As Vanderbilt’s women’s basketball team struggled through opening minutes of an exhibition contest two weeks ago coach Melanie Balcomb did not call a timeout. She did not bark out many instructions. She did not lobby the officials for any sort of call.
“I wanted to watch leadership,” she said. “I wanted to see how they would come together as a team. This is a new team, a new year. I wanted to see who would lead and how they would react. I was doing a lot of watching and reading body language.”
The Commodores lost just two players to graduation from last season’s team, which won the Southeastern Conference tournament and advanced farther in the NCAA tournament than any other conference school.
Yet the departure of Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper took from them the 2008-09 leader in points (Wirth), rebounds (Risper), steals (Risper), 3-point attempts (Wirth), and minutes played (Wirth). It also meant the loss of two charismatic and committed players who set a tone in games and practices.
Hence, Balcomb’s curiosity the first time her team faced off against an opponent.
She knows she has three reliable guards in seniors Merideth Marsh and Jessica Mooney, and junior Jence Rhoads and a sturdy interior presence with junior Hannah Tuomi, who missed the final seven games of last season with an injury.
Marsh was the only one to earn preseason all-conference honors. She was named to the second team and VU was picked to finish fourth in the SEC by media.
Others thought enough of the Commodores that they were ranked No. 14 (second among SEC schools) in the Associated Press preseason poll and No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.
The real test of whether Vanderbilt can replace the production and presence of Wirth and Risper begins with the official season-opener Sunday against Lehigh (2 p.m., Memorial Gymnasium).
Balcomb and her staff announced their 2009 recruiting class Thursday after four players signed national letters-of-intent.
Those who signed with Vanderbilt since the fall signing period opened Wednesday were:
• Kayci Ferris, a 6-foot-8 post player out of Smith County High School who averaged 21.4 points and 12 rebounds last season;
• Christina Foggie, a 5-foot-10 guard from Lenape High School in New Jersey, a consensus top 100 recruit;
• Tori Jarosz, a 6-foot-3 post player from Lakeland High School in New York who averaged 22.4 points and 11.3 rebounds last season;
• Jasmine Lister, a 5-foot-5 guard and a two-time all-state selection for Santiago High School in California.
“This class has the potential to be very special,” Balcomb said in a release from the school. “Each player brings a high level of skill and individual talent to their position, and they will mesh extremely well with the group of players already in place.”