Nov. 1, 2010
Coming off its 11th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, Vanderbilt's women's basketball team is primed for another trip to the Big Dance in 2011. Buoyed by a strong senior class comprised of first team All-SEC point guard Jence Rhoads, four-year starting forward Hannah Tuomi and veteran post player Rebecca Silinski, Vanderbilt returns a strong nucleus of talent that led an undersized Vanderbilt team to a 23-11 (9-7 SEC) record and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where it lost on a late basket at Xavier.
Under the direction of ninth-year Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, the Commodores will look to take another step forward in 2011. Also returning for the Commodores are junior forward Jordan Coleman, sophomore forward Tiffany Clarke and sophomore guards Elan Brown and Gabby Smith. Brown and Clarke earned freshman All-SEC honors last year and all four players earned multiple starts in 2010. The sophomore duo is part of an underclassmen contingent that makes up nine out of the 14 members of the team.
Vanderbilt's roster will also be infused with the addition of seven newcomers to the lineup. The group of newcomers includes a couple of familiar faces in junior guard Angela Puleo, who sat out last season after transferring from Georgia and redshirt freshman center Stephanie Holzer, who missed her first season due to injury.
The remaining newcomers make up Vanderbilt's five-member freshman class that is comprised of guards Christina Foggie (Mount Laurel, N.J.) and Jasmine Lister (Corona, Calif.), forwards Tori Jarosz (Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.) and Clair Watkins (Matthews, N.C.) and center Kayci Ferriss (Carthage, Tenn.).
The combination of a strong core of experienced players and a talented group of newcomers has the Commodores primed for their 12th straight 20-win season.
"I'm excited about the young players, but what' I've been most impressed with is the improvement of the returners," Balcomb said.
In one season, the Commodores have been transformed from one of the shortest to one of the tallest teams. Four of the team's seven newcomers are 6-foot-3 or taller.
"This is the tallest team I've ever had and it is the best-conditioned team I've had," Balcomb said. "They always say you should be able to tell your guards from your posts by looking at them on the court. We got to a point where we were all small, but now our guards are big and our posts are big."
Vanderbilt's 29-game schedule features 18 games against 14 teams that reached the 2010 postseason. The Commodores will open their schedule with a non-conference slate that features seven teams that advanced to the postseason last year. Vanderbilt will also play six non-conference games on the road before starting league play Jan. 2 at Ole Miss.
The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a game at 2010 NCAA regional finalist Florida State and "hometown" games at Denver for senior Hannah Tuomi (Thornton, Colo.) and at Duquesne for Jence Rhoads (Slippery Rock, Pa.) and Rebecca Silinski (born in Pittsburgh, Pa.).
"We want to prepare ourselves for the postseason as best we can with our schedule," Balcomb said. "It's my job to have us prepared to go into SEC play by having been through a pressure situation or a close game in the non-conference, and I don't think I'm doing the kids justice if I'm just trying to schedule wins."
The conference slate includes 10 games on television, including an appearance on ESPN's College GameDay Jan. 15 at Tennessee. The game will be a doubleheader with the men's program, which plays at Tennessee at 11 a.m. CT the same day. The historic date will mark the first doubleheader in the show's history and will also be just the second women's game featured on GameDay.
Vanderbilt's schedule includes two regular season tournaments. The Commodores will host their annual Thanksgiving Tournament Nov. 26 and 28 with USC, Princeton and Quinnipiac coming to town.
Vanderbilt will also play in Blacksburg, Va. for the Hilton Garden Classic Dec. 29 and 30. The Commodores will open the tournament against Delaware before playing either Virginia Tech or Alcorn State.
Vanderbilt's postseason journey will begin just a short drive from campus at Bridgestone Arena, where the SEC Tournament returns for the first time since 2008.
Check back Tuesday for part 2 of the season preview.