Tara VanDerveer may have been unhappy her Stanford team was seeded second in the Spokane Regional of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, but Marie Clemons more than made up for it.
Of course Clemons would have been ecstatic if Maryland were a 16 seed instead of the No. 1, as long as the Terrapins have the chance to make it to Spokane if they win their first two games.
“I think it’s wonderful,” the Spokane grandmother said. “We’re just thrilled.”
And rightly so, since her grandson, Daron Park, is a first-year Maryland assistant, the one who got all the television time when his boss, Brenda Frese, was unavailable for road games prior to recently giving birth to twins.
“My only concern is it’s such a long way and you know how tired these kids get,” said Clemons, whose daughter, Janet Weaver, graduated from U-Hi before attending Washington and settling in Montana, where Park was born. “But we’re thrilled to see that boy.”
The Spokane Regional, which determines one of the Final Four participants, is March 29 and 31, with two Sweet 16 games Saturday and the Elite Eight game on Monday.
Maryland (30-3) is the top seed and considered the strongest team in the bracket, much to the dismay of Stanford (30-3), judging by the Cardinal reaction during the announcement on ESPN.
Both teams are expected to reach Spokane, the second time the city has hosted a regional final, since they play their first two games at home.
At College Park, Md., the Terrapins face 16th-seeded Coppin State (22-11) Sunday. That winner then plays the winner of Nebraska (20-11)-Xavier (24-8) on Tuesday.
At Stanford, the Cardinal meets 15th-seeded Cleveland State (19-13) Saturday. That winner faces either Texas-El Paso (27-3) or Western Kentucky (26-7) on Monday.
The other two teams will advance to Spokane out of games in Albuquerque, played Saturday and Monday.
The other favorites are third-seeded Baylor (23-4), which faces Fresno State (22-10), and fourth-seeded Vanderbilt (23-8), which meets Montana (25-6).
New Mexico (20-12), the 12th seed, has a decided home-court advantage over fifth-seeded West Virginia (24-7). The other matchup is sixth-seeded Pittsburgh (23-10) against Wyoming (24-6).
With a couple of upsets, New Mexico could bring junior forward Angela Hartill, a Riverside graduate, home.
Maryland was the surprise national champion in 2006 but lost in the second round last year despite returning many of the same players.
“We’re being led by upperclassmen,” Frese said. “Our juniors and seniors, they’ve been there. They know what it takes to win a national championship; they did it when they were freshmen and sophomores, so the fact that we have so much veteran leadership we have the experience factor.
“A year ago we had the target on our back, but I really feel like we’re able to play much more freely this year and we know what to expect and we’re just really excited to get going.”
To reach the title game, the Terrapins defeated Utah in overtime in the regional final. Park was in the second year of his three-year stint with the Utes. Prior to that he was the head women’s coach at NAIA Westminster College in Salt Lake City for four seasons.
A Great Falls, Mont., native, Park was manager for the Idaho men’s basketball team as a freshman before transferring to Montana State, graduating in 1994. His first coaching job was at Valley High School in Las Vegas, where he compiled a 61-27 record in three years with a state title in 1999. He then went to Westminster and spent one year as a men’s assistant.
Baylor, under coach Kim Mulkey, won the 2005 NCAA title. Angela Tisdale, the Bears’ lone senior, was a freshman.
Stanford can take heart that Maryland and Baylor were two seeds when they won their titles. However, the Cardinal – or any other Pac-10 team – hasn’t made the Final Four since Stanford in 1997. That was the last of three straight Cardinal trips to the Final Four. Stanford won it all in 1990 and ‘92.
Clemons can only hope history doesn’t repeat itself.