Oct. 14, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. - What began as a response to loneliness has evolved into a tradition that senior Jennifer Luther hopes will continue at Stanford after her field hockey career is over.
The Cardinal may be the only team in the country that celebrates Canadian Thanksgiving - it's the second Monday in October, by the way. But it's not the celebration of a holiday that makes the occasion special. It's the chance to feel at home away from home, and to connect with teammates as a family.
"It's a celebration of being together, and being there for each other," said Luther, a native of North Vancouver, B.C.
For the past three years, players and friends have gathered for a potluck dinner on campus to eat a home-cooked meal in honor of the Canadian holiday.
The idea came from Luther, who, as a freshman, missed the holiday she celebrated (Canadian Thanksgiving) and returned home for one she didn't (American Thanksgiving). While home during the American holiday, she spent the week bored and without friends while her parents worked.
So, Luther vowed to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving anyway, no matter where she was. The trick was getting her teammates to go along with it.
"I figured, no one's going to want to do that," she said.
She was wrong. Katherine Swank volunteered to make a turkey and other teammates joined in to celebrate in a dorm lounge.
This year, Canadian Thanksgiving (celebrated Oct. 12) was a little more upscale, held in a house. Swank again made the turkey (a 24-pounder this year) and Luther brought the dressing, a concoction created by her father Doug that includes dried cranberries and pine nuts. Others contributed their own favorites: Rachel Bush brought okra and Rachel Mozenter sweet potatoes, Nora Soza baked berry and pumpkin pies, and Midori Uehara made the cranberry sauce.
In addition, Luther and freshman Alysha Sekhon, the team's newest Canuck, gave a PowerPoint presentation about the history of Canadian Thanksgiving.
During the meal, as is the custom, each person described something they're thankful for, which always seems to lead to a heart-felt communication that rarely occurs on a road trip or at practice.
For a team that includes five international players, three from England and two from Canada, the time is much appreciated.
"It makes me feel like I'm at my family Thanksgiving, even if I'm not there," Luther said.
Does the celebration translate into victories?
"I don't know," said Luther, whose team is 11-2 and ranked a program-best No. 13. "But I would definitely say that our team shows a bond that is uncommon for a college team."
Swank, a junior, will be around to make a turkey next year, but Luther hopes the tradition will carry on beyond that, whether the team has Canadians or not.
"It started out as just one person missing home," Luther said, "and turned into 22 people coming together to make that one person feel at home."
* * *
WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Cardinal coming together
A five-set upset of No. 3 Washington on Saturday was the best evidence yet of the potential of this season's Stanford women's volleyball team.
The No. 5 Cardinal (11-4, 4-1), largely remade from the national championship finalist side of a year ago, was the first to take a set and a match against the Huskies (15-1) this season.
Senior Janet Okogbaa did most of the damage, with a collegiate high 21 kills, and Stanford got strong performances from Alix Klineman (14 kills, 5 blocks) and freshman setter Karissa Cook (45 assists, 10 digs), both of whom have been hampered by injuries.
With a collection of freshmen, redshirt freshmen and veterans who have worked hard for the chance to get on the court, the Cardinal has struggled at times, but now has four consecutive victories, including over traditional powers USC and UCLA on the road.
"It's experience," Stanford coach John Dunning said. "You think you know what it feels like (to play under pressure) and you think you know how you'll operate under those circumstances. And then you get on the court and realize you've underestimated what the opponent can do.
"It comes down to how you deal with it, not just how good they are, but how you deal with the moment that presents itself in big matches."
The progress has been immense, especially coming in what even Stanford players believed would be a rebuilding year.
"We've played five matches in a row where we turned corners," Dunning said. "We've gone through three weeks now where we've taken big steps forward. Against Washington, that was a huge step forward against a very good team."
* * *
FOOTBALL: Game days for walk-ons
Stanford coaches wanted to reward younger players with an opportunity to make the travel squads, so they created an environment that allows them to battle it out for those coveted final spots.
