how to prepare for a team in a game of that stature.
KAYLA PEDERSEN: Yeah, I think if we were the No. 1 seed or the 16 seed we'd still act the same way. We get the same amount of scouting reports on every single team, handle every team the same way, pregame ritual is the same.
So there's nothing really that much more special about being an underdog or about on top of the world. So we just handle everything the same way. We just want to play. It doesn't really matter what position we're in; we're just going to play.
Q. Jayne, can you tell us -- I'm sure you've told the story many times since you've been back from Storrs, but what was that trip like for you and how did your dad survive that trip on the way back?
JAYNE APPEL: He's walking now. No, but it was a great trip. There's a bunch of schools back East. It ended up the whole plan of the trip was to see Tennessee play Connecticut in Connecticut. And we were walking the shoot-around, and being from California my entire life and my dad grew up in Redondo Beach, he slipped on black ice. I didn't even know it existed. He dislocated and fractured his ankle when we were outside of shoot-arounds. He had to watch the game I think it was about less than five miles from the hospital and I got to go to the game and watch it. He was kind of mad he had to miss the game. He stayed a few extra days and had surgery. He's fine now.
Q. (Off microphone)?
JAYNE APPEL: UConn is a tremendous program. They put a lot of energy into recruiting me, and I went through their entire process. I think it just came down to me wanting to play with my friends and family and Stanford was the perfect fit for me and I couldn't be happier with where I am.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Tara, could you just comment on the evolution of Jayne's season this year? I think she started the year coming off shoulder and knee surgery and has she not only played her way into shape but into the best basketball of her career?
COACH VANDERVEER: She had shoulder surgery last spring, was out for six months. And she made the commitment that she was going to come back in great shape. Last year for us she had to play basically 39 minutes a game and we were watching last year's semifinal game and just the announcers repeatedly talked about how gassed she was, how tired she was. She was actually sick when she was here, too.
But she said, you know, the funny thing about that, she said, I thought I was in shape. And she really made a commitment in the off-season to really improve her conditioning. She changed her eating, eating more nutritionally and she's much fitter this year.
And unfortunately right in the beginning of our practices, right in the beginning of September, the beginning of October, rather, she had to have her knee scoped. So she was out with her knee surgery a little bit. So she was upset about that. But she has come back.
She's really the focal point of our offense. We go inside to Jayne and we let things happen through her. And she's a great passer. She's an incredibly unselfish and smart player. And just depending upon how teams play her, then she'll go with the flow. If she's doubled, she passes. If she's singed she'll work on taking her move. She'll rebound. She plays defense.
She's had some real extreme games. Like she's get six points in some games and 46 in another game. But she's the same person either way.
Q. In late-game situations, I know you've said there were a couple of games that felt more uncomfortable than maybe the scoreboard indicated they were. But if this is a tight game, if this is a two-possession game with a few minutes left, do you feel good about where your team is?
COACH VANDERVEER: You know, probably as a coach you're probably more comfortable if you're up 20 with a few minutes to go or one minute to go. But I think Jayne said it, the Ohio State game was a close game. Came down it was a four-point game. Maybe with three minutes to go.
And this is what we work on every day in practice. We might not have that many close games. But I don't think Connecticut does either. We have been in close games with really great teams. And I think we've learned what to do and also what not to do.
So who knows. A lot of it comes down you have to make free throws. You have to make maybe adjustments. But I feel confident that our players know what we need them to do and will do it whether it's a 2- or 20-point game.
Q. Could you comment on the development of Jeanette Pohlen, how she's assumed the role of point guard and how her off-season helped prepare her for that?
COACH VANDERVEER: That's a great question. Honestly, we would not be here today without Jeanette making the same decision that Jayne made in the off-season to really maximize her potential.
You know, a lot of players think you become a player during the season and practicing with your team, and in fact it's just the opposite. And I think that since the NCAA in some ways has the 20-hour rule they feel like we're done with practice, we're done. And Jeanette, not only in the off-season in the spring, but she changed what she eats. She eats much healthier and nutritionally-sound food.
She has improved her conditioning tremendously, worked on her skills, her 3-point shooting and ball handling and she was going to play for us no matter who else came back. So she was either going to play the 1, 2 or 3 for us and she was going to be out there.
