Stephanie Holzer waited more than a year and she wasn’t about to let her college debut go to waste.
The redshirt-freshman, who missed all of last season due to broken ankle, used her 6-foot-4 frame to score 20 points and grab 11 rebounds during No. 24 Vanderbilt’s season-opening 80-55 victory over Howard on Sunday at Memorial Gymnasium.
Holzer entered the game with more than 10 minutes left in the first half and immediately made an impact. She scored 11 straight points, boosting the Commodores to a 36-14 lead with 5:20 left before intermission.
“Honestly, it is just a long time coming,” Holzer said. “I just tried to do the little things and do what coach (Melanie Balcomb) teaches us and I was able to get open and my teammates were able to find me. We just connected.”
Last year, Holzer broke her right ankle during the team’s first workout – before official practices had begun – and had to have surgery. It was a blow to not only the Newton Square, Pa., native but also to the Commodores, who were planning on her size.
The extra season, however, might have been an advantage.
“I think she has handled it really well,” Balcomb said. “She has handled it as a year off to learn, to gather herself, to grow, the whole college experience, and she has benefitted from it.
Balcomb joked that the team had to play “small ball” a year ago, with a guard-heavy lineup. Tiffany Clarke (6-foot) and Hannah Tuomi (6-1) returned to the post this season but compared to other Southeastern Conference interior players, they are on the small side.
Plus, 6-7 Kayci Ferriss and 6-4 Clair Watkins are out for the season due to injuries. Therefore, Holzer’s height and shooting touch becomes very valuable.
She was 5-of-6 from the field against Howard, and stepped back twice for jumpers. She also showed off her stroke from the free-throw line, where she made 10 of 11 chances. She added three blocks and two steals as she played just 19 minutes.
“I loved it,” Balcomb said of Holzer’s performance. “Where she did a really good job was on the defensive end, getting blocked shots, rebounds. Her offense, she is just starting to get a good feel of what we are doing. I thought she was extremely efficient with her time (Sunday) on both ends of the floor.”
Vanderbilt jumped out to a 25-8 lead thanks to a flurry of 3-pointers. The Commodores made six of their first seven from long range, including five during a 22-4 run.
Freshman starters Christina Foggie and Jasmine Lister led the way with three 3-pointers each. Foggie finished with 14 points and Lister had 13.
“I think it is exciting to think about the future of this year because they are just getting better and better,” Balcomb said. “I can’t give them the confidence that they have. They came with that and as they play more and are successful, they are going to gain even more confidence. I’m looking forward to coaching them even more and watching their improvement as the season goes on.”
Along with the three freshman, University of Georgia transfer Angela Puleo added 11 points. The four Vanderbilt newcomers accounted for 59 of the team’s 80 points.
Saadia Doyle was the bright spot for Howard (0-2). The 2009-10 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year scored 30 points and hauled down 10 rebounds. She kept the Bison in it early as they cut the deficit to 25-14 with 10:54 left in the first half but then Holzer went on her spurt, scoring the next 11 points of the ballgame.
Vanderbilt led 49-22 at halftime – Holzer sunk a jumper with 2.3 seconds left – and the Bison got no closer than 19 points after that.
“(Holzer) came off the bench and she was a spark for them,” Howard coach Niki Reid Geckeler said.
• Vanderbilt guard Jence Rhoads did not play due to a hamstring injury. She left Tuesday’s exhibition against Union with the injury and Balcomb said her status is day-to-day.
The senior averaged 13.8 points a game last year and earned preseason All-SEC accolades by the coaches and media.
• The Commodores have won 25 straight home openers and are 8-1 in season-openers under Balcomb.