Coach Shea Ralph calls a play, as photographed on Feb. 5. 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Michael Tung)
Coach Shea Ralph calls a play, as photographed on Feb. 5. 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Michael Tung)
Michael Tung

Memorial Minutes: A Brewing Culture

In what has been a challenging season for Vanderbilt, head coach Shea Ralph has managed to instill a newfound culture in the women’s basketball program.

It was never going to be an easy season for the Commodores. Last season’s leading scorer, Brinae Alexander, transferred to Maryland for her senior season. Rising star Iyana Moore tore her ACL at the end of September. Senior Jordyn Cambridge, who projected to be one of the team’s leaders both on and off the court, suffered a torn achilles in August. Cambridge’s teammate Kaylon Smith suffered the same fate just months later in October. Four of the Commodores’ five starters from last year have not played at all this season.

Some might view this injury bug — which is the worst case, across any sport, that I’ve seen in my 19 years as a sports fan — as an excuse to give up. To call it a lost season and to look forward to the next season. Who can blame them? The thought has certainly creeped into everyone’s mind.

Well, not everyone’s mind. 

Ralph, her coaching staff and the players have dealt with the adversity with no fear or hesitation. It hasn’t mattered what the media has said, what fans have said or even in the results of the game. Ralph and Co. know that their mission is bigger than one season — they’re building a program. 

Building up

Perhaps Clark Lea said it best.

“We’re building a program,” the head coach of the football team said. “Building a program is hard. It takes tough people that are aligned and doing the right things the right way.” 

These traits have been apparent throughout the women’s basketball team all season. While the Commodores’ past three games haven’t gone precisely as they may have wanted, the program’s alignment has never been more clear. 

This alignment was evident in Vanderbilt’s win over Texas A&M that snapped a seven-game SEC losing streak, a victory that saw Ciaja Harbison etch herself into the Vanderbilt history books. Or the road loss against Missouri, where, despite trailing for nearly the entire game, the Commodores played their hearts out until the final whistle. Even in their most recent loss to Georgia, when players and staff on the Vanderbilt bench stood up and screamed as Sacha Washington forced a turnover, even with the team down double digits.

Ralph has continued to stress the importance of accountability to her team. Success may not come immediately, but she knows that with hard work on and off the court, it will happen.

“What I want my team to learn is to continue to understand the importance of consistency,” Ralph said after the team’s loss to Georgia. “I think that we need to be really intentional about how we hold each other accountable. There needs to be direct conversation about how we can change to be better. In the huddles, in the locker room. It needs to be taken and understood as to how we can be better.”

Something’s brewing on West End, and even though any hopes at a repeat NIT run are likely dashed, hope springs eternal for the Commodores. 

A transfer tandem 

As the season dwindles, it felt pertinent to take a moment to shine a light on both Harbison and Marnelle Garraud. 

Let’s harken back to April 2022, when the pair announced their official commitment to Vanderbilt. Harbison had an exceptional career in four years with the St. Louis Billikens, and Garruad excelled as a 3-and-D specialist for the Boston College Eagles. Both were brought in with the intention of contributing nicely to the team, but no one could have fathomed that they would be thrusted into their current roles. The team relies on these two’s consistent scoring and leadership night in and night out. 

Garruad is averaging 13.5 points per game on 39.4% shooting from 3-point range. Both are career-highs. She has fulfilled her 3-and-D advertisement and then some, averaging 1.6 steals per game. For Garraud, the consistency from downtown has been impressive, but perhaps even more impressive is her ability to catch fire at any moment. 

Harbison has been everything advertised and more. She was a great player for the Billikens. She is a special player for Vanderbilt. Despite her move to the SEC, one of the nation’s top conferences, Harbison has shined. Averaging career-highs across the board and leading the team in scoring, the fifth-year guard has stepped up in a massive way.

Her immense talent has been on clear display through the team’s last three games. Haribson is averaging 28.7 points and 4.7 steals per game through that span, and her performance against Texas A&M will be talked about for years and years to come. 

Both are fifth-year seniors. While the pair will have only played one year in the Black and Gold, their contributions will not be forgotten. Not by the fans, not by their teammates and certainly not by Ralph. 

Looking ahead

Things won’t get much easier for the Commodores (10-14, 1-9) down the stretch, as their next three matchups will come at home against Arkansas (18-7, 5-5) and on the road against Tennessee (17-9, 9-2) and Alabama (17-6, 6-4). 

Vanderbilt gave Arkansas some trouble on the road when the two teams faced off on Jan. 16. Despite a red-hot shooting performance from Garraud (31 points on seven 3-pointers made), the team ultimately lost on a bank-shot, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the Razorbacks’ Makayla Daniels. The Commodores even played the Lady Volunteers tight back at Memorial Gymnasium on Jan. 8, losing by just 13 points to a Tennessee team that was tearing up the conference in the midst of a eight-game win streak to start SEC play. Vanderbilt has yet to face Alabama. 

The Commodores will look to avenge their loss to Arkansas on Thursday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. CST in Memorial Gymnasium.

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About the Contributors
Aiden Rutman
Aiden Rutman, Sports Editor
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
Michael Tung
Michael Tung, Staff Photographer
Michael Tung ('26) is majoring in computer science. He is currently a staff photographer and is originally from Dublin, Ohio. His interests are photography, engineering, all things aerospace and music. He can be reached at [email protected]
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