After four years playing at the pinnacle of women’s college baseball, Stanford’s Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen are looking to conclude their incredible careers by capturing the ultimate prize of an NCAA Championship.
The Cardinal are competing in their fourth consecutive Final Four, and Pedersen and Pohlen have been an integral part in each of those journeys. But, it is the duo’s final performance that they are hoping will be the one basketball fans will remember.
Stanford is only the fourth school to accomplish the feat of four consecutive Final Fours, tying LSU (2004-08), Connecticut (2000-04, 2008-11) and Tennessee (1986-89, 1995-98, 2002-05), and Pedersen and Pohlen have played in a school-record 149 of the games during the Cardinal’s amazing stretch.
As freshmen, Pedersen and Pohlen were on the squad that fell to Tennessee in the title game, while last year they suffered a heart-breaking 53-47 loss to Connecticut after holding the Huskies to just 12 points at halftime.
|Stanford’s Journey to the Final Four|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Stanford beat No. 16 UC Davis 86-59; No. 9 St. John’s 75-49; No. 5 North Carolina 72-65; No. 11 Gonzaga 72-60.
STARS: Two-time All-America junior forward Nnemkaki Ogwumike is averaging 21.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 61.4 percent in four games in this year’s NCAA Tournament, and was the Spokane Regional’s Most Outstanding Player. Ogwukmike’s younger sister Chiney is also having a stellar tournament, posting double-double figures in four contests with a 14.3 scoring average and 10.8 rebounds per game.
DID YOU KNOW? Of the schools that have advanced to four consecutive Final Fours, only LSU’s run from 2004 to 2008 failed to produce a national title.
“I guess maybe because this is our last chance, we are a little bit more anxious, knowing that we won’t have any more games after this season,” Pohlen, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, said. “It puts a little bit into perspective. It’s been a great career here, and I think leaving with a national championship would be icing on the cake.”
Pohlen, a guard from Brea, Calif., who is averaging 14.6 points per game, feels that she and her teammates are more focused on taking home the trophy, but are also more relaxed than in past years. Pedersen, who is averaging 12.8 ppg and 7.9 rpg, agrees with her classmate.
“We’re more focused,” Pedersen said. “I think we’re more concentrated on what we need to do, how to get the job done. But at the same time, this is probably the most relaxed I’ve felt out of all, my Final Fours. I’m just trying to enjoy every moment, trying to have fun with my teammates.”
Head coach Tara VanDerveer has led 10 different Stanford teams to the Final Four, including the 1990 and 1992 national title squads, but this group of seniors feels a distinct sense of urgency after three previous tries at a championship.
“I think there is a sense that, when you’re here you want to win it,” VanDerveer said. “And our team – our seniors, they really want to win it very badly, not having won it, having been here and been so close.”
“I know Kayla and I have talked about it’s such a privilege to be here, and we’re very grateful to have been able to make it this far for four years,” Pohlen said. “But we definitely haven’t gotten the job done each time we’ve been here.”
The Cardinal is riding a 27-game winning streak heading into Sunday’s semifinal game against Texas A&M. Stanford has won its four NCAA Tournament games by a margin of 20.8 points, and both Pohlen and Pedersen are averaging in double figures.
“They’re playing very motivated, playing hungry,” VanDerveer said. “But I don’t want them to put pressure on themselves, nor do I put pressure on myself or any of the other people on the team.”
The pair may not be feeling pressure from their coach, but they definitely have their sights set on a win against the Aggies, and eventually cutting down the nets in Indianapolis after Tuesday’s championship game.
“We’re going to leave everyone on the floor,” Pederson said. “Whatever happens happens, just as long as all of us just lay it all out there for each other.”
Pohlen and Pedersen’s relentless drive for an NCAA trophy has also made an impression on their younger teammates.
“I think experience is what carried us here and they are poised and consistent,” freshman Chiney Ogwumike said. “Our leaders have shown us the way and now that we are here, we are not as nervous. We are determined. I think the whole aura of our team is just determination to get the job done no matter what.”