VU's Silinski takes care for others to heart

Vanderbilt senior Rebecca Silinski took her usual stance in front of the team during introductions in Sunday's first round NCAA game with Louisville. As seated starters rise during introductions, she body slams, jumps and slaps hands in welcome with her teammates. But this time, something was different. Clad in team sweats, she would not be able to play in what would be Vandy's final season game.

In a season swamped with multiple injuries to multiple players, Becca herself sat among the injured, a concussion suffered in the previous Thursday's practice knocked her out of the lineup of potential reserves. It's not the first time the senior had to sit out games due to illness.

There were no tears visible on that bench, just a resolve born of familiar circumstances dating back to 2009 when her name became synonymous with her family's public battle against Lymes disease.

In the latter half of her sophomore year, fans were stunned to learn she had contracted the fatigue-inducing, sometimes fatal disease caused by tick bites. Her entire family was affected in 2009, but presently, it is only her younger sister Kaitlyn that bears the physical scars. Because the senior teammates Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper wanted to help, they created a highly publicized Lyme Out awareness night for a televised game against No. 3 Auburn.

Becca became a poster child in a lime green tee with a lime green bracelet. From a team video to the fans' colorful apparel to the team's resolve to win the game for Becca, Vanderbilt upset the touted Tigers 73-70.

"Even though I didn't play that game," Becca recalls, "it was the highlight of my career. Just to be a part of it was special." The 6-3 forward, then just two seasons into her Vandy commitment, had found a committed campus family that supported her fight.

With medical issues swirling for her sister who continues recovery, the political science and communications major is looking past graduation at Vanderbilt to perhaps earn a post graduate degree in medical or healthcare law. It's no wonder that her desire to help others and to actively participate in her community placed her on the SEC Community Service Team.

"Naturally I've always been someone who likes to take care of people and I like to do things for people. In my freshman year everyone knew I was very responsible and I got teased about it. In my sophomore year when I got to bring my car, I was driving people around everywhere. It kind of just got to be a joke with people throwing around ‘Mama Becs' a little bit."

Soon, when recruits would drop by, the coaching staff referred to her as the team mom, her care evident, her humor and compassion branching beyond the team roster.

The relationships she has built will be the enduring accomplishment of her affiliation with Vanderbilt. "There's been plenty of tears and laughter but that's one of the neatest things is to come to college and have a family. The girls here have been great and the coaching staff has been wonderful."

Although Vandy won the SEC Tournament championship in 2009, besting Auburn again in the finals, both Becca and fellow senior Hannah Tuomi were sidelined with illness and injury. Just being part of that qualifies as one of her best experiences on the team.

A more recent memory involves this season's rescheduled senior game. With forecasters and city officials on high alert for a severe weather emergency, evening events were canceled throughout the Nashville. Seniors had family in town for the bout with Florida, a team they had just defeated 103-97 in double overtime. "That through me off," Becca said. She did not know her parents and coaches had arranged a special visit by Kaitlyn, her teenage sister still battling Lymes disease.

After the disappointing 69-74 loss to Florida the following night, the senior recognition ceremony became particularly special. "When Coach Picott pulled me aside and Coach Balcomb pointed up in the stands, I didn't know what I was looking for. When Kaitlyn got sick, I wanted her to come to a game and that would make everything complete. Obviously the outcome was not what we wanted, but I was glad that she was there and to share that with the girls."

For a young woman on the move early with her family (Pittsburgh until age 9, Racine, Wisc., until age 12, and then Birmingham, Ala., until college), Becca found stability once more as a Commodore. Vanderbilt provided a place to grow on and off the court.

"Getting an opportunity to be here at Vanderbilt is unbelievable. I'm just blessed. I can't imagine a place where you have a better coaching staff, support staff and teammates than here. We have something here that's one in a million. I hope I can continue to be a part of it. Hannah and Jence [Rhoads] and I want to leave a legacy that we were dedicated to this program, whether on or off the court. We just love Vanderbilt and this team and this program."

With a new chapter of her life looming after graduation, one thing's for certain— Mama Becs has left her mark on many. Her legacy is secure.



Assistant Coach Vicky Picott talks post moves with Rebecca.



Rebecca and Jasmine Lister jump off during introductions at Kentucky.



The senior takes aim during a free throw.

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