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The Bigger The Better
KELLI ANDERSON
November 23, 2009
With Jayne Appel in the middle of a lineup that opponents have to look up to, Stanford spies a national title within its reach
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November 23, 2009

The Bigger The Better

With Jayne Appel in the middle of a lineup that opponents have to look up to, Stanford spies a national title within its reach

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Paye says she has never known a player "more unselfish or more willing to accept coaching and criticism." Few players anywhere are tougher physically and mentally or more respected, both by teammates—"[When] Jayne stands up, the team stands up," says Gold-Onwude—and opponents.

"In the scouting report on Jayne you have to say, 'This player can do it all,'" says UCLA's Caldwell. "When a player can command a double-team and still make you pay for it, that's greatness."

Growing up in Pleasant Hill, a sleepy commuter town in the East Bay area, along with three imposing, athletic brothers, Appel abided by the house rules: no TV on weekdays; if you're not outside playing, you're inside doing chores; and no blood, no foul. As competitive as her family was—"In our Thanksgiving line you better take all that you want, otherwise you have to finish first to get seconds," she says—Appel credits much of her grit to her roles on her nonbasketball teams: She was a goalie on her youth soccer team and the hole set on the Carondelet High water polo team, a position (analogous to basketball's center) that absorbs so much physical abuse she went through three swimsuits her senior year. "It was great for making you tough mentally too," she says. "It really was sink or swim."

Water polo also helped refine the passing and ambidextrous shooting skills that her father, Joe, a lawyer who played hoops collegiately for St. Mary's (in Moraga, Calif.) in the '70s, drilled into her when he was her CYO coach. "I can still picture him on the baseline holding up his left hand," says Appel. "Now I find myself doing it to my teammates. If you're on the left side, shoot lefthanded!"

Says 6'4" junior Kayla Pedersen, "You give Jayne the ball down low and she'll score on you at will. If she's quadrupled, she'll find someone else. And yes, I have seen her quadrupled."

Pedersen, a communication and psychology major from Fountain Hills, Ariz., is such a pillar of dependability that teammates consult her as they would an almanac. What time is practice? When is breakfast? When does the bus leave? "Kayla just knows," says Gold-Onwude. "On the court you don't have to say anything to her because she's already doing whatever she's supposed to be doing. She is the Given."

Pedersen has had to master two very different roles in Stanford's triangle offense. After playing power forward her freshman year (averaging 12.6 points and 8.4 rebounds), Pedersen moved to the wing last season and contributed 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds a game while serving, no surprise, as a team captain. "Her stats weren't eye-popping, but when you watched the film later you saw she did all the right things—boxed this person out, was at the right spot," says Tucker. "Nothing rattles her; she is a rock."

Last year the power forward spot was often filled by the hyperathletic former gymnast Nnemkadi (Nneka) Ogwumike, a relative shrimp at 6'2" who makes up for her lack of stature with a 30-inch vertical leap. She led the Pac-10 with 62.9% shooting, averaged 10.6 points and 6.1 rebounds, and otherwise made a strong case to be Stanford's third straight Pac-10 freshman of the year (following Appel and Pedersen)—but the award instead went to USC's Briana Gilbreath. Feeling slighted, Ogwumike went off in the NCAA tournament, averaging 15.0 points and 9.4 rebounds in five postseason games. "I wanted to show people I belonged up there too," she says.

In addition to a stint with the gold-medal-winning U.S. under-19 world championship team (for which she averaged a team-high 13.6 points and 9.9 rebounds), Ogwumike worked on her shooting and ballhandling this summer with her 6'3" sister Chiney, the consensus top 2010 recruit, who just signed with Stanford. Nneka's coaches are anticipating a breakout year. "In practice when a shot goes up you see her hand up there grabbing the ball, and there's no one even close," says assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey. "I told her, 'Nneka, in the first five minutes of a game, you should have five rebounds. Who will stop you?' She doesn't even know what she is capable of."

Ogwumike's fellow sophomore Boothe, a native of Gurnee, Ill., who endures a lot of grief from Appel for her Chicago accent—"I didn't even know I had an accent until I got out here," she says—is another young Big loaded with skill and upside. Like Appel, she grew up among towering brothers and learned how to box out at the dinner line as well as on the court. She, too, is difficult to stop around the basket. And like Appel, who had arthroscopic surgery on her left meniscus in June, Boothe spent the summer sidelined. On May 28 she had surgery to repair a stress fracture of the navicular bone in her right foot. Given that injury's lengthy healing process, Boothe, whom VanDerveer calls "a big-time player," might be redshirted this year.

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