It just so happened that the 1 spot was the one that was really open. And she has embraced it. And she's doing a great job running our team.
Q. Coach Geno and his girls talked about how they wanted to really run and run and run and how you all would try to slow the pace down a little bit. And it sounded like your players maybe wanted to take on the challenge a little bit. And you've mentioned your conditioning and that's obviously a real key role in that. But whether or not how successful you are at slowing it down a little bit, a game's that got that much transitioning and that much running a lot of times can turn on not necessarily the starters but your bench. Tell me a little bit about your depth and how prepared you think you might be for a game where you are going to be having to run a lot of people in and out because of the pace.
COACH VANDERVEER: You never know what is really going to happen tomorrow. But our team likes to play up-tempo. We like to run. And obviously Connecticut does, too. We'll play people sparingly.
So I'm not going to just substitute you go in, you go in, you go in, but if Jayne needs an extra minute, we'll put Sarah Boothe in. If Jill needs it, we'll bring in Rosalyn Gold-Onwude.
We've played three people off the bench the most, Lindy La Rocque, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and Sarah Boothe. But Melanie Murphy can go right in. She's doing really well. And we could play Michelle Harrison. I feel confident going 10 deep in limited minutes. But that's all depending upon the situation. And I look out there and we have to run the floor with Connecticut. You have to do some things and that's one of the things that's at the top of the list.
Q. Could you look back seven, eight years ago and talk about the differences, not just in the sport itself, but the Final Four experience and everything that goes around this event?
COACH VANDERVEER: Seven or eight years ago we weren't here. We had been here and probably noticed a difference last year so much because it's just that much bigger. There's so much more coverage. There's so many more things going on. The arena's full. I mean, it's a great experience for -- it's always been a great experience. But now it's just that much -- there's much more exposure for women's basketball, and you see it at the Final Four.
Q. I was wondering, Geno was talking a little bit about before Tina and it seems like Jayne as well, they're two of the most imposing centers in the country, but they're also just like such nice kids, like he picks on Tina sometimes and says like carry yourself, but they're both such nice kids but they're both All-Americans today.
COACH VANDERVEER: I would include Courtney Paris. She's, of course, quite an imposing center also. You know, these are women that are -- they're really comfortable with themselves and who they are, and you can just tell being around them that they love the game of basketball. But Jayne was wearing heels like that big last night. I got on a chair to take a picture with her.
And that's just -- I think that just points towards, I don't know, the changes, the progressive changes that have come with women being in sports, how they're very comfortable being out there battling and being aggressive and being physical and then being off the court, painting their nails, and they're kids.
Sometimes we forget how young they are and kind of the things that make them laugh. But they are really outstanding young student-athletes, and as you said I think especially the three that are here in this tournament, the three centers, are phenomenal centers. And how often do you get three that good coming through the same time?
Q. How would you sum up the senior season Jillian has had?
COACH VANDERVEER: Thanks for coming down for the tournament. It's great. Jill's had a phenomenal senior year, and I think a lot of it -- I know she was Player of the Year in Oregon two times and led the state in scoring.
She's really expanded her game. She was more of a post player in high school. She's a 2 guard on our team right now. Her ball handling, her shooting. But I think she's just had an outstanding senior year because of her summer with the New Zealand Olympic team. That experience really kind of broadened her horizon in terms of understanding how people play, how hard they work at the game, how big it is internationally.
And I think it's really helped her confidence a lot. But I'm going to really miss Jill and to know I could only coach her for two more games makes me really sad.
Q. I know you haven't coached an undefeated team in college but you had the experience with the U.S. team a couple years back. Could you talk what the pressure is like of having to coach a team that doesn't lose or hasn't lost and just what you've seen? I'm sure you've seen a lot of Connecticut this year, not on film. What's it like and the pressure that as a coach to try to get a team motivated every game and also the pressure of not having lost?
COACH VANDERVEER: My hat's off to Geno and his staff and the great year that Connecticut's having. I don't know. It makes me nervous. In some ways, you know, with us, we've learned a lot from losing. And you remember we lost some games early on. Or we even lost a game in the Pac-10.
