The Vanderbilt Women’s Basketball squad officially kicks off the 2017-18 season on November 10th, when the Commodores host Middle Tennessee State at Memorial Gym.
In 2016, which was coach Stephanie White’s first season at the helm, the team finished 14-16.
In preparation, Vanderbilt defeated Marian University 90-78 on Sunday in a preseason scrimmage. Rachel Bell led the Commodores in scoring with 17 points. Bell, Erin Whalen, Christa Reed, Chelsie Hall, and Autumn Newby all scored in double figures.
Vanderbilt is in search of new leaders after Marqu’es Webb and Minta Spears graduated. White said at a Tuesday press conference, “Marqu’es and Minta are two of the greatest leaders I’ve been around.” As someone who has played with and coached some of the top players in the WNBA and on the US National Team, White’s praise is highly regarded.
The seniors are working on filling Webb and Spears’ roles. White said, “They’re stepping outside of their comfort zone personally to do what’s best for our team” and lead the younger players.
Senior Rachel Bell looks to build off a strong 2016-17 season in which she lead the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game. Fellow senior Christia Reed was second on the team in scoring with 9.1 points per game and shot 44.6% from three-point range. Myka Dancy provided valuable depth last year and should do so again.
The three seniors’ leadership will be vital to the team’s success, as White pointed out. She said, “We have 10 freshmen or sophomores so we’re still pretty young.”
This youth includes freshman center Blessing Ejiofor, a member the 2016 recruiting class from Ebonyi, Nigeria. Ejoifor did not enroll at Vanderbilt last year due to personal reasons, but rejoined the team this August. Her athleticism and intensity will be welcomed by the team.
Coach White said, “rebounding was a problem for us last year, and Blessing can flat out just go get it.” Ejiofor and the other three players who are above 6’4’’ should be able to improve this weakness.
In the exhibition game against Marian, Ejiofor collected five rebounds. Newby added nine, and Whalen grabbed seven rebounds.
Two other newcomers have stood out in practice already. White said, “Autumn Newby and Chelsie Hall give us a different level of athleticism.” The forward-guard duo could turn into the next Webb and Spears before their time at Vanderbilt is done.
The two are already making their impact known on the team. In Sunday’s scrimmage, Hall scored 11 points and Newby added 10. Both picked up four fouls, though, and need to stay out of foul trouble once the regular season begins.
As a whole, Coach White said, “practice is going really well, and the energy level and the competitiveness is really, really good.”
This is a positive sign, especially considering the Commodores’ tough schedule this season.
Nine of Vanderbilt’s opponents made the NCAA Tournament last year. Division foe and defending national champion South Carolina visits in January. The Commodores also play preseason No. 2 Mississippi State and fellow preseason top-25 teams Louisville, North Carolina State, Syracuse, and Kentucky.
However, the team does not appear to be fazed by the thought of playing such talented opponents.
White said, “we’re excited about our opportunities,” and Vanderbilt will have plenty of opportunities to upset ranked teams to build a tournament-worthy resume.