Vanderbilt basketball coach Melanie Balcomb likes to say there is a big difference between numbers and depth.
She’ll soon find out which she has.
Balcomb begins her 11th season at Vanderbilt against McNeese (La.) State on Saturday (noon, Memorial Gymnasium) with an unprecedented 16 players on the roster. But the sudden absence of center Stephanie Holzer this season could spell problems for the Commodores if Balcomb just has numbers and not depth.
“People have to grow quicker,” Balcomb said. “They have to step up. They have to take advantage of an opportunity. Everybody has to be ready.”
Holzer dislocated her knee last weekend in an exhibition game and is out of the season. The 6-foot-4 redshirt junior led the team in rebounding her first two years and averaged 11 points last season.
“We’re really feeling for her right now,” Balcomb said. “I don’t think we’ve quite figured out or even started to feel for ourselves yet because it was so heart-breaking for her. It’s tough. Our kids have to be resilient and injuries are expected in sport. We will find in the next couple weeks. We’ll work on the mental piece of it right now.”
Holzer’s absence means opponents will target senior forward Tiffany Clarke more. The void also forces 6-foot Heather Bowe and 6-foot-4 Kendall Shaw — two of six freshmen — into the low-post fire.
In addition to Holzer, 6-foot-1 freshman Kristen Gaffney is still unavailable and Balcomb was uncertain about senior guard Gabby Smith, who missed half of last season due to post-concussion symptoms.
“People are going to have to fill some really big shoes and step up quickly and I think there are people who can,” guard Jasmine Lister said. “We’re still positive.”
Even without Holzer in the middle, the Commodores believe they can regroup. They return four starters from a team that won 23 games and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They also bring back the Southeastern Conference’s top scorer, junior guard Christina Foggie (17.7 points per game).
The mixture of experience and untested youth will be challenged early as Vanderbilt plays seven non-conference games on the road.
“I think we still have all the pieces to do well this season and do well in the post, absolutely,” Balcomb said.