Apparently, the 5A-I East Valley Region isn’t that far behind the Pac-10.
Less than a year removed from winning a state championship with Mesa Red Mountain, reigning Tribune Player of the Year Kayla Pedersen returns to the East Valley today as one of the most talked-about freshmen in the conference — and the recipient of praise from a Hall of Famer.
“She’s a gamer, she doesn’t show any frustration, she keeps playing hard, a real pleasure to work with,” longtime Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said on Saturday. “We’re really thankful she’s at Stanford.”
Pedersen has already made quite the splash, averaging 12.1 points and 8.6 rebounds a game in her first 18 games as a collegian. She’s second in the Pac-10 in rebounds and caught plenty of attention after guarding national player of the year Candace Parker of Tennessee in Stanford’s upset of the then-No. 1 Volunteers.
“It has been amazing,” Pedersen said Saturday after practice at Wells Fargo Arena “More than I could have asked for. I love my team to death. They are a lot of fun. I love traveling. The whole thing has been a new experience.”
She added, “I’ve got to knock on wood, everything is going so well right now.”
Pedersen has taken her versatile game to the next level with the Cardinal, who come into Tempe just a half-game behind Arizona State in the Pac-10 standings with the halfway point of the conference schedule just a week away.
The Fountain Hills native led Red Mountain to the state title game each of the last two years, winning it all last spring and picking up her second straight Player of the Year honor from the Tribune.
But did she really think she could make the jump to Division I — with a perennial power like Stanford, no less?
“It’s been a little tough,” Pedersen said of making the step up. “I wasn’t used to as much time as we spend like here, whether it be watching film or getting treatment. But it’s been a pretty easy transition. My teammates have helped me, my coaches have helped me. They’re very understanding.”
But Pedersen said she set the bar high.
“To me it’s a challenge,” she said. “That was my hope coming in here, just making an immediate impact. I didn’t expect anything less.”
VanDerveer was optimistic when Pedersen arrived in Palo Alto.
We don’t have a lot of freshmen starting,” VanDerveer said. “I thought, maybe, coming into the year, I thought she’ll play a lot. But right from the get-go, she listens really well. That is a huge positive trait about Kayla. She catches on very quickly. She’s very versatile. She’s tough.”
But she’s also just getting started, the coach says.
“I think Kayla is just scratching the surface of how good she can be,” VanDerveer said. “She has a lot of room to grow.”
In her first homecoming, the crowd today will likely have its share of Stanford fans — well, actually, Pedersen fans.
“I’m not sure, friends, family, high school team, club team,” she said when asked who she expected to see today. “It’s just exciting and fun, I can’t put any pressure on myself. Come out here, play, play ASU. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
At this rate, she’ll have a lot more fans than just those from east Mesa.
No. 7 Stanford at ASU women
When: 2 p.m. today
Where: Wells Fargo Arena
Records: Stanford: 15-3, 5-2. ASU: 11-6, 5-1.
TV: Fox Sports Net Arizona
Radio: KDUS (1060 AM)
Scouting Report: ASU has a steep road to climb in trying to bounce back from a loss to first-place California on Thursday. Although Stanford is behind them in the standings, the Cardinal still may be the best team in the Pac-10. After getting uncharacteristically swept by the Los Angeles schools, Stanford has won its last three games by an average of 31 points. The Cardinal is coming off an easy 89-64 win at Arizona, getting 22 points and nine rebounds from the East Valley’s own Kayla Pedersen. The Sun Devils didn’t shoot well, never got their transition game going and were slowed inside by California’s all-star post players. Despite all that, ASU still rallied from 23 points down to get within four in the second half. The Sun Devils will have to put that loss behind them against All-American Candice Wiggins (17.5 points a game) and conference freshman of the year Jayne Appel (15.6 points, 8.3 rebounds).