And when you lose, it reminds you how much you hate to lose. And it really -- I think it helps us refocus. So he handles it well. And he's coached national championship teams that have gone undefeated and obviously they have great talent.
I was very nervous when we had the Olympic team and we kept winning and kept winning, and I wondered are there things we're not doing, are there things that we should be doing better?
But, again, they're having a great year, and he seems to be very comfortable with it. Maybe we'll be in that situation some day and I could answer the question better.
Q. What advice would you give to a young player who would want to play for a team like Stanford?
COACH VANDERVEER: Great question. First of all, I think that in order to play at the collegiate level, Division I or Division II and Division III, you really have to have discipline.
And you have to be disciplined in your studies and disciplined in your workouts. And really challenge yourself to use your time wisely. And that's the thing that I see with our student-athletes, is that they really manage their time well.
They might have time for a little like maybe video game, but not a lot. And they really manage their time well. They study. They are able to prioritize their studying and their workouts. But that would be the best advice is be very disciplined.
Q. I know your answer to this is that's a stupid question. Do you expect to win tomorrow?
COACH VANDERVEER: You know, I don't know that I ever expect to win. In any game that we go into, I don't expect to win. I feel that our team has to do the right things in order to earn the right to win. So I never go into a game expecting to win.
I anticipate we try to work really hard to prepare our team to do everything possible to be in a situation to be successful. But I don't expect to win any games.
Q. I was wondering if you could comment on the unique challenges facing the freshmen players on your team, being that they weren't with you when your team made this run last year, and also, if I may, the contributions you expect them to have in tomorrow's game, particularly from Nnemkadi Ogwumike?
COACH VANDERVEER: Nnemkadi was here, not playing, but she was here watching last year because she was here with the WBCA High School All-Americans and in fact played in the game that is going on this afternoon. But it is new for them, and we are counting on them to do the things they've been doing for us all year in Nnemkadi Ogwumike's situation: start the game, defend well, rebound well and take care of the ball and play and contribute.
And we don't have time for freshmanitis or jitters, whatever, it's one game, 40 minutes. We're also expecting great contributions from Sarah Boothe and Lindy La Rocque. Those three freshmen have performed very well for us all year, and we're hoping and expecting the same.
Q. One, either Joanne or Charlie talk to you at all after playing UConn in Trenton?
COACH VANDERVEER: I've spoken with both, yes.
Q. And second one is, did playing UConn last year early in the season and getting your butt kicked help you prepare for seeing them in the Final Four; that you've already played them once and had some idea what they brought and knew what you had to do better as opposed to this year where you haven't played them at all?
COACH VANDERVEER: I think last year's loss to them early helped us a lot. And I thank them for us being in the Final Four because without playing them I don't know that I could have gotten our team's attention in terms of how hard we had to practice, the pace that we had to play at.
Connecticut does a phenomenal job of just the pace they play at. They have great athletes, and their coaches and players have played at the highest level, and that's how they play.
And our team learned a lot from the Virgin Islands loss. I think a lot of players remember that, and they also remember last year. So we have the benefit of knowing if we don't do the right thing what it could be in terms of the bad side, and then knowing if we do the right thing what it could be on the good side.
So I don't know that it does -- the other two teams have played Connecticut. We haven't. But we played them as close to last year -- as close to in this year as you could.
Q. How does the team feel different today than it did a week ago today?
COACH VANDERVEER: A week ago we had just -- today's Saturday. We hadn't played yet. So we were getting ready for Ohio State. And it was kind of the first game of two games obviously at the regional.
Honestly, I feel the same way. You want to come in and win two games. Our team has been on this trip, like I think Jayne alluded to it a little bit -- our team has been very business-like on this trip.
I see just like really good focus on what we're working on, whether it's video. And I think it's great that our team has finished finals. Last week at this time people were kind of tired and they had been doing their finals this week. They're well rested. They've taken care of their finals.
They're very locked into our scouting report and doing the things we need to do to be successful against UConn. And having been here and having played them, I get a sense of calm. I mean, we know they're a great team.
We know what they like to do. Everyone knows what they like to do. But our team likes the challenge of saying, well, we're going to play our game. And they're excited about it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
End of FastScripts