Family shares Thanksgiving on the road

This season, espnW will spend time with the Stanford Cardinal and their Hall of Fame head coach, getting behind-the-scenes access to the players. Come to espnW every week throughout the season to get to know the Cardinal and how they live their lives off and on the court, from the start of practice to the last game of the season in March and, perhaps, into April.

Courtesy of Aaron Juarez

The team found time for a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal in between morning practice and an evening film session.

The Stanford campus cleared out for the Thanksgiving holiday break this week, students going home to visit families that many hadn't seen since they got dropped off in September.

The Cardinal women's basketball team cleared out as well, clear out to Cincinnati.

"I think that Thanksgiving really reminds the kids that they are in college," coach Tara VanDerveer said. "You don't go home for Thanksgiving if you play college basketball. It doesn't happen. I think, in some respects, that it reminds you that your basketball team is your family for these four years."

Stanford left Hartford, Conn., on Tuesday morning, nursing the sting of Monday's 68-58 loss to the No. 2 Huskies.

They headed out on a mid-morning flight to Cincinnati to settle in for a few days until Friday night's game against Xavier, which closes a week-long road trip. They did not celebrate Thanksgiving in a hotel ballroom, or a restaurant, but with family.

The entire Stanford travel party -- 25 in all including players, coaches and support staff -- dined at the home of junior forward Mikaela Ruef. The Ruef home is in Beavercreek, about an hour's drive from the team hotel.

Thursday started early, with the Cardinal heading to Ruef's old high school gym for practice at 11 a.m.

Thanksgiving dinner -- or would it be considered lunch? -- began at 2 p.m. The Cardinal were back on the bus, bound for the hotel by 5 for the evening's pregame film session.

AP Photo/Jessica Hill

"You don't go home for Thanksgiving if you play college basketball," coach Tara VanDerveer said. "It doesn't happen. I think, in some respects, that it reminds you that your basketball team is your family for these four years."

Katie Ruef, Mikaela's mom, began planning the meal about two months ago. In addition to the team and staff, her guest list included a large group of family. In all, she cooked Thanksgiving dinner for about 50 people.

"As soon as I knew they were coming here, I knew I wanted to do it," Katie said. "We used to have 35 people pretty regularly for Thanksgiving, so this is only a little more than that."

Katie had to work her way through a minor crisis on Tuesday, 48 hours before the big meal. She had two turkeys, one 24 pounds, the other a 28-pounder, and her roasting pans weren't big enough.

"I went back to the store to exchange [the turkeys] for smaller ones and they wouldn't do it," Ruef said. "They said if they took them back, they'd throw them away, and I won't waste food."

So she brought them home, made a few adjustments and figured out a way to make them fit into her roasting pans.

Ruef's family members provided many of the side dishes, including some that might accommodate the vegetarians in the group, VanDerveer among them.

Ruef and her husband, Mike, spent days working on the "little banquet hall" that they set up on their enclosed side porch.

"It's supposed to be a three-season room," Katie said.

The weather cooperated at 55 degrees with sunny skies. Ruef seated about 30 on the porch.

"I borrowed a lot of tables and dishes and I picked up a few extra dishes at the Goodwill store. No paper plates. Not on Thanksgiving," she said. "It's great. I haven't gotten a lot of use out of this room."

The players were excited about their "family" dinner.

Still, many admitted they missed their own homes on Thanksgiving, particularly the freshmen, who missed the holiday at home for the first time.

Freshman forward Taylor Greenfield missed her "mom's scalloped corn, which is not necessarily a Thanksgiving thing, but my mom makes it for me."

Senior Lindy LaRocque said she missed sitting on her couch and "lapsing into a food coma," and the broccoli-cheese rice that her aunt makes.

"She's making it for me at Christmas," LaRocque said.

Sophomore Toni Kokenis said she missed her grandmother's "Greek-style" stuffing.

"I don't even know what's in it," Kokenis said. "Nuts and meat, I think, but it's the best."

Last Thanksgiving, Kokenis and then-seniors Kayla Pedersen and Mel Murphy went in search of dinner around Palo Alto as some of their teammates dined with family.

"We didn't have family in town, so we went looking to see what was open," Kokenis said. "We went to Chili's, and they were closed. In-N-Out Burger was closed. McDonald's was closed. We ended up ordering Domino's."

Related Content