FRESNO, Calif. — Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer recalls how during Dawn Staley’s college days at Virginia she wore a rubberband on her right wrist and snapped it each time she committed a turnover.
VanDerveer remembers how much she enjoyed coaching the ultra-competitive Staley on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team that captured gold in Atlanta. VanDerveer always told it straight, and that’s what fueled the tough Staley, who grew up honing her game on the playgrounds of Philadelphia.
“When Tara found out we were playing South Carolina, she was ecstatic,” sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike said. “She was like, ‘Yeah, we’re playing Dawn Staley’s crew!’”
Tonight, VanDerveer’s top-seeded Cardinal (33-1) will face Staley’s No. 5 seed South Carolina team (25-9) in the NCAA Tournament’s Fresno Regional semifinals, with Stanford looking to extend its school-record 30-game winning streak and take another step toward reaching a fifth consecutive Final Four.
“Coaching Dawn was just awesome. I loved coaching her,” VanDerveer said Friday. “She’s a competitor more than anything else.”
A humble one at that. The Gamecocks played at Stanford last season, and Staley invited VanDerveer to the visiting locker room to give her players a pep talk. And Staley spoke to VanDerveer’s players at a 2007 tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands when Staley was still at Temple.
The Cardinal had just whipped South Carolina 70-32 in November 2010 when Staley asked her former coach to spend a few minutes with the Gamecocks players. VanDerveer also coached Staley assistant Nikki McCray.
“You don’t really hear a lot of relationships like that when it comes to different coaches,” said Stanford leading scorer Nnemkadi Ogwumike. “It’s nice to see those different types of dynamics. It’s really cool. They have a lot of history together.”