Taylor Swift said it best: Everything has changed.
Swift wasn’t referencing Vanderbilt’s women’s basketball team in her song, but she might as well have.
Seven players have left the team since the Commodores fell to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament last March.
Rachel Bell, Christa Reed, and Myka Dancy graduated in the spring.
Kayla Overbeck transferred to the University of Southern California, where she will be eligible to play immediately. Overbeck averaged around 10 points and five rebounds last year.
Erin Whalen moved on to the University of Dayton, but will be sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Whalen made the SEC All-Freshman team, but she saw limited playing time as a sophomore.
Blessing Ejiofor transferred to Chipola College, a junior college in the Florida Panhandle. Paige Warren left the team, but she remains at Vanderbilt as a student.
All seven losses sting, but none more than Bell’s graduation. Bell was the clear leader of the team and had scored over 1,000 points in her career.
Head coach Stephanie White talked about the importance of replacing her leadership.
White said, “I think one of the challenges that we had for really Chelsie [Hall], Autumn [Newby] and Cierra [Walker] is to step up and be more vocal.”
In the exhibition game against the University of Indianapolis, Chelsie Hall looked comfortable being more vocal and energetic on the court.
White praised her team on how well they have adjusted to change.
“I’m really proud of our group,” she said. “We’re a resilient bunch. I think our chemistry is as good as it’s been since I’ve been here, which I give credit to our returners for that. They’ve really invested in each other and invested in our team chemistry.”
The team has some new additions, too. Mickie DeMoss, Gary Redus, and Shereka Wright join the coaching staff.
“Our new assistant coaches bring a lot to the table, and certainly have helped us elevate points of emphasis for us as well as just [improving] our basketball knowledge in general,” White said. “We’ve got great coaching. We’ve got players who are responding to that, and we had really good additions.”
Perhaps the most impactful addition is Mariella Fasoula, who joined the team before last season, but had to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer regulations. She played for her home country of Greece in the FIBA World Cup earlier this fall. She started in Greece’s final three games against professional competition and scored 38 points in four games overall.
Back in the United States, she scored 26 points on 11-of-12 shooting in Vanderbilt’s preseason exhibition win. Fasoula grabbed 11 rebounds, too. Her dominant presence in the paint will be a welcome addition to a team in need of a dependable star. She is the most talented post player to wear black and gold in recent memory.
Local products Brinae Alexander and Jordyn Cambridge are joined by walk-on Isabella Paldrmic to round out the Commodores’ freshmen class.
Alexander led Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro to the No.1 national ranking. She was a McDonald’s All-American nominee and averaged 16 points per game as a senior. In Sunday’s exhibition against Indianapolis, Alexander scored 21 points and earned the start at forward.
Coach White said of Alexander, “She’s certainly somebody that we expected to come in and make an impact.”
Cambridge missed her final season of high school basketball due to injury, but she was still ranked as the fourth-best guard in her high school class, according to ESPN. She is continuing to rehab her knee, which means an already-shallow bench is even thinner for the time being.
Cambridge and Alexander have been playing basketball together on the AAU circuit since fourth grade.
At SEC Media Days, Vanderbilt was picked to finish 13th in the league after an 11th-place finish last year. A small roster of just 10 players could have trouble with depth as the season wears on. The offense has moved to a slower pace this year to account for the smaller rotation.
Everything has changed, but will those changes lead to a better record this year? Find out after Vanderbilt kicks off its season in Memorial Gym on Tuesday, November 6th against North Alabama.