Stanford junior forward Erica McCall always had the talent. Now she's got the confidence to go with it.
Poised for a big season after spending part of the summer with the USA Basketball women's national team program, McCall learned a lot about her leadership qualities and figures to bring that to the forefront in a year where several players will have to step up if the Cardinal wants to regain their dominance of the Pac-12.
McCall served as co-captain of the World University Games gold-medal winning team from the U.S. She averaged 15.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while making nearly 60 percent of her shots.
"It improved my confidence because I played with some of the best players in the country," McCall said. "I was a captain on that team and that improved my leadership. I want to bring that back to Stanford. It helps being able to communicate better with my teammates."
McCall is one of four team captains for No. 16 Stanford, which opens its season Friday night with a road game at UC Davis. The Cardinal (26-10 overall, 13-5 Pac-12 last year) also play at Gonzaga on Sunday before opening at home on Saturday, Nov. 21 against George Washington.
"At the end of last year, she basically came up to me and said 'I'm going to be more capable next year. I can do more for the team,'" Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We're counting on her to do more."
Stanford returns five of its top seven scorers and its top two rebounders from last year. McCall is in both categories. Six of the returners started at least six games and four of them at least 16.
"We lost a lot, we have a lot coming back and I'm excited about the newcomers," VanDerveer said. "This is a young team. For the most part there are no seniors in the lineup. It's a little bit of a mystery team. Who will step up and be the go-to players?"
McCall, who recorded a pair of double-doubles last season, including a 13-point, 16-rebound performance in the Cardinal's loss to Notre Dame in the Sweet Sixteen, fully expects to be one of them.
Another will likely be junior guard Lili Thompson, who led the team in scoring (13.3), with Amber Orrange, last year. She's currently dealing with a couple of issues and remains limited in practice. Thompson did not make an appearance in Stanford's exhibition contest.
Junior Kylie Samuelson, who made 41 3-pointers a year ago, could also fit the bill along with junior Briana Roberson and sophomore Kaylee Johnson. Samuelson missed Stanford's final seven games last season with a broken finger.
Roberson played in all 36 games and started six. She earned extended playing time in the NCAA Tournament and scored a career-high 13 points against Oklahoma. She also played well against defending Pac-12 champion Oregon State. She's the top returning free-throw shooter, having made over 84 percent of her attempts, second to Bonnie Samuelson's 91 percent.
Johnson averaged nearly 10 rebounds a game for the Cardinal, twice grabbing 22 in a game. She also blocked 50 shots, second only to McCall's 51 blocks.
Seniors Alex Green and Tess Picknell and junior Kailee Johnson, a high school All-America, give Stanford added experience.
Sophomore Brittany McPhee, one of the top players to come from the state of Washington, missed a lot of last year with a stress reaction in her foot. She made up for lost time, recording 24 points against California and earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors.
Freshman Alanna Smith, from Australia, becomes Stanford's first international player. She's played in the Aussies' national team program and was invited to play for the Olympic training camp last year.
"She'll provide great versatility off the bench," VanDerveer said. "She still needs to make some adjustments."
VanDerveer is also impressed by freshman guard Marta Sniezek, who will likely see action this weekend as Thompson continues her recovery.
"She pushes the ball, she passes the ball and she's vocal," VanDerveer said. "She has it all; she just lacks college experience."
Shannon Coffee (6-foot-5) and Alexa Romano are also part of the highly touted freshmen class that has VanDerveer planning for a fast-paced, pressing-type attack.
McCall is also excited about the newcomers.
"They bring quickness and speed to the team," she said. "We're going to be a pretty deep team. We have a lot of special people who can do special things."
For the first time in 16 years, Stanford was not picked to finish first in the conference. Oregon State, with nearly a full complement of players returning, was given the nod to repeat.
"It's great to see other teams get attention," VanDerveer said. "We know we can be a contender and who knows what else in the NCAA."
The women's game underwent several rule changes. Teams will play 10-minute quarters, can advance the ball with a timeout and will go straight to two free throws on the fifth foul of the quarter with the 1-and-1 eliminated.
2015 STANFORD WOMEN'S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
Day Opponent Time
Friday at UC Davis 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at Gonzaga 1 p.m.
Nov. 21 vs. George Washington
Nov. 23 vs. Santa Clara 7 p.m.
Nov. 27 $Missouri State 10:30 a.m.
Nov. 28 $Dayton or Maine
Nov. 29 $Opponent TBD
Dec. 13 at Texas 10 a.m.
Dec. 16 vs. Tennessee 6 p.m.
Dec. 19 vs. Cornell 2 p.m.
Dec. 22 vs. CSUB 2 p.m.
Dec. 28 vs. Chattanooga 7 p.m.
Jan. 2 *at Arizona 2 p.m.
Jan. 4 *at Arizona St. 5 p.m.
Jan. 8 *vs. Utah 7 p.m.
Jan. 10 *vs. Colorado Noon
Jan. 15 *at Oregon 6 p.m.
Jan. 17 *at Oregon St. 6 p.m.
Jan. 22 *at USC 8 p.m.
Jan. 24 *at UCLA 6 p.m.
Jan. 29 *vs. Washington 8 p.m.
Jan. 31 *vs. Washington St. Noon
Feb. 2 *vs. California 7 p.m.
Feb. 5 *at California 7 p.m.
Feb. 12 *vs. Arizona 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 14 *vs. Arizona St. 6 p.m.
Feb. 19 *at Colorado 7 p.m.
Feb. 21 *at Utah 1 p.m.
Feb. 26 *vs. Oregon St. 8 p.m.
Feb. 28 *vs. Oregon 11:30 a.m.
March 3-6 &Pac-12 Tournament
March 18-April 5 NCAA tournament
$-Gulf Coast Showcase at Estero, Fla.
*-Pac-12 Conference games
&-Pac-12 Conference tournament at Seattle