On a team that lost two stars (Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper) to the WNBA following their outstanding senior campaigns, the 20th-ranked Commodores are counting not only on the play of established veterans like Merideth Marsh, Hannah Tuomi, and Jence Rhoads, but also on a new class of freshmen who bring diverse skill sets to a program that sees them as its future.
So far, so good for a talented group that has made significant strides since arriving in Nashville.
“I thought the freshmen were ready to play,” said Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb after the Commodores’ 69-48 exhibition victory over Union. “I thought they came in and gave us energy when they got in the game. I was excited about what they showed the first game, they looked excited and ready to go.”
Particularly impressive for the freshmen in the first game was Tiffany Clarke, a forward who shared the team lead with 15 points against Union. In the backcourt, freshman guard Elan Brown put up eight points in 12 minutes, including a pair of three-pointers.
According to Brown, the buildup for their much-anticipated debut was equal parts exciting and tense.
“We were anxious the whole day,” Brown said. “It was kind of nerve-wracking when you get on the floor. I was probably most nervous when I was subbing in and sitting on the floor. My nerves were going crazy, but getting loose in warm-ups helped out with the nerves.”
The nerves were not an unexpected commodity, however, as the upperclassmen tried to prepare the girls for their first game jitters.
“They definitely told us we would be a little bit anxious, and we were,” said freshman guard Gabby Smith. “I think it’s something you have to experience for yourself to truly understand.”
Though much of the collegiate adjustment, according to Smith, is only grasped by experience, the veterans on the team—especially the seniors—have been helping the team’s new additions adapt to Vanderbilt life on and off the court.
“I think it’s been pretty good so far,” Smith said of the transition from high school to college. “I think that’s because the upperclassmen have been so welcoming. They have shared a lot of their own stories and struggles with us, so we’ve just been listening to (them) and trying to figure it out based on what they tell us.”
At the very least, the freshmen seem to be transitioning their way onto the court, with their improvement on display in their 79-54 victory over Drury in their second exhibition game. Hence, in spite of the difficulties that come with the expectations of SEC basketball and the academic rigor of Vanderbilt, the freshmen seem to be adapting better than even they expected.
“I thought I would be more nervous than I was,” Smith said. “I think the other freshmen would say the same thing. Once we got in there, we’ve been working so hard in practice and we realize that we know what we’re doing.