This isn’t how Jence Rhoads envisioned her senior season playing out.
Two injuries, a slow start and a young supporting cast have made for a “different” outlook for Rhoads, a point guard on the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team.
Still, different to Rhoads isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I’m not disappointed in our season in any way. It has just been different,” she said. “One of those things you deal with I guess. I’m looking to move forward even further. There is no ceiling.”
Rhoads and the Commodores are nearing the mid-point of Southeastern Conference season as they host No. 23 Arkansas (15-2, 3-2) at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Memorial Gymnasium.
Through 18 games, Rhoads has provided some consistency for a youthful team despite her own battles. The 5-foot-11 native of Slippery Rock, Pa. is averaging 13.2 points and a team-high 4.8 assists a game for the Commodores (12-6, 3-2).
Even before the season started, however, she endured some bad luck when she broke her right wrist during a pick-up game in the summer. She wore a cast for three weeks, had surgery and then stayed away from basketball activity for another three weeks.
Several weeks later, she was greeted by another injury as she pulled her hamstring during Vanderbilt’s second exhibition game on Nov. 9. That caused her to miss the first two regular-season games. She pulled it again, but played through it. She said she wasn’t back at full strength again until Christmas break, which she felt affected her play early.
“My shot wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be and where I was in the summer. So it was a little bit frustrating getting back into it because I wanted to be ready by the time practice started,” she said. “I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be there. It is hard to deal with, especially with the hamstring that affects your running, your speed, your everything. Being a point guard, that is a big thing for me. It wears on your mind a little bit.
“But we have a great [athletic] trainer [Michelle Loftis] and the coaches help me a lot with going through everything and getting back to getting strong and taking the right amount of rest and doing the things I am supposed to be doing. Without the people around me, it would have been a lot harder, I think.”
Rhoads is also adjusting to being a leader. She is one of three seniors on a team that has five true freshmen, one redshirt-freshman and three sophomores.
It is a big change for a player who got used to looking up to Meredith Marsh, Jessica Mooney, Jennifer Risper and Christina Wirth. All are gone now, leaving Rhoads to fill the void — something that hasn’t come easy.
“It has just been a process throughout the career here, stepping into the leadership role,” she said. “We play different now than we have in the last three years. It always takes some getting used to but it has been a lot of fun, having the youngsters learn the trade.”
The hardest part has been getting Rhoads to become more vocal, Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. Balcomb knew when she recruited Rhoads that she was going to lead more by example.
The veteran coach needs her point guard to do more, though.
“She is not used to telling people what to do,” Balcomb said. “She kind of expects them to know to do it because she always knew to do it. So I think she has had to grow a lot. ... She is not a real vocal leader and has to push herself to lead vocally. I think she has done that a lot more.”
The growth hasn’t stopped there. She has also evolved as a scorer during her career. After scoring a total of 351 points her first two seasons, she finished with 441 last season for a 13.8-point average. She appears to be on pace for that same mark, with 211 points in 16 games.
In fact, in Vanderbilt’s last game on Saturday at Tennessee, she eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for her career. Now at 1,003 points, she is the 33rd Commodore to reach 1,000 points in her career.
“I never really thought about it, especially with the first two years,” she said. “Being able to reach that, it is a really cool accomplishment and I’m pretty happy about it.”
Balcomb only wants to see that points total continue to climb.
Still, Rhoads has a tendency to look for her teammates first. She tallied more than 100 assists in each of her first three seasons — currently she has 483 in her career — and admits she has a pass-first mentality.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Rhoads said about scoring. “As long as the team wins that is all that matters, right?”
Balcomb might disagree with that.
“Right now I want her to score, absolutely,” she said. “Jence at times has been our reluctant scorer. She would rather distribute the ball and make other people better and have other people take the shots. That is one of things she has grown at the most. She understands she has to score for us to do well.
"... She used to be a point guard when she came here and now I think she is a player. If you are player that means you can play multiple positions and be successful.”