Photo Gallery: Women's hoops Tempe road trip

The women's basketball team opened the regular season over the weekend in the WBCA/BTI Classic in Tempe, Arizona. Whitney D recaps the weekend in this photo gallery.

Before the trip, after practice on Wednesday freshmen Holly Rogers and Tina Wirth look over the menu choices for their first meal on their first road trip as Commodores.

The team is scheduled to fly to Phoenix after Thursday's practice. After practice on Thursday, the players, including Tina and fellow freshman Jen Risper, pick up their sack lunches which have magically appeared in Memorial Gym. They'll eat on the bus on the way to the airport.

(Okay, it's really the hard-working managers who make sure that the food is there on time, but they work so efficiently behind the scenes that it looks like magic.)

The support staff travels with the team, including Chris Weinman, media relations contact for women's basketball and Charlie Mattos, the Voice of Vanderbilt Women's Basketball.

The weekend games will take place at Wells Fargo Arena on the Arizona State campus in Tempe.

For Tina, who earned Arizona Player of the Year honors while playing basketball for Seton Catholic in nearby Mesa, Arizona, the trip is a homecoming. Family, friends, and former teammates and coaches welcomed her home.

The season officially tips off as sophomore transfer Liz Sherwood jumps center for the first time as a Commodore. After sitting out the 2004-05 season to meet NCAA transfer requirements, she's finally eligible to play. Tina, #34, joins Liz in the starting lineup, along with junior veterans Caroline Williams, Dee Davis, and Carla Thomas.

Early in the game, one of the officials explains to Arizona State Coach Charli Turner Thorne, "Yes, that really was a foul on your player."

In her first game for Vanderbilt, Liz scored 17 points and pulled down eight rebounds in 36 minutes of play.

Tina scored only two points in her Vanderbilt debut, but led the team with nine rebounds, including five offensive rebounds. The game also marked the return of Jill Noe to the ASU lineup after two years on the sidelines due to torn ACLs prior to each of the last two seasons.

Rachel Brockman also made her long-delayed debut in black and gold in Friday night's game. After arriving at Vanderbilt as one of the seven 07s in the fall of 2003, she left the team prior to the start of the season for personal reasons. At the end of the 2004-05 season, Rachel returned to Vanderbilt and to the team.

Junior post Carla Thomas has been nursing a knee injury that limited her pre-season practice time and kept her out of last week's exhibition game. Saddled with two early whistles for offensive fouls, she only played 23 minutes against ASU, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds.

Over the weekend, she showed that it wasn't a fluke that she won the free throw shooting competition at Hoop Jam, sinking all eight of her free throw attempts.

Junior guard Cherish Stringfield came off the bench against ASU to score 12 points. Late in the game, her hustle put her at the bottom of the pile in a scramble for a loose ball. The tweaked ankle she suffered in the scrum kept her out of Saturday night's game against Clemson.

The face of a college basketball team changes over time as former stars graduate, and new players arrive to take their places. After ASU won the game 69-60, the media got a glimpse of the future face of Vanderbilt women's basketball when Tina and Liz joined Coach Melanie Balcomb in the post-game press conference.

Coach Balcomb said that the focus at halftime was on trying to get the team to take care of the basketball after 18 first half turnovers. She said that after the team went ahead 38-30 in the second half, "We didn't play defense."

Liz said, "I think they were just burning us on that high low, and we just weren't playing good defense, especially myself, and I think that got us frustrated on offense."

Tina, who snared four offensive rebounds of missed free throws, said that she'd learned something from watching game film of the exhibition game. "I was standing too close to the player that was going to box me out," she said, "so this time I moved over so they couldn't put a body on right away."

Coach Balcomb added, "She listened, she made a change, and it worked."

Holly made her Vanderbilt debut during the weekend, too. After playing just two minutes against Arizona State on Friday night, she filled in for Cherish against Clemson in the consolation game of the tourney. In 29 minutes, she only scored three points, but contributed four rebounds, two assists and three steals -- with no turnovers.

From the sidelines, Coach Balcomb cheers and exhorts the team. In the background, with the Vanderbilt lead against Clemson over 30 points, Dee Davis has earned a breather and shares the moment with Tina.

Journalist ethics preclude using Photoshop to add cartoonish stars or tweeting birds circling around somebody's head. But in this case, those stars and birdies might better convey the truth about senior point guard Erica Grimaldi's trips to the free throw line.

A hard foul on a drive to the basket and a bone-crashing head-knocking mid-air collision on the perimeter sent her to the line for four foul shots. She converted on three of four of them, despite the little birdies and stars.

Since her freshman year, senior post Nicole Jules has been hampered by the lingering effects of a knee injury and subsequent surgery. Before this season began, she told VandyMania that her knee is probably the best it's ever been since her freshman season.

In the pre-season, she was able to practice more than in the past few years. "It helps me gain confidence, and when I'm out there more, my teammates can gain confidence in me, too," she told VandyMania last month.

That confidence showed in Saturday night's game against Clemson. In 22 minutes of play, she shot a perfect eight for eight from the field and two for three from the free throw line for a career-high 18 points, a key factor in Vanderbilt's 86-49 victory over the Tigers.

Photographs copyright 2005 by Whitney D. for Top Stories