Tuomi heads home for Denver road game

On Sunday at 3 p.m. CST, Vanderbilt senior forward Hannah Tuomi, a Thornton, Co., native, returns to familiar territory to pit her skills along with her teammates' against Denver University in front of a homecoming crowd of familiar well-wishers – coaches, extended family and parents Jackie and David who helped develop the young woman whose work ethic is second to none.

David, a 6-4 former collegiate football player from rural northern Minnesota, hits the weights even now to keep in shape for various construction projects. Life on a farm taught him the meaning of hard work, and he passed this legacy down to his three children. The spotlight of Division 1 basketball shows that Hannah has learned the lesson well.

Head Coach Melanie Balcomb often points to Hannah's footwork, positioning, strength and determination as the consistency she brings to help win ball games.

At 6-1, the former Horizon High standout and 2006 Ms. Colorado Basketball, routinely powers up against larger players in the post. A jab to the eye at the Florida State game and resulting color and stitches are evidence that she is fearless in standing her ground. In 2009, she ran the court for several late season games before mentioning the pain and discovering a stress fracture that knocked her out of tournament action.

"She takes bumps and bruises well. It's just part of the game these days," David said. "She's a strong girl and strong-willed."

Keeping up with her older sister Jessica's sports teams likely played a hand in Hannah's will to succeed. Two years younger, Hannah scrapped hard enough to play on the older teams, both in recreational and high school soccer and basketball. "It was her tenacity. She always had to work harder to keep up," David added.

"Sisu" is a Finnish word Hannah had inked on her wrist before her freshman year at Vanderbilt. It means determination and strength, and both are qualities that encourage her to be her best.

"It's her motto when she plays," David said. "Some people said she couldn't play at this level. Vanderbilt believed in her and she's done well," her father said. Vandy's coaching staff were scouting a different player when they noticed Hannah and her club team playing in Memphis.

"Being that she's a smaller post, it's been an uphill battle for her but it's always been that way for her. When she plays against someone bigger, it doesn't bother that much."

Hannah gets shooting help with an old-style hook shot from her dad's playbook. The offensive weapon is part of Tuomi's toolkit when extra height can get the job done over taller defenders.

David tried to teach all his kids the shot, and although Hannah has mastered it, it wasn't easy.

"We had this goal in our backyard and we'd play family basketball there or at the recreation center. The hook shot is something I learned from my high school basketball coach. Before the three point shot, this was a chance to be a triple threat when you play post. It's good to see Hannah use it a few times."

As a student athlete, Hannah is on target to finish with a double major in English and Art History. Her academic achievements and leadership mean just as much to her parents.

"We're very proud as parents to see what she's accomplished," David beamed. "We're from rural Minnesota and you've got to admire what she's done and be proud of her. She' turned out to be a very good leader and we hope that they go a long ways in her final tournaments. The four years have just flown by and seems just yesterday she was a freshman."

The talents their daughter has developed goes beyond what they have taught her, David adds. He runs into former coaches at the grocery and teachers in Thornton who remember his daughter, and they fondly reminisce.

"Hannah's journey in the basketball world has been touched by a lot of people along the way, including unpaid recreation coaches. They've all influenced her along with high school and club coaches in her development. Any one of them should pat themselves on the back for all the volunteer time they've done to help her succeed."

No. 23 Vanderbilt (4-2) plays Denver (3-4) for the first time in the school's history. The ‘Dores are looking for their first road win after losses to Elite Eight participant Florida State (72-66) and Bowling Green (79-68), which won its' 34th consecutive home game. The Pioneers return four starters from last year and are led by junior forward Kaetlyn Murdoch, Sun Belt Player of the Week this past week, averaging 16.4 ppg.

Hannah and David Tuomi catch up in the Commodore lockeroom.

Hannah battles Baylor's Melissa Jones (Legacy) during a Horizon High game .

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