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Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - February 25, 2011

Seniors going out in style

Cardinal class could be first to play in four Final Fours

by Rick Eymer

Stanford seniors Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen have been part of three teams that have reached the Final Four, twice reaching the NCAA national championship contest. They have already played themselves into Stanford women's basketball history.

Now they have a chance, along with fellow seniors Ashley Cimino, Melanie Murphy and Hannah Donaghe (who has a year of eligibility remaining), to do what no other senior class has been able to accomplish — reaching four consecutive Final Fours.

The only thing missing with this group is a national title. They are talented enough to finally break on through to the other side.

The regular season ends next Thursday with an 8 p.m. home game against California. Senior Night is always emotional.

The conference tournament opens the following Friday, March 11, and then Stanford returns to Maples Pavilion to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

The class of 1993 won 88 of its first 98 games, won two national championships and reached the semifinals in-between. That group finished 26-6 in 1993 and lost in the second round to Georgia. Its four-year total was 114-16, a winning percentage of .877.

The class of 1998, which ran into bad luck on the injury front the week before the NCAA tournament that final year, was 93-8 in the first three years with appearances in three straight Final Fours, but no championship appearances.

The seniors were 21-6 in their final season (114-14 overall, .890) but lost in the first round, at home, to Harvard. It's still the only time a 16th seed knocked off a No. 1 seed in men's or women's college basketball.

The 1998 team still holds the school record for field-goal accuracy, hitting .521 percent of their shots over the course of the season.

Pedersen, Pohlen and the other current seniors accumulated a 104-11 mark their first three years. At 128-13 and counting (entering last night's game against Oregon State), these seniors have a chance to become the most accomplished. Should the second-ranked Cardinal (24-2) win out, it would tie the school record for wins in a season (matching last year's total of 36) and punctuate its hold on the Stanford community's imagination.

Pedersen started alongside Candice Wiggins in the 2008 championship game against Tennessee. Pohlen played 11 minutes.

Pohlen joined Pedersen in the starting lineup, alongside Jayne Appel, for the next two trips to the Final Four, both times losing to Connecticut — once in the semifinals and again in the finals last season.

This year's Senior Night can truly be a celebration. With the Pac-10 title likely already in hand, and, with it, the top seed in the upcoming Pac-10 tournament, it might be worth it to reflect on Pedersen's and Pohlen's accomplishments.

Pedersen, Pohlen and Nnemkadi Ogwumike are all on the Naismith Trophy Midseason List, and are also on the State Farm Wade Trophy Watch List, while Ogwumike and Pedersen are on the John R. Wooden Award List.

Pedersen was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and rose to the level of All-American and Team USA member by the time she was a junior.

No one has played more minutes in a Cardinal uniform than Pedersen. She entered Thursday's action with 4,413 minutes of playing time, 265 minutes longer than Virginia Sourlis' 4,148 minutes through 1986. That's the equivalent of nearly seven extra games.

She's seventh all-time in scoring with 1,821 points and second in rebounds with 1,187.

Pedersen was also named a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, joining a list of nine other senior women's basketball players around the nation. Selected for her achievements and contributions on the court, in the classroom and in the community, Pedersen will attempt to become the second Stanford player to earn the honor, following Wiggins in 2008.

Pohlen was good enough to play in all 39 games as a freshman and has continued to improve to the point where she's part of the conversation as being the best point guard in the nation, a spot she grew into over the years. She's certainly a first team All-American candidate.

Pohlen named to the Nancy Lieberman Award, given annually to the nation's top point guard. She has 515 career assists, sixth on the school's all-time list, just behind former All-Americans Nicole Powell and Jamila Wideman.

Only Wiggins has attempted and made more 3-pointers than Pohlen during a Stanford career and Pohlen has a good shot at the single-season record of 91, set by Krista Rappahahn in 2006 (Wiggins made 90 the same year). Pohlen has 72 on the year, nine fewer than her personal best of 83 two years ago.

What coach Tara VanDerveer started, with Jennifer Azzi in the 1986-87 season, has continued its circular motion with Pedersen and Pohlen. And there's freshman Chiney Ogwumike starting alongside the two seniors, with freshman Toni Kokenis one of the first players off the bench. The more lineups change, the more, well, just call it perpetual talent.

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