Vanderbilt women’s basketball poised for new beginnings

Vanderbilt went just 4-12 in SEC play last season, but the return of several key players from injuries combined with new, exciting faces has the team optimistic for the 2020-21 season.

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Truman McDaniel

Koi Love drives to the basket in Vanderbilt’s 68-52 loss to Mississippi State on Jan. 23, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel)

Alyssa Muir, Deputy Sports Editor

After an extended offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vanderbilt Women’s Basketball officially returned to practice today. In addition to getting back on the hardwood, Coach Stephanie White, along with senior guard Chelsie Hall and sophomore forward Koi Love, spoke with the media today, where they shared their positive outlook on the upcoming season. 

“It’s certainly been an interesting time,” Coach Stephanie White said in her opening statement. “It’s been an interesting preseason to prep, dealing with all the dynamics that we’re dealing with, with COVID and everything else. But I think for this group I’m really excited about our growth on the floor and off the floor, particularly with our freshman to sophomores.”

White’s excitement was palpable throughout her press conference, and the sentiment was echoed by senior guard Chelsie Hall and sophomore forward Koi Love. 

One of the biggest sources of the enthusiasm was a revamped offense that allows for more player freedom and opens up more driving lanes for the perimeter players. 

“This new system, I love it,” Love said. “It’s really one of my favorite offenses that I’ve ever played for with any coach.”

The changed offense is geared towards the Commodores’ abundance of perimeter players, a big change from last season’s team which predominantly ran through center Mariella Fasoula in the paint. 

“This system is not just on set plays, but more on us being creative and being able to create our own shot and also create open shots for other players,” Hall said. 

White also noted the team’s versatility on both sides of the ball, allowing them to play positionless offense while also wreaking havoc on defense. 

“[The team is] not just the deepest, but probably the most versatile that we’ve had in multiple players being able to play different positions and us being able to play more positionless than we have been able to in the past,” White said. 

Vanderbilt has been hit hard by the injury bug the past few seasons, but the team is banking on several new faces to create some depth. 

Perhaps the most notable newcomer is freshman point guard Bella LaChance from Davie, Florida. LaChance is described as a traditional point guard who is expected to help take some of the ball-handling load off of Hall. 

“Bella LaChance is a true point guard,” White said. “She’s a true point guard who is a vocal point guard who gets people in the right positions. She can make plays for others and she’s gonna give us solid minutes from that position. It’s just a growing experience to understand how fast, how physical, and all of that for her. But she’s a worker. She’s a hype man. She’s got a toughness about her. She wants to get better and that’s what you want from young players.”

Another freshman expected to make a big impact is Emily Bowman. Hailing from Huntsville, Alabama, Bowman will provide the Commodores with some much-needed size down low. 

“Emily Bowman is a 6’6” freshman,” White said. “I think all of us know it takes post players a little bit longer to really figure it out from a pace, from a physicality standpoint, but you can’t teach 6’6”. Her length is a game changer for us. We haven’t had anyone with that type of size.” 

Finally, Vanderbilt will get a major boost in both experience and outside shooting with the addition of Enna Pehadzic, a graduate transfer from the University of South Florida. 

“She brings another level of scoring for us,” Hall said. “She is a great shooter and so we are excited to be able to kick it out to her. Last year we were kinda limited on our shooters, so it’s exciting to add another one. She’s able to spread the floor and open up driving lanes for us.” 

Vanderbilt will also benefit from the return of junior forward Brinae Alexander. Alexander was the team’s leading scorer and three-point shooter until she suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in November. Alexander has been cleared and is back to practicing at full speed. 

“[We’re] excited to have Brinae Alexander back on the floor,” White said. “It certainly makes a big difference not just in terms of production but practice, and her intensity level and what she brings to the floor.” 

The Commodores are still not back to full health, as White said that guards Kiara Pearl and Jordyn Cambridge are both still recovering from knee injuries suffered last season. The coaching staff is being particularly cautious with Cambridge, who had a severe knee injury in her other knee while in high school. Forward Kyndall Golden, who played in just five games last season due to a knee injury, has been cleared but is still working her way back to being in game shape. 

White and the rest of Vanderbilt’s coaching staff are expecting big things out of the entire team, but perhaps no one will have more asked out of her than Love, the team’s leading scorer last season. 

“Koi’s ceiling is just so high,” White said. “She has worked incredibly hard on her shot in the offseason. She’s somebody that if I had a scouting report, I’d say, ‘let her shoot the jump shot, whether it’s contested or uncontested, as opposed to letting her get to the rim.’ She worked really, really hard on her shot over the season. It looks better, it looks more fluid, it’s more consistent.” 

Love, who spent her summer in California where she worked out every day with her father, discussed her improved three-point shot, her focus on turning the ball over less this season and her improved maturity during practice throughout her media availability.

“Just being more poised,” Love said of her mentality this season. “I have a year under my belt now; I know what to expect. I know that probably this year teams are going to be sending their best defenders and people are going to expect when I drive to take charges. But I have something for that this year.” 

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the team’s media session today was the strength of the program’s chemistry. 

“The fun that we have off the court also translates to the fun that we have on the court,” Hall said. “Again, we’re bringing more energy with the new and the old faces. It’s just great to actually be in the gym together and not always having to Zoom and quarantine in all these months. Right now we’re just like on a high with official practice.” 

Vanderbilt’s schedule has yet to be released as teams are still trying to figure out how the games will play out in the new COVID-19 world. White said they are hoping to have eight or nine non-conference games, but that it is a very fluid situation. 

The team went just 4-12 in conference play last season, but there is certainly a fresh feel around the program this year. 

“There’s a different vibe,” White said of this year’s team. “There’s a different energy. There’s a different maturity about this group. And I’m excited to see it unfold.”