Ailing Stanford optimistic about another strong season

Updated: October 15, 2003, 2:35 PM ET

STANFORD, Calif. -- Azella Perryman and T'Nae Thiel hobbled up the stairs at Maples Pavilion, each wearing a walking cast on her left foot. Teammate Susan King is nursing a high ankle sprain that made it difficult to walk down the aisle for her August wedding to former Stanford basketball star Curtis Borchardt.

Stanford's successful women's basketball team is beat up. Coach Tara VanDerveer isn't worried.

The Cardinal have 11 letterwinners returning, including all five starters, from last season's team that won the Pac-10, and they are picked to win another conference title by the league's coaches.

"We're excited," VanDerveer said. "Get healthy and we'll be really excited."

Stanford's first official practice is Saturday morning, but the team has been rigorously conditioning to get ready.

On Tuesday, players did 45 minutes of interval sprints on a line of stationary bicycles in the weight room -- 45 seconds seated, followed by 45 seconds of rest, then 30 seconds standing, followed by 30 seconds of rest. Players leaned over their bikes, grimacing.

VanDerveer occasionally piped in to acknowledge their hard work.

She is actually rewarding her team with more on-court training after a successful 12-day tour in Italy, where Stanford went 4-1.

"We're a lot more experienced where we are now to where we were last year," VanDerveer said. "It's night and day. No. 1, I think we're going to be faster. We'll run the floor better and create offense from our defense."

Leading scorer Nicole Powell has improved her defense, according to VanDerveer. The senior forward averaged 18.8 points and 9.3 rebounds last season, and she played for the U.S team at the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, this summer.

"With Italy and also having so many returners, we don't have to focus as much on plays," junior forward Sebnem Kimyacioglu said. "Everybody already knows it. We're starting at a higher point than last year."

Thiel, a 6-foot-1 forward, had surgery on her foot for a stress fracture and isn't sure when she will return. Perryman has pain in her foot that doctors haven't diagnosed, so her schedule is also uncertain. Eziamaka Okafor is also using a boot to get around -- she is recovering from a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

Stanford had several players sidelined for the preseason last year, too, but went 27-5 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"We've already got so many more bodies than last year and we're so far ahead," VanDerveer said. "It's great."

Last season ended in frustration for the Cardinal. They lost 68-56 at home to Minnesota in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The loss ended Stanford's 26-game home winning streak, including 15 straight wins in Maples last season. The Cardinal hadn't been beaten in Maples since losing to Tennessee on Dec. 16, 2001.

"We've got to also take it as a motivating factor, and I think everyone has," Kimyacioglu said. "That's behind us and we've learned from it."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index