Friday scrimmages pit the 30-40 players that have not locked up one of the 64 travel spots against each other. With perhaps four spots on the line, the young players battle it out with the rest of the team watching.
"In terms of player development, we wanted to do more to the younger guys," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "The idea of Friday came about to reward the guys who play well. This is their gameday."
Among those those who have won travel spots are freshmen walk-ons such as receivers Brad Busby and Sam Knapp, linebackers Brent Etiz and Brent Seals, offensive lineman Jacob Gowan and safety Myles Muagututia.
"The coaches tell us to treat these scrimmages like games, so we take them very seriously," Knapp said. "It gave me some extra confidence knowing I can make the team. But it also makes you push yourself so you can become one of those guys that travels every week."
* * *
FOOTBALL: Luck's poker face
Quarterback Andrew Luck has been impressive while guiding to Cardinal to a 4-2 early-season record, but the redshirt freshman impressed Harbaugh with his composure in a different way during a 38-28 loss at Oregon State on Saturday.
On the first play from scrimmage, Luck launched a deep pass to an open receiver that appeared destined for an 80-yard touchdown play, only for the ball to be dropped.
"His body language never changed," Harbaugh said of Luck. "He really kept his head in the game."
"Stuff happens," Luck said. "I'll never yell at a receiver for dropping the ball, because I make a lot of mistakes myself. We'll bounce back. That's how I approached it."
* * *
ATHLETICS: Home sweet home
Stanford teams have been in competition for more than seven weeks and still have yet to lose a single home event.
Through Wednesday, Cardinal teams are a combined 28-0-1 on The Farm.
Here is the breakdown: Men's water polo, 5-0; men's soccer, 5-0-1; field hockey, 4-0; women's volleyball, 4-0; football, 3-0; women's soccer, 3-0; men's swimming, 1-0; women's swimming, 1-0. For this purpose, the men's and women's cross country teams each count as 1-0 despite beating multiple teams at the Stanford Invitational.
* * *
HOME GAME OF THE WEEK: Stanford women's soccer vs. UCLA
Looking for a Stanford event to attend this week? The best bet is Sunday's women's soccer match against UCLA at 1 p.m. at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
Stanford (13-0) is ranked No. 1 and UCLA (11-1-1) is No. 3 in the NSCAA coaches' poll. The match should have Pacific-10 Conference title implications - UCLA is the defending champion and Stanford is seeking its first title since 2002.
It also should help determine NCAA Tournament seeding.
* * *
ATHLETICS: Leland gets new post
Former Stanford athletics director Ted Leland was name as director of the newly-created division for external affairs at his alma mater, University of the Pacific. Leland, who had been UOP's vice president for university advancement, will work toward making the university more accessible to the community.
* * *
BUCK/CARDINAL CLUB: South Bay Coaches' Swing
The Buck/Cardinal Club is hosting the South Bay Coaches' Swing on Wednesday, Oct. 28, at Gordon Biersch Brewing Company at 357 E. Taylor Street in San Jose. The event begins at 6 p.m.
These coaches will be in attendance:
Mark Marquess, The Clarke and Elizabeth Nelson Director of Baseball; Tara VanDerveer, women's basketball; John Dunning, women's volleyball; Caroline O'Connor, women's golf; Thom Glielmi, men's gymnastics; Amy Bokker, women's lacrosse; John Vandemoer, sailing; Bret Simon, men's soccer; Jason Borrelli, wrestling.
The prices are: $35 per person; $25 Buck/Cardinal Donor (Stadium level ($100+) and above) or Block S Card Holder (former student-athlete) or Young Alum (grad year 1999-2009).
Admission includes unlimited Gordon Biersch authentic German-style beer (including a souvenir stein), along with Saag's sausage sandwiches, Gordon Biersch's trademark garlic fries, soft drinks, and more.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics
If you have ideas for future notebook items, please contact David Kiefer at email@example.com. Past editions of the weekly Cardinal Insider can be found on the main page of gostanford.com by clicking on "General Releases" from the "Sports" pull-down menu.