More than 30 years later, Azzi can hear her trainer’s voice clearly.
“I have a vision of where you are going to go,” Azzi recalls VanDerveer, often saying, “And I won’t stop until you get there.” This persistence in seeing is not an optical illusion. It is VanDerveer’s superpower, the persistence to focus on what matters longer than anyone, a ceaseless pursuit of better that has led them through both breathtaking, consistent excellence and excruciating defeats on the greatest stages.
VanDerveer was again at the forefront of the sport on Sunday, 29 years after she last led the Cardinal to an NCAA women’s national basketball championship. She won her first title in 1990 with an Azzi-led squad and celebrated a second two years later. Although VanDerveer and Stanford had maintained a championship level for three decades, their most glorious visions were continually distorted.
The game mocked her. After the 1992 title, the program made it into the Final Four ten times without cutting the networks. The Cardinal was such a machine that he even made it to the national semi-finals in 1996, the year VanDerveer coached the US women’s national team. But they stayed behind.
Include six losses in the Elite Eight, and the Cardinal made 16 deep runs in those 29 years. They stayed on the cutting edge of the sport just to feel the blade instead of using it. VanDerveers teams lost twice in the title game, to a 36-2 squad in Tennessee in 2008 (the late Pat Summitt’s last championship) and to a 39-0 Connecticut juggernaut in 2010. They lost two semi-finals by a single point against Old Dominion in 1997 and 2011 at Texas A&M. From 2008 to 2014 VanDerveer led her to the Final Four six times in seven tournaments, but she was denied title No. 3. Finally, the torture of is almost over.
When Arizona security guard Aari McDonald’s bounced off the back of the rim on Sunday, Stanford was able to celebrate this incredibly difficult title. The cardinal held back his Pac-12 rival (54:53) just like they overtook South Carolina by one point in the semifinals. After the heartbreak of the past 29 years, Stanford may get the luck of a nailing couple of victories. But while some of the games have been painful over the years, VanDerveer wasn’t a tortured coach. She didn’t feel incomplete, just motivated. Your vision of a single player or an entire team doesn’t necessarily include a trophy. And their intransigence has nothing to do with improving their legacy.
“That’s why I’m not training,” said the 67-year-old VanDerveer on Sunday evening during a video conference after the game in San Antonio. “I wanted to be a teacher.”
Even in her moment, VanDerveer decided to review the film for a bigger lesson. “I really told our team before the game that whether we won this game or not it doesn’t change you as a person.”
“I’ve had some amazing teams – Kate Starbird’s team in 1997 – that we lost in the semi-finals. It’s heartbreaking to go through this. I know that these women are kind of on the shoulders of these women. “Former players would be so proud to be part of this team because of the resilience they have shown and the sorority they represent. I’m excited about this team, but also about all the women out there who played at Stanford. “
Of course, VanDerveer would spread love. That’s who she is. And this season has been too difficult for too many for the coach to accomplish the achievement of her legacy. But it is fitting that in our most difficult years we had reason to stop and toast VanDerveer often. In December she won her 1,099. Play and overtake Summitt as the most successful coach in the history of women’s college basketball.
Now, with her 1,125. Victory, she is three-time national champion. But VanDerveer will remember this season as a season of endurance. She wonders how her team handled a pandemic and been evicted all season due to local coronavirus restrictions. She admitted entertaining thoughts of ending the season at least for a while out of concern for the players’ physical and mental health. She struggled with every facet of this season. She didn’t need this reward, but she is grateful to have it.
“This is the time we live in,” said VanDerveer. “Sometimes you just have to stick with things. For me as a coach, you want to win a national championship. We shot at it. I’ve had heartbreak with teams that had great chances of winning it. But this team won and I’m so proud of them for what we could call the Covid Championship. It could have an asterisk. But it was harder to be down here. “
No asterisk is required unless there is a detailed description of what an emotional, rewarding ride has been over the past three weeks. From having difficult conversations about sexism and inequality to appreciating the gripping drama of the tournament, the entire experience was good for women’s basketball.
We should emerge from this with a deeper understanding of the virtue of the game and the importance of celebrating it. We should come out of this and think about everything VanDerveer has given the game and see the benefits of faith and commitment.
“This program is what it is about Tara,” said Haley Jones, the tournament’s most outstanding player. “The legacy she created… it’s just a blessing to be here now. So many great players have gone through this program. They all came for the same reason we have: to be trained by the greatest to develop you not only as a player but also as a person, as a young woman. I think it’s just an honor to be able to do this for and with her. “Stanford players have been saying the same thing for decades. “
It’s been a huge influence, ”said Azzi, who trained in San Francisco before becoming the school’s assistant vice president of development. “She’s so intellectual and detail-oriented about the game. It is only wired to coach and analyze the most specific aspects. You learn something whenever you are around her. “
The Sunday of classes was a Sunday of grace. After waiting 29 years, VanDerveer did not breathe out. She definitely wasn’t boasting. She decided to take a long journey into perspective.
Your vision remains strong as always.