Women's hoops: Highly touted freshmen report

Two weeks ago, a "team workout" for the women's basketball team meant a handful of players working out together. Now, a "team workout" means a full house, with nine returning players and seven incoming freshmen.

For the June semester, only senior captains Hillary Hager and Jenni Benningfield, juniors Jutta Korkko and Ashley Earley, and sophomores Erica Grimaldi and Nicole Jules were on campus. With the start of the July semester, juniors Abi Ramsey and Tia Battle, and senior Venessa Ferragamo returned to Nashville.

Along with summer school and their own workouts, those nine returnees will face the challenge of helping seven freshmen -- the biggest and most highly ranked freshman class in the history of Vanderbilt women's basketball -- to adjust to college life and to make the leap from high school basketball to competing in the SEC.

And Tuesday was Day One.

After their first day of classes, six of the freshmen reported to the weight room in McGugin to meet with strength and conditioning coach Lori Alexander.

Forwards Carla Thomas (Pennsylvania), Jennifer Hall (California), and Rachel Brockman (Indiana), as well as guards Katie Antony (Louisiana), Caroline Williams (Georgia), Dee Davis (Ohio) were present. The seventh freshman, Cherish Stringfield (Virginia), was absent because she playing in the Virginia high school all-star game.

The main item on the agenda for Tuesday was testing and evaluation. After a brief orientation and recording of vital statistics, Coach Alexander put the athletes, both old and new, through a series of exercises with her stopwatch, pencil and notebook in hand.

The exercises ran the gamut, from bench press to long jump, shuttle run to abs. The results will help identify specific areas that might need special attention, in addition to the basic workout. They also provide a benchmark that will allow the athletes to look back later on and see how far they've come.

"It feels great to have everybody here," said senior guard Hillary Hager afterwards. "There's a lot of young blood and excitement."

Senior forward Jenni Bennigfield agreed. "Everybody's so positive and very motivated to get working," she said. "We've got a lot of energy right now and we're going to have to keep that. Everybody's working hard and pushing everybody, so it's nice."

After a day with only a light cardiovascular workout on Wednesday, the regular workouts start on Thursday. Although all summer workouts are non-mandatory, the excitement in the air leaves no doubt that those summer workouts in the weight room will be lonely no more.

The Freshmen:

Katie Antony, 5-10, G, Anacoco, Louisiana
Rachel Brockman, 6-3, F/C, Nobelsville, Indiana
Dee Davis, 5-7, PG, Cincinnati, Ohio
Jennifer Hall, 6-1, F, Folsom, California
Cherish Stringfield, 5-7, G Wakefield, Virginia
Carla Thomas, 6-3, F, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
Caroline Williams, 5-10, G, Rockmart, Georgia

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Photo by Whitney D. for VandyMania. Click on thumbnail for a larger image.

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