Stanford’s Appel aims for national title |

Stanford’s Appel aims for national title

Janie McCauley, The Associated Press

STANFORD – Jayne Appel can laugh about it now.

Before the season started, she received a laminated shooting card from Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer – complete with guidance on technique and instruction for number of repetitions. It’s not something you’d expect to see from a coach dealing with an All-American of Appel’s status.

But this is VanDerveer we’re talking about, and she is constantly looking for new ways to motivate and make even her best players better.

VanDerveer wants even more from the star center in her senior season, specifically for Appel to become a more dangerous scoring threat from the high post so she doesn’t just dominate the low block for the second-ranked Cardinal.

“I was a little surprised,” Appel said with a grin. “It was definitely a little shocking. It’s what makes Tara such a great coach and why many of us chose Stanford. ‘You still have this to work on.”‘

Appel is more than willing to do whatever it takes to win a national championship this season after back-to-back trips to the Final Four.

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Nowadays, she can be seen working on her perimeter shot with the guards after practice. She won’t be satisfied with anything less than winning it all after the Cardinal came so close two seasons ago, losing to Tennessee in the title game.

“She’s on a mission, and we’re right behind her,” guard Jeanette Pohlen said.

A preseason All-American and reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year, Appel became the most recognizable face of this program after the departure of Candice Wiggins following the team’s special 2008 run to the school’s first championship game since 1992. Appel is humble about her role, even if she realizes that every team around the country that thinks of Stanford will first know to focus on the imposing 6-foot-4 Appel in the middle.

“That’s just natural for any program,” Appel said. “I think people will be surprised this year in how many different factors we have in games.”

The Cardinal have nearly everybody back from last season’s run, with Appel leading the way.

“Jayne’s size and width, she just takes up so much space in there,” VanDerveer said. “There are things we want Jayne to do this year that she wasn’t asked to do last year – score more in the high post, screen more.”

Stanford’s talent and depth will be tested from the start. The first month looks more like the NCAA tournament than the preseason. The Cardinal play at Old Dominion in their season opener Friday, then at No. 25 Rutgers on Sunday. In December, Stanford hosts DePaul, Duke and Tennessee in a seven-day span at Maples Pavilion. Then on Dec. 23, the Cardinal play defending champion and top-ranked Connecticut at the XL Center in Hartford in what’s expected to be the most hyped game of the regular season.

This is the toughest early season schedule VanDerveer has endured in her 24 seasons at Stanford, and there have been some impressive schedules during that time. The Cardinal are picked to capture their 10th straight Pac-10 regular-season crown.

Appel attended the U.S. women’s basketball team’s training camp in Washington, D.C., last month and Stanford’s date with the Huskies was a hot topic.

“Everybody was like, ‘Let’s talk about the Connecticut game Dec. 23,”‘ Appel recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s talk about the seven games I have circled before that.’ There’s no negatives to me. I’d rather be playing a preseason schedule of that stature.”

Appel led Stanford to a 33-5 record last season and a sixth conference tournament crown. She averaged 16.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and shot 60.9 percent from the floor.

But the performance that put her on the map was a school-record 46-point outing against Iowa State in the NCAA regional finals, which she followed by scoring 26 in a loss to UConn in the national semifinals.

This fall, Appel is still finding her rhythm after recovering from left knee surgery during the summer – her second procedure on the same knee in less than a year. She also had a scope in September 2008 to repair a torn meniscus. Her knee began bothering her again late last season from all the running and pounding.

She played 15 pounds lighter last season than in her sophomore campaign, something she now acknowledges might have hurt her at times banging around with stronger post players. She’s added some of that weight back.

“I’m trying to go back to that point because I kind of want to play at a heavier weight this year just to be stronger for the future,” Appel said.

And she’s not afraid to talk about the subject of weight in women’s athletics, even if considered taboo.

“I don’t care. I think it’s kind of weird that men’s sports always have their weights listed and women’s sports don’t,” she said. “I think with time that will change, hopefully. How can we ask to be seen as equal otherwise?”

Appel is all about attention to detail, from her newfound duties as a perimeter threat to the neon pink nails she sported during the tournament the last two years.

“I think it’s good to show you’re a feminine athlete. Pink is the most girlie color you can get, so why not?” she said. “It’ll be back for tournament time.”

Appel soon will have to focus on little else but basketball. A psychology major, she’s set to finish her last class during winter quarter and graduate early before the WNBA draft.

Thinking about all that is a little surreal.

“It definitely snuck up on me,” she said. “This is it.”