Women's Hoops: Practice report

On Sunday afternoon Vanderbilt fans got their first peek at the 2005-2006 women's basketball team when Head Coach Melanie Balcomb opened the doors to the gym for an open practice.

"I wanted to get fans excited about our season coming up and getting them looking forward to our games and getting a quick look at the new players that we have," said Balcomb after practice.

In all, there are seven newcomers to the team, including four true freshmen, two redshirt sophomore transfers, and one sophomore walk-on.

The newest face on the team is point guard Candice Lightford (right), shown here with senior point guard Erica Grimaldi. Lightford, who recently joined the team as a walk-on, grew up in Nashville and graduated from Nashville School of the Arts. Since NSA doesn't field athletic teams, she played basketball with the Pearl-Cohn Comprehensive High School team.

While at NSA, Lightford was an instrumental music major, playing the bass guitar, trumpet and piano. At Vanderbilt, the sophomore point guard is majoring in computer science.

Although she's new to the team this year, she already has some experience with the players. For the past two summers, she's been part of the regular pickup games in Memorial Gym. After considering trying out for the team last year, this year she decided to go for it and made the team as a walk-on.

The two redshirt sophomores are 6'4 post Liz Sherwood and 6'3 post Rachel Brockman. Brockman (above) originally came to Vanderbilt as a member of the class of 2007, but prior to the start of the season, she left school for personal reasons. Last year she played with Daytona Beach Community College and returned to Vanderbilt in June for summer school and was welcomed back to the team.

Sherwood (above) came close to joining the class of 2007 as a freshman before ultimately decided to go to UConn instead. But after her freshman year, she transferred to Vanderbilt. After sitting out the 2004-2005 to satisfy NCAA transfer requirements, she is eligible to play this year.

The four freshmen are 6'3 post Amy Malo from Fairmont, Minnesota, 6'1 guard/forward Tina Wirth from Mesa, Arizona, 5'9 guard Holly Rogers from Cleveland, Tennessee, and 5'9 guard Jen Risper from Moreno Valley, California.

Malo (above) has been spending a lot of time with trainer Michele Loftis as she continued rehabbing a summer injury. "She can do some things," said Loftis on Sunday. "We're still working on her rehab getting her stronger, getting her ready to go."

Wirth (above) is learning both the post and guard positions and will swing between the positions as need demands.

Rogers (above) will play the 2-guard and 3-guard positions. Of the four freshmen, she's been on campus the longest as she was attended both sessions of summer school.

Risper (above, in this photo taken last week) also will play the 2-guard and 3-guard positions. She's on the rehab list along with Malo following surgery for to correct a knee injury in August. "She can shoot," said Loftis. "We're just not to the point right now where she can do any contact stuff."

Membership has its privileges.The Commodore Crew has supported the women's basketball team for fourteen years, but for the first time this year, three different membership levels were made available. Members who joined at Level 3, the highest level, were invited to sit in chairs at courtside at Sunday's practice.

Staff changes. Jillian Danker, who formerly worked with the women's basketball team as one of the four Director of Sports Operations within the athletic program, left the position this fall to become a full-time graduate student.

The position is now filled by Lori Alexander, formerly strength and conditioning coach for several teams at Vanderbilt including the women's basketball team. The new strength and conditioning coach is Tasha Weddle, who came to Vanderbilt this fall from Purdue.

In September Kerwin Lonzo, the SID for women's basketball, left Vanderbilt for a position at the University of Virginia. Chris Weinman, a Vanderbilt graduate who has worked in the Media Relations Department at Vanderbilt for several years, has taken his place.

Lots of 06's. Fans catching their first glimpse of Liz Sherwood saw the number 06 on the back of her practice jersey. Then they noticed that Nicole Jules was wearing the number 6, too. And so were Dee Davis, Carla Thomas, and everybody else.

It isn't a new attempt to build team unity by assigning everybody the same number. It's an every day reminder that the team wants to surpass their Sweet 16 finishes of the last two years by extending the season one weekend longer into April 2006.

* * * *

Photographs copyright 2005 by WhitneyD for Vandymania.com.

Commodores Daily Top Stories