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Stanford Women’s Basketball: Tara VanDerveer reaches 1,000 victories

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Her former players reflect on their outstanding friend and coach

NCAA Women's Final Four - Texas A&M v Stanford Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Tara VanDerveer is a Stanford legend, but now, she will also go down in the history books. Tonight, Coach VanDerveer reached 1,000 career wins after beating USC, which is a milestone very few have reached. In a storied career, Coach VanDerveer is best known for her coaching abilities, but to her players, she is more than a coach; she’s an incredible mentor as well.

Coach VanDerveer has been coaching basketball ever since she graduated from Indiana University in 1975. At Indiana, she played on the women’s basketball team but also took tips from Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight. VanDerveer watched men’s practices and even took a coaching class from Knight himself.

After college, she took over a girl’s High School JV basketball team and went 8-0 in her first year. Then she found an assistant position at Ohio State, where she earned a master’s degree in sports administration. Two years later in 1978, she became the head coach for Idaho and turned the team into a winning program. However, she returned to Ohio State within two years, and the Buckeyes became a national powerhouse, but by 1985 Stanford was struggling and needed a new head coach. Two national championships and a countless number of wins later, VanDerveer remains at Stanford today.

At Stanford, VanDerveer has found immense success. She guided Stanford to two NCAA championship titles in 1990 and 1992, eleven final four appearances, and eleven PAC-12 titles. However, after listening to her players, her accomplishments are not surprising; Coach VanDerveer does not settle for less. Former Stanford All-American and San Antonio Star Jayne Appel-Marinelli said, “She definitely pushes you and was never satisfied. She always expected more and wanted you to be outside your comfort zone. She never let you get away with anything.”

Another theme in VanDerveer’s coaching style is her emphasis on leadership, and as a leader herself, Coach VanDerveer has made a big impact on many young women. Specifically, WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike recently helped lead the Los Angeles Sparks to a WNBA championship, and Tara VanDerveer played a huge role shaping Ogwumike into a leader.

The former Stanford standout reflected, “[Tara] saw my potential and coached me with leadership in mind. A lot of my work ethic and passion stemmed from what she saw in me before I did.” She would further say, “Playing for Tara meant leading by example. She lives by integrity and passion. I relate to this as I try to live by my actions.” There’s no doubt Tara’s influence has helped turned Ogwumike into the star she is today by teaching leadership.

VanDerveer has a fantastic ability to coach, but what makes her truly special is her ability to connect with her players. Her players don’t think of her as a coach; they think of her as a friend and mentor. Jayne Appel-Marinelli described VanDerveer as her “family” and noted that VanDerveer attended her wedding and still checks in during her WNBA career. Appel-Marinelli is extremely appreciative of Coach VanDerveer’s support and stated, “That’s quite a force to have behind you; it gives you a lot of confidence.”

Furthermore, Ogwumike also noticed the confidence she received from her former coach and explained, “I'm less critical of myself because of Tara. She helped me understand my strengths and how to grow from them, but most importantly, she helped see weaknesses as opportunity. There's always time to get better if you're willing to, but in the meantime, do what you know you can do and to the best of your ability.”

Although VanDerveer may appear serious on the court, she has another side many people don’t see. Fans only watch VanDerveer during games, but off the court and behind the scenes, VanDerveer has a sense of humor. Ogwumike stated, “Many people who don't know [Coach VanDerveer] perceive her as quiet and succinct, but Tara may be the funniest and most laid back person I know.”

With her team, VanDerveer isn’t afraid to share a laugh. For example, VanDerveer promised to get a Stanford tattoo if her team won the national championship at the end of the year while Jayne Appel-Marinelli was still in school. In another instance, Nneka Ogwumike and her Stanford teammates took VanDerveer’s personal belongings, and on Halloween, they all went to VanDerveer’s house dressed as different versions of their coach. With a sense of humor, Coach VanDerveer has built strong relationships with her players.

Ultimately, VanDerveer would not have reached her 1000th win without being competitive. In recent years, Stanford has competed at a national level and has broken two incredible winning streaks. In 2010, UCONN arrived at Maples Pavillion after winning 90 straight games, but Tara VanDerveer and Stanford would not allow the streak to continue. Then in 2013, VanDerveer’s team beat UCONN again and snapped a 47-game winning streak.

Despite being the underdog against the nation’s best, VanDerveer’s competitive mindset would not let her give up, and she implements that mindset when she goes head to head with her players. While at Stanford, Appel-Marinelli would occasionally pair up with VanDerveer in a two-versus-two game. Appel-Marinelli and her coach would play against Stanford’s assistant coach Kate Paye and the player of her choice. Despite the age difference, VanDerveer isn’t afraid to be competitive against her players, and her competitive mindset has shown on her path to 1,000 wins.

Reaching 1,000 wins is almost unprecedented; only two other coaches in college basketball have reached the incredible milestone, Pat Summitt and Mike Krzyzewski. In 2011, VanDerveer joined the basketball greats after being inducted into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but now she has joined an even more elite club. 1,000 career wins seems almost unimaginable as it takes dedication and love for the sport, and on her path, Tara VanDerveer has influenced a countless number of women including Nneka Ogwumike and Jayne Appel-Marinelli. Both players had messages for their former coach and were extremely appreciative for her:

Ogwumike expressed:

“Congratulations coach! You've established such a winning culture at Stanford that I thought your 900th win was your 1000th! But, this is a milestone, and I'm grateful to have been a part of this legacy. It's no surprise you've reached this part of your journey, and I'm very proud of you!”

And Jayne Appel-Marinelli said:

“I would like to say congratulations and to thank her for letting me be a part of the process and recruiting me to Stanford. It’s an incredible thing to be a part of. Hopefully, she sticks around for another 1000 wins and will coach my kids when they go to Stanford.”

For Tara VanDerveer, it’s been an incredible journey, and she’s truly a once in a lifetime coach and mentor. Congratulations, coach.