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May 26, 2024

VanDerveer Makes History as Winningest College Basketball Coach

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Jan 23, 2024

Tara VanDerveer cemented her place in college basketball history on Sunday with her record-breaking 1,203rd career win as head coach of the Stanford Cardinal women’s basketball team. VanDerveer passed legendary Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski for the most all-time wins by a Division I basketball coach.

Lead Up to the Historic Night

VanDerveer entered Sunday night’s game needing just one win to surpass Krzyzewski’s mark of 1,202 victories set in 2015. The basketball world has been waiting with bated breath ever since the Cardinal’s 82-54 win over USC Friday night.

“I’m trying not to think about it,” VanDerveer said heading into the weekend. “I just want our team to play well and compete.”

Her Cardinal squad faced the Pacific Tigers Sunday night, entering as 35-point favorites. The game figured to be little more than a formality with history on the line.

And yet, Pacific came out firing. The underdogs led by as many as six points in the first half behind the hot shooting of Elizabeth Elliott. Elliott’s 15 first-half points kept the game close early on.

“We knew it was going to be a dog fight,” Cardinal forward Cameron Brink said. “Those first few minutes were rocky but we turned it on defensively and took back control.”

Defense has been the Cardinal’s calling card under VanDerveer. Her teams have finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense 23 times in her previous 37 years stalking the sidelines. This year’s squad came into Sunday third in the country allowing just 50.1 points per game.

That staunch defense shone through after Pacific’s opening barrage. The Cardinal held the Tigers without a field goal for over six minutes to close the first half. An 11-1 run fueled by Brink gave Stanford a 31-26 lead at the break. They would not trail again.

Team 1st Quarter 2nd Quarter 3rd Quarter 4th Quarter Final
Stanford Cardinal 14 17 16 18 65
Pacific Tigers 16 10 12 18 56

Making Her Mark in the Record Books

The second half saw Stanford methodically stretch the lead thanks to superior talent and trademark execution. VanDerveer played 10 players at least 10 minutes as her deep rotation continued to wear down Pacific.

Brink recorded her second straight double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds to lead a balanced Cardinal attack. The junior All-American said the team rallied around their Hall of Fame coach as history approached.

“You could feel the energy start to change as we all realized how close we were to that special moment for her,” Brink said. “To be a small part of something so historic is really indescribable.”

With under three minutes remaining and an 11-point Stanford lead, those remaining in Maples Pavilion rose to their feet. Chants of “Tara! Tara!” echoed throughout the building in anticipation of what was to come. The coach said she was nearly brought to tears in the closing moments.

“I honestly lost my composure there at the end, thinking about all the incredible players I’ve worked with,” she said. “It’s quite overwhelming.”

The final buzzer sounded, sealing VanDerveer’s 1,203rd triumph. Cardinal players mobbed their leader at midcourt as history was made.

The Long Road to the Top

Tara VanDerveer’s place among the sport’s elite was never guaranteed. Growing up before the passage of Title XI, opportunities for female athletes to compete at the highest levels scarcely existed.

After a playing career at Albany, VanDerveer got into coaching as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1975. There were no full-time staff positions available for women’s teams then.

She caught on as head coach at the University of Idaho in 1978 and spent three years there before moving to Ohio State. The success she enjoyed in the middle of the country landed her the Stanford job in 1985.

Inheriting a Cardinal program with modest expectations, VanDerveer transformed them into a West Coast powerhouse. Her early years introduced the nation to stars like Jennifer Azzi and Katy Steding. The 1990 squad brought Stanford its first Final Four appearance ever.

Seasons School Wins National Championships
1978-81 Idaho 67 0
1981-85 Ohio State 110 0
1985-Current Stanford 1,026 3

VanDerveer’s success went beyond just Stanford too. She took a year sabbatical in 1995-96 to lead the US Women’s National team to an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta. Her blend of compassion and work ethic resonated with collegiate stars seeking the ultimate glory.

“I wasn’t the most talented player by any means,” said 1996 tournament MVP Ruthie Bolton, “but she gave me a chance and taught me how to bring out the absolute best in myself.”

Bolton joined Azzi, Steding and many others who became lifelong devotees to their champion coach.

VanDerveer returned to Stanford the following year and nearly went back-to-back. The Cardinal lost on a last-second shot in the 1997 National Championship game against Tennessee. She didn’t have to wait long for the ultimate victory, however…

The Thrill of Victory

A commanding Stanford team powered through the NCAA Tournament unbeaten in 1992 to give VanDerveer her first National Championship.

Led by the senior guard troika of Sonja Henning, Molly Goodenbour and Christy Hedgpeth, they capped their run by routing SEC powerhouse Auburn 78-62. Goodenbour drained six first-half 3-pointers to bury the Tigers early and send the Stanford faithful into a frenzy.

“I think Tara was actually more excited that night than when she got her record,” Goodenbour said Sunday. “She really knows how to keep the spotlight on her players.”

That milestone 1992 squad laid the foundation for Stanford developing into an annual contender over the next 30 years.

VanDerveer teams made the Final Four 10 times between 1992 and 2022. Two of those saw them cut down the nets as national champions.

The Cardinal repeated as champs in 1996 behind the play of future No. 1 WNBA Draft pick Jamila Wideman. A decade later, Nnemkadi Ogwumike led them back to the promised land in 2008.

VanDerveer joins legend Pat Summit (Tennessee) as the only D1 coaches with more than two national championships in women’s play. Her three titles tie her with Geno Auriemma (UConn) among active coaches.

What Comes Next?

At 70 years young, retirement does not appear imminent for the Hall of Famer. VanDerveer said Krzyzewski’s example gives her hope she has many years left improving the game she loves.

“What Coach K did was prove it’s possible to adapt as the sport changes without losing your fire,” she said. “I feel like a kid again being out there with this team. Why walk away from that?”

The Cardinal are 16-3 and sit No. 2 in the rankings as they pursue yet another Final Four under VanDerveer’s guidance. Brink and sophomore Kiki Iriafen give her a formidable duo to build around into next decade.

Stanford also plays host to the NCAA Women’s Final Four in March, 2025. VanDerveer has eyes on competing for a storybook ending in the very gym where she made history.

“I’m not worried about retirement parties or anything like that yet,” she says. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting back to championship level with this squad.”

Wherever the journey takes Cardinal WBB from here, their sideline leader now tops the sport for all-time success. Tara VanDerveer’s name rings out alone atop basketball’s coaching pantheon after four arduous decades reaching the pinnacle.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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