You know, we could’ve had a Niagara Falls graduate in the women’s Final Four.

When Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer moved here from Schenectady with her family in 1968, she wanted to play basketball. But the old Niagara Falls High School didn’t have a team for girls.

“Honestly, it was painful, because I loved to play,” VanDerveer said in an interview last year with the San Jose Mercury News. “They had a seventh grade team for boys, an eighth grade team for boys, and freshman, JV and varsity. But absolutely no sports for girls. They would have play dates.”

So VanDerveer transferred to Buffalo Seminary, which had a girls team that played a limited schedule.

She went on to play at Albany State for one year, then transferred to Indiana to play against better competition. The Hoosiers finished ranked among the top 10 nationally in consecutive seasons with VanDerveer starting in the backcourt.

Tonight, VanDerveer will lead Stanford into the national semifinals against Connecticut. It’s the seventh Final Four appearance since 1990 for the Cardinal.

VanDerveer’s coaching career has included more than 700 victories, two national championships and nine Pac 10 Coach of the Year awards. In 1996, she coached the U.S. national team to a gold medal in Atlanta.

Ironically, that career got its start in Niagara Falls.

“I majored in sociology — I had no idea I wanted to go into coaching,” VanDerveer told the Gazette in 1990. “After college I decided to travel around the U.S. I ran out of money about Christmas time and returned to my parents’ house. That was OK until about a month later when my parents started wondering what I was going to do.

“My father suggested I go down to the (Niagara Falls) high school and work with my sister Marie’s team. She was playing for them at the time, so I helped coach the team.

“I got hooked. I had been planning on going to law school, but I went to Ohio State for my master’s degree in athletic administration and volunteered as a graduate assistant with the team my first year.”

VanDerveer was hired as the head coach at Idaho in 1978, and after two years there, returned to Ohio State, where she won four Big Ten championships in five seasons.

She was hired to build the Stanford program in 1985, and won a national championship by her fifth season.

VanDerveer’s parents, Dunbar and Rita, spent several years in their home on Lewiston Road in the Falls before moving to Canandaigua. Dunbar was the reading administrator for the Niagara Falls School District and Rita worked with BOCES.

The VanDerveers had three children who played sports for Niagara Falls High School — Mickey, Beth and Heidi. Mickey and Beth were both outstanding swimmers. Heidi followed Tara into the coaching profession, reaching her zenith as coach of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx in 2002.

E-mail reporter Jonah Bronstein at jonah.bronstein@niagara-gazette.com