SAN FRANCISCO -- Stanford players didn't like the way their season ended in March, two steps from a sixth consecutive Final Four appearance.
So they tore up the locker room over the summer. They replaced couches with exercise equipment as a stark reminder to what it takes to be successful.
"It feels like the team is reborn," senior All-American Chiney Ogwumike said Thursday during Pac-12 women's basketball media day.
For a 33-3 team with 10 returning players it seem preposterous that a major overhaul was necessary. But according to the conference's reigning player of the year it's exactly what the Cardinal needed.
Ogwumike, who averaged 22.4 points and 12.9 rebounds per game last season, said the players became complacent with so many trips to the Final Four.
"We needed a cultural change," the 6-foot-3 forward said. "We can't count our success by going to the Final Four. We count it by winning the Final Four."
The Cardinal head into the 2013-14 season picked to win its 14th consecutive league title in a coaches' poll announced Thursday.
"I don't know if enough of us can beat them to take away the title," new Washington coach Mike Neighbors said.
Stanford opens the season Nov. 9 at Boston College before facing reigning NCAA champion Connecticut two days later. Six of the season's first eight games are on the road.
Adding to the challenge of a team with five freshmen is a non-conference schedule that includes seven opponents who advanced to the NCAA tournament in the spring.
Stanford returns all of its starters from the end of last season except forward Joslyn Tinkle, who graduated. But the team also has lost guard Toni Kokenis and Aly Bebe, who medically retired.
Stanford also limps into the season with five injured players -- Bonnie Samuelson, Taylor Greenfield, Sara James, Erica Payne and freshman Lili Thompson. None have practiced full time yet or played during a recent trip to Italy.
Coach Tara VanDerveer, who is expected to get her 900th career coaching victory at the end of November, has a simple job:
"We need to keep everyone healthy," she said.
The Hall of Fame coach, though, is buoyant about her team's prospects.
"It's night and day from last year," VanDerveer said. "It's so much more competitive" in practices.
The reason for VanDerveer's enthusiasm are the freshmen who she describes as an "A" class. Because of injuries to veterans many of the newcomers have had a chance to take on bigger roles.
Coaches and teammates have been impressed by the progress of 6-3 forwards Erica McCall and Kailee Johnson. They also expect Thompson to become all-Pac-12 point guard Amber Orrange's main back up.
The support is expected to make Orrange even better.
"Amber played a lot of minutes last season almost to the point of hurting herself," Ogwumike said.
No matter how well the freshmen play, Stanford's success starts with the Houston connection of Ogwumike and Orrange. VanDerveer also expects more scoring from fifth-year senior Mikaela Ruef and James, the other starters during the NCAA tournament last season.
Stanford's marquee non-conference home game is scheduled for Dec. 21 against national rival Tennessee.