Only a handful of college basketball players ever reach the Final Four, but for Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Lindy La Rocque and Grace Mashore, it’s a spring ritual.
When the Stanford women’s basketball team tips off against Baylor (38-0) at in Denver on Sunday, the Cardinal’s three seniors will achieve a rare feat: playing in the Final Four for the fourth time in their college careers.
“I say to [my assistants] can you believe this?” coach Tara VanDerveer said. “To me, it’s spectacular.”
As a program, this will be Stanford’s fifth straight Final Four appearance, tying a record set by Connecticut (which has done it twice as of Monday) and LSU.
VanDerveer said team camaraderie and selflessness have been keys throughout the five-year run.
“It’s not always that way,” she said, adding: “It’s related to great leadership.”
Nneka Ogwumike (22.5 points per game, 10.3 rebounds per game) was selected to the All-America first team this week. But the family atmosphere she’s created in the locker room isn’t something that shows up on the stat sheet.
“[Senior leadership is] just one characteristic that I don’t think any [other player] in this country truly has,” said Nneka’s sister Chiney.
While Ogwumike sets the culture, La Rocque is the team’s model of humility. As a junior, La Rocque started 29 games in the Cardinal backcourt. But this year, she’s accepted a role coming off of the bench to make way for freshman point guard Amber Orrange.
“Instead of saying, ‘Amber is starting in place of me, I hope she falls down,’ [La Rocque] is talking to Amber the whole game — helping her,” VanDerveer said.
The team’s third senior, Mashore, shows the underclassmen who don’t get a lot of playing time how to still put the team first. She’s averaged only 2.1 minutes per game this season, but she’s embraced her role: Play hard in practice to get the starters ready for game day.
“Grace is obviously a very, very hard worker,” said Nneka Ogwumike. “She does whatever she’s able to do to contribute to our team.”
In addition to four Final Fours, this crop of seniors took home four-conference titles while not losing a single home game. Chiney Ogwumike said a national championship would the perfect ending to their incredible run.
“I think that would be the ultimate going away present,” she said.