In the final part of the two-part season preview for Vanderbilt's 2010-11 women's basketball team, we take a look at the Commodores' backcourt and frontcourt.
Backcourt Senior point guard Jence Rhoads will anchor Vanderbilt's perimeter. Rhoads led the team in assists and averaged 13.8 points per game last season, while earning all-league honors. Rhoads' presence will bring a calming influence to a backcourt that will have to replace the outside touch of Merideth Marsh, who graduated as the school's all-time leader in career three-pointers and topped the team in scoring with an average of 15.1 points per game last year.
"We think she is one of the best guards in the country," Balcomb said of Rhoads. "The thing about Jence is that I don't look at her as a point guard anymore, I think she has evolved into what I call a player. There are positions and there are players and you are only as good as your best player."
Beyond Rhoads, the Commodores will look for more from sophomores Elan Brown and Gabby Smith, who both saw significant action last year. Brown earned freshman All-SEC honors after averaging 4.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 32 games, including 10 starts. Due to Vanderbilt's lack of height, the 6-foot-0 Brown volunteered to play in the post last season, but will return to her natural position as a wing this year.
Smith played in 33 games and started the final five games of the year, while averaging 3.0 points. Smith, Brown and forward Tiffany Clarke makeup Vanderbilt's sophomore class, which Balcomb expects big things from this season.
"Elan and Gabby and Tiffany have really improved," Balcomb said. "I love the improvement of all of them. They worked really hard during the offseason and I'm excited with how much better they are going to be."
Vanderbilt's outside scoring should get a boost by the addition of junior guard Angela Puleo. A Georgia transfer, Puleo was a two-year starter for the Bulldogs and is regarded by teammates as the team's top outside shooter.
Vanderbilt's backcourt will also benefit from the addition of freshmen Christina Foggie (Mount Laurel, N.J) and Jasmine Lister (Corona, Calif.). The 5-foot-9 Foggie was ranked as the No. 58 recruit in the country and averaged 26.4 points, 5.2 assists and 6.1 rebounds as a senior. Lister, who is 5-foot-4, is the shortest member of the Commodores. As a senior Lister averaged 20 points, five assists and four steals. Foggie is expected to play the Nos. 2 or 3 positions, while Lister will split time with Smith backing up Rhoads at point guard.
Frontcourt Vanderbilt's interior returns a few familiar faces, but will have a completely different look than it did last season thanks to an influx in size. With the addition of three freshmen that are 6-foot-3 or taller, and the anticipated debut of 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Stephanie Holzer, the Commodores have transformed from one of the shortest to tallest teams.
"We'll have a much bigger low-post presence with the flexibility that I always want in that most of our post can face up and shoot as well," Balcomb said. "We will have an inside-outside, high-low combination that we haven't had the last two years."
Balcomb also believes the added height will benefit the Commodores on the defensive end, and in turn allow the team to run more on offense.
"We hope that we can get back to playing matchup on defense by using our size and our strength," Balcomb said. "What used to be a strength for us was defensive rebounding. We were at the top of the country in defensive rebounding because we were big and we forced people to take outside shots. If we could do that again and dominate with our size and dominate on the defensive boards, then we can run."
The added height will benefit the entire team, but maybe no one more than Hannah Tuomi. A three-year starter in the post, the 6-foot-1 Tuomi has often been charged with having guard bigger opponents due to Vanderbilt's lack of size. The additional height should enable Tuomi to matchup with players that are more her height this season, which could lead to an increase in scoring. Last year, Tuomi averaged 10.0 points and a team-best 5.6 rebounds.
Vanderbilt will also turn to senior Rebecca Silinski (6-foot-3), who brings tremendous leadership to the team. Silinski saw an increased role as a junior, playing in 10 of the last 11 games, including a career-best 22 minutes against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament.
Vanderbilt will also get a boost from the return of junior forward Jordan Coleman (5-foot-11), who started the first seven games last season before getting injured at Wright State and missing the rest of the year. Also returning in the paint is sophomore Tiffany Clarke (6-foot-0), who earned SEC All-Freshman honors last season after averaging 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.
After missing all of last season due to injury Holzer is healthy and will get every opportunity to see significant minutes. A former McDonald's All-American, Holzer is expected to contribute immediately.
"The game changes offensively and defensively when she is on the floor," Balcomb said. "She is a low-post presence that we have missed since Liz Sherwood."
Vanderbilt will also receive a boost from 6-foot-3 forward Tori Jarosz (Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.). Jarosz averaged 22 points, 16 rounds and seven blocks as a senior.
Clair Watkins, a 6-foot-4 freshman forward from Matthews, N.C., was expected to contribute this season, but she suffered a season-ending knee injury during the team's first practice.
The fifth member of Vanderbilt's signing class is 6-foot-7 freshman center Kayci Ferriss, who is from Carthage, Tenn. Ferriss will redshirt this season as she works to get back to 100 percent after a stress fracture forced her to miss her final high school season.
Vanderbilt's combination of a talented mix of returnees and newcomers, coupled with a strong coaching staff, has all the makings of a team that will once again contend in the SEC and make a push toward another NCAA Tournament bid.