In various gyms around the country, "Midnight Madness" is taken literally, with fireworks, smoke machines, spotlights, videos, cheerleading, skits, contests, and dancing at the stroke of midnight. But for the women's basketball team at Vanderbilt, it came quietly on Saturday afternoon behind closed doors, without fanfare.
Instead of a public extravaganza, opening practice for the Commodores was a work session, with two main items on the agenda: setting the tone for the season and starting to work on the nuts and bolts necessary for building a successful basketball team.
"We wanted to be really enthusiastic at the first practice," said senior captain Hillary Hager after Saturday's practice. "We want to keep a positive attitude throughout even when we miss layups or when it takes a while to get through drills. We wanted to have a lot of energy throughout practice, and I think we did that. I really think we stayed positive."
"I think we wanted to set the tone, not only for what the coaches expect but what the team expects from everybody," said Jenni Benningfield, the other senior captain, "and for everyone to establish what the roles are, what their job is to do.
"We wanted to try to get the freshmen to understand -- and as upperclassmen to remind ourselves -- of the intensity and the hard work that it takes every day for us to get to the level that we want to reach and to know that's an every day occurrance. I think that today that everybody came out and accomplished that."
Besides setting the tone for practices before and throughout the season, another major task was to begin teaching the fundamentals of offense and defense to the seven freshmen, who were participating in their first-ever team practice at the collegiate level.
"We went back to a lot of fundmental breakdown drills," said Benningfield. "Everything we do in practice, every drill that we run, has something to do with our offense.
"We're not doing a drill just to do a drill or just to run. It has a purpose, and [Head Coach Melanie Balcomb] explains to us where it fits into our offense. We take it step by step because it's going to take a while for the seven freshmen to understand it."
"For example, say in our offense we set a down screen and the post pops, and the wing goes out, and other people are doing other stuff. So a breakdown drill would be those three players -- one setting the screen, the post popping, and the other guard stepping out," explained Hager.
Once the drill is set up and explained, it's run repeatedly with different players rotating in. "We're trying to understand the significance of very very detailed stuff, like where to set the screen, how to run off a screen, where to throw the ball, where the looks are going to be in a game," said Benningfield.
"So you do all these little parts of the offense and then when you put it all together, it's a lot easier and it makes a lot more sense," said Hager. " And then, when you get in a whole game situation, it all comes together."
"And then we do that with defense, too," said Benningfield, "learning how to defend a wing player, somebody at the top of the key, that kind of thing, to understand how to defend those. And that's going to help us once we start getting into our matchup zone and man to man stuff.
"But now, it's just a breakdown of a little bit of offense and defense to get us going. It's going to be a little bit of it every day so we don't confuse everybody."
While Saturday's opening practice took place behind closed doors, Memorial Gym's doors will open wide next Sunday for the second annual Black and Gold Scrimmage. The scrimmage will take place from 12-1 p.m., and the public is invited to attend.