March 15, 2011RATTO ARCHIVE
STANFORD PAGERay RattoCSNBayArea.com
Tara VanDerveer is a profoundly irritating figure in Bay Area sports history, because she never really irritates.Well, not never. Everybody gets on someones wick at some point or other, and VanDerveer is a high-profile coach in what is often a low-profile pursuit. Feelings have been ruffled, and they will be so again. Thats just the way it plays.But what irritates most about VanDerveer is the relentless sameness of the Stanford womens basketball product. They nearly always win. They are nearly always among the three or four best teams in the nation at their pursuit. They nearly always play the same way, emphasizing the same strengths. And they are never an easy out.She was always able to use persistent excellence as a form of camouflage, because during the life of her tenure at Stanford, there was nearly always at least one mens team to make the NCAA Tournament and pull eyes off her own win factory. Even when she was named a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame, she was met in these parts with a rousing, Well, yeah. That makes sense. Why the hell not?But with the seven postseason brackets now filled, and the only ones untouched a Bay Area presence being the NCAA mens tournament (the one everyone pays attention to) and the Womens WBI Tournament (the one nobodys ever paid attention to), the field is clear for VanDerveer to be noticed in a way she never has before, at least not locally.
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And what were going to find is that she and her program are no different now than they ever were.Stanfords sameness has been its glory and its curse throughout VanDerveers tenure. The Cardinal are a national player in a sport where theres always been one team more dominant Tennessee first, then Connecticut. The Louisiana Tech days preceded Van Derveer, in case you want to make a thing out of that.And the sameness of the results are equally vexing to those of us who like spiced variety. Runners-up in 2010. Semifinalist in 2009. Runners-up in 2008. Quarterfinalist in 2004-5-6. Early exits in 1998-9-2000-1-2. Semifinalist in 1995-6-7.
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You want hardship? There was the first-round loss at home to Harvard in 98, and Maine in 1999. Thats not hardship, though. Thats just weirdness. Stanford womens basketball isnt about hardship. Its about being the same team all the time.Well, that and the glass ceiling. To be as good as they are and yet entering the 19th year without a national title seems like good fortune to most, but it is VanDerveers . . . well, curse-let, is probably the best way to put it. Its not like theyve been persistently jobbed near the finish line by inferior teams. They just havent been the drop-dead best team in almost two decades.Well, this may be their moment. Spring training is still grinding along. There is no nonsensical off-season football. The Warriors are dead, the Kings are dead and probably relocating. The Sharks dont start playoffs until well past the end of the womens season. The mens programs are NIT-level and below, at least this year. SaberCats and Earthquakes Fever have not yet reached any kind of pitch, and maybe never have (though thats a discussion for another time).
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This then, kids, is the local window that the Cardinal can exploit for their own benefits and maybe make VanDerveer more than the household name afterthought she has been consigned to so long. Not that she needs the recognition. People know who she is. They know shes good. They just tend to overlook how good she is.But the steady hum of their success doesnt have the spike that comes with a title. They could stand one, while the rest of the hall is filled with people just sitting and watching for a change.What's your take? Email Ray and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag. Follow Ray on Twitter @RattoCSN.