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A look at Tara VanDerveer’s climb to the top of the coaching world

The 38-year Stanford coach and the No. 8 Cardinal defeated unranked Oregon and Oregon State at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion this weekend, moving VanDerveer past Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski and into the top spot on the NCAA wins list.

VanDerveer, 70, now has 1,203 career victories, which gives her one more than Krzyzewski, who retired from Duke after the 2022 season. 

Over 45 years, three schools and one Olympic team, the Massachusetts native has been involved in some of the biggest moments in women’s basketball.

Here’s a timeline of her career:

1975: Starts coaching career

VanDerveer’s first job was coaching her younger sister Marie in JV basketball shortly after Tara graduated from Indiana in 1975. It’s a story she tells best. 

“It was Christmas, I went home, I was hanging around in the basement, sleeping in late,” she said. “My dad was like, ‘You’re going to go coach your sister’s team.’ They had just lost the night before 99-11! And I’m like, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Yes, you are.’ And I went down and I really loved it. But I’d also come home and my parents would be like ‘Well, how come you didn’t play Marie more? ‘And I was like, ‘Mom, she can’t dribble. She can’t shoot.’ So I understood, right away with coaching — every player is someone’s daughter … that was a good lesson to start out with.” 

1978: Hired at the University of Idaho

At 24, VanDerveer got her first head coaching job when she was tapped by the University of Idaho to lead the Vandals. Never mind that she was only a couple years older than some of her players. She went 42-14 over two seasons 

1980: Hired at Ohio State

In just her second season at Ohio State, VanDerveer had the Buckeyes in the NCAA tournament, where they’d become regulars. VanDerveer compiled a 110-37 record over five seasons

1985: Hired at Stanford

Coaxed by former track coach Brooks Johnson, who VanDerveer considers a mentor of sorts, to move West, the 33-year-old took over one of the worst programs in women’s basketball. By her third season, in 1987-88, Stanford reached the Sweet 16. 

1990: First NCAA title

Just five years after being hired by Stanford, VanDerveer and the Cardinal, led by beloved point guard Jennifer Azzi, bring home title No. 1, beating Auburn 88-81. It was a remarkable turnaround for a program that just five seasons prior, VanDerveer’s first in Palo Alto, won only 13 games. 

1992: Second NCAA title

Behind Final Four Most Outstanding Player Molly Goodenbour and center Val Whiting, Stanford wins its second title in three years (the Cardinal lost in the semifinals in 1991 to eventual champion Tennessee). 

1996: Olympic gold 

Asked by USA Basketball to take the year off from Stanford to devote her time to the Olympic team — an ask that would never be made today — VanDerveer and the Americans spent the season traveling internationally to prep for the Atlanta Games. It paid off when the U.S. beat Brazil 111-87 to win the gold medal. That season, VanDerveer’s longtime assistant, Amy Tucker, coached the Cardinal — and got the wins credited to her name. 

1998: No. 1 Stanford upset by No. 16 Harvard

Everyone remembers when the top-seeded Cardinal, playing at home in Maples Pavilion, was upset by 16-seed Harvard, 71-68. (Until UMBC beat No. 1 Virginia in 2018 in the men’s NCAA tournament, the upset of Stanford marked the only time a 16 had beaten a 1 in either the men’s or women’s tournament.) But what everyone doesn’t remember, or doesn’t know, is that in the days leading up to the tournament, Stanford lost two starters, including All-American Kristin Folkl, to ACL tears. It was wildly bad timing, but there was little sympathy for Stanford.

2009-12: Four straight Final Fours

For four consecutive seasons, the Cardinal ended its season at the Final Four — but it could never bring home its third title, losing in the semifinals in 2009, 2011 and 2012, and falling in the title game in 2010. It was an agonizing stretch for the Cardinal and its star, forward Nneka Ogwumike, a three-time All-American and maybe the best player to ever put on a Stanford uniform. 

2017: Tara 1K

With a 58-42 win over USC, VanDerveer became just the second women’s coach to reach 1,000 victories, joining the late Pat Summitt, a close friend of VanDerveer’s when Summitt was at Tennessee. “In the big scheme of things, it’s not about winning games — it’s about the relationships you have with people and enjoy the day.” 

2021: Third NCAA title 

No crowd, no problem. Despite playing the NCAA tournament in a bubble because of the lingering pandemic, VanDerveer won her third title, putting her in rare company; she is one of only four coaches to win three titles. Also that season, on Dec. 15, 2020, she surpassed Summitt to become the all-time wins leader in women’s college basketball when she earned her 1,099th victory. 

2024: Becomes all-time wins leader

Behind a career game from junior forward Kiki Iriafen, who scored 36 points in 37 minutes, Stanford beat Oregon State 65-56 to give VanDerveer her 1,203rd career win. The victory puts her one win in front of Coach K — with likely many more to come, given the Cardinal’s No. 8 ranking; Stanford is expected to once again make a deep postseason run. And because everyone is probably going to ask: Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who has led the Huskies to 11 national championships over a similar time period, currently has 1,196 career victories. 

Follow Lindsay Schnell on social media @Lindsay_Schnell

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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