Family time is short but sweet
This season, espnW is spending time with the Stanford Cardinal and Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer, getting behind-the-scenes access to the players. Come to espnW every Friday throughout the season to get to know the Cardinal and how they live their lives on and off the court, from the start of practice to the final game of the season in March or, perhaps, April.
NORFOLK, Va. -- Angie Greenfield was sitting at dinner with a group of parents in Norfolk when she got a text from her daughter, Taylor.
"She's free, gotta go!" Greenfield said.
Time was precious for the parents who made the trip with the Stanford team to Norfolk for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.
"You take what you can get," said Al La Rocque, who was sitting at the hotel computer, printing the boarding passes for his departing flight on Tuesday. La Rocque's daughter Lindy is a senior and her career is winding down. And her parents' career as road warriors, traveling from Las Vegas to Palo Alto and points around the Pac-12 and the nation, is winding down as well.
On the Cardinal's trip to Virginia earlier this week, family time was at even more of a premium, with many of the players preparing for final exams for the winter quarter.
Players had their books out in the hotel lobby, the only place where there was free wireless Internet access. They went up to the conference room on the second floor at various points to take final exams with a proctor, who was doing double duty as the Stanford band chaperone.
"See you on the other side," sophomore Sara James said as she made her way up the stairs to take an exam after practice and dinner on Sunday night.
Toni Kokenis took one at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. Coach Tara VanDerveer moved the team's video session on late notice, so Kokenis had to take her exam an hour earlier than originally scheduled.
"I ordered breakfast for her at 7:45 and I sat there and watched her eat,'' Marie Kokenis said. "And then off she went."
Kokenis took her exam alone in a large hotel conference room with only the proctor there.
"It was fine. Kinda weird," Kokenis said.
On the sixth floor of the hotel, behind doors decorated with encouraging posters created by team manager Natasha von Kaeppler and staffer Lauren Greif, the players were mostly studying and sleeping.
Freshman Amber Orrange curled up at her locker at the Tom Constant Convocation Center during open media time on Sunday, reading her textbook on Greek mythology.
Some players were prepping for finals they would take on campus Tuesday after an overnight flight following Monday night's second-round win over West Virginia. The team charter would land at 4 a.m.
So the parents hung out in the lobby and chatted, went on short car trips to nearby Virginia Beach, and gathered in the hotel restaurant waiting eagerly for their girls to pop by, which almost always happened in the evenings, when they finally had a little free time.
Angie Greenfield is new at this, as Taylor is one of the Cardinal's six freshmen. But she already knows she isn't going to talk basketball with her daughter.
"I keep it light," she said. "Last night we had time for a quick dinner and a yogurt, and then she went back to her room to study."
Al La Rocque coached Lindy through much of her youth and high school days in Las Vegas. But he also keeps the basketball talk to a minimum, discussing it only when she wants to. When she chose Stanford, he went to see VanDerveer.
"I told her, 'I'm going to be at every game. But I'm not a stalker. I'm here for support,'" La Rocque said.
La Rocque said he is in it for the basketball, not the sightseeing. That was true even when it came to the team's tour of Italy two years ago.
"I was there for the four games," he said. "Turns out to be a good cultural experience, too."
And now that his four years of traversing the West Coast and the country are nearly over?
"People ask me what I'm going to do now," La Rocque said. He doesn't quite finish the thought, perhaps because he hasn't quite come up with the answer.
Marie Kokenis made this trip by herself. Because there is so little time between the announcement of the NCAA tournament brackets and the games, she could not arrange for the rest of her family to come.
She was in the airport in Chicago getting ready to board her flight when she saw another woman wearing a white Stanford sweatshirt.
"It was Bonnie [Samuelson's] mom making her connection from Southern California," said Kokenis, who is known to the players as Mama K. "We had never met. I don't get out to as many games as I would like. Usually, I will meet them somewhere on the road. I went to Oregon this year, and we had a blast, hanging out."
Angie Greenfield remembers Beverly La Rocque, Lindy's mother, telling her that she should plan to be at all the games.
"My husband said, 'She didn't really mean all the games,'" Greenfield said.
But she has tried to get to most of them. She made the trip to Connecticut in November from Iowa and made it to most of the Pac-12 games, including the tournament in Los Angeles.
The players appreciate having their parents close by, even if they don't get to spend a lot of time with them.
"Even if it's a quick hello, or a kiss and a 'See you later,' it feels good that they are here to support me," Lindy La Rocque said. "My parents have had a good time traveling with us, and they've made some friends."
Lindy spent a little extra time with her parents on the night after the team's first-round game against Hampton. They grabbed dinner, and her mom painted her nails.
"It's just relaxing to hang out," Lindy said.
"It's just nice to get away from finals and talk about what's going on at home," Taylor Greenfield said. "Even if it's just going to my mom's room and watching a movie or something."
VanDerveer said her players, particularly the ones who are far from home at Stanford, appreciate teammates' family members who travel to see them play.
"Everyone doesn't always have family at every game, but the kids are each other's family, and the families really adopt the kids who don't. They cover for each other," VanDerveer said.
VanDerveer had her own family in town -- her sister Marie, her brother-in-law and her niece and nephew traveled from Richmond. But the time to spend with them was short.
"I saw them in the back of the press conference and that was pretty much it," VanDerveer said. "I got to talk to my sister for about 15 minutes after the game. "My sister and brother-in-law came to the Olympics [in 1996, when VanDerveer was the U.S. head coach]. They know I'm so focused on what I'm doing with the team. They don't even bother coming to the hotel. But I appreciate the short time I have with them. They know it's about quality, not quantity."