Meet the Super Commodores

Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb often says, "Team beats talent," and Vanderbilt's recent run through the SEC Tournament provided persuasive evidence that the women's basketball team is "a team" in the truest sense of the word.

After the Dores returned home with the championship trophy, VandyMania's Whitney D asked super sophs Tina Wirth and Jen Risper to talk the development of the team the course of the season. Since Tina is the de facto team photographer, she shared some of her photos to help tell the story.

Tina: This year we started really early. We were all here this summer, and we made a really conscious effort to involve the freshmen the first day that they were here. We all lived on the same hall in the dorm, so you'd walk out of your room if you were bored and just walk down the hall and knock on someone's door, "What are you doing?" Just little things like that. We were together all day, every day. And we played some freshman pranks.

Jen: We set up a plan where we filled up all these water balloons, and we had Dee tell them we were getting all serious and were going to have a team meeting. Then she blew her whistle, and we all came running out, throwing water balloons at them.

Tina: We locked all their doors so they couldn't run back in to their rooms, so they were trapped in the hallway.

Jen: We got them pretty good and took a picture. Then we figured we had to do it again because Merideth wasn't here.

Jen: So we decided while they were all gone in class, we'd take all their furniture in their rooms and mix their furniture up in different people's rooms.

Jen: We took all of Merideth's stuff out of her room because she wasn't even there, and we left her a fire extinguisher.

Tina: I had a room right across from hers, and I was taking a nap when she got back from class. I heard her scream. She said the first thing that entered her mind was to call her mom and tell her that her stuff had been stolen. I was like, um, "Don't call your mom."

Jen: And we made a video, so that they could watch the video and find the keys to their room. On the video, we'd say something like, "Under the window sill!"

Tina: And we had different videos, too, like of Jen, sitting in a rocking chair, with a sign that said "Gotcha!" So they saw all these videos with everyone laughing at them

Jen: We know how it is to be a freshman, and our goal was to make sure that any freshman ever coming in was going to feel like they really belonged and that they were part of the team, and that they're close to all their teammates, and they felt like that when they came, it was home.

Tina: And it isn't like just the 12 players. The coaches and Tash [Tasha Weddle, the team's strength and conditioning coach] and everyone else involved got into it.

This summer we went every morning at 6 a.m. with Tash on the football turf and in the weight room, where we did our workouts. Some days were really tough. Then at the end of the summer, Tash split us into two teams to test what we had done all summer.

So our teams got creative and made shirts and names and everything. But I thought that was really cool because Tash did it. She was the one that came up with the event. It was really fun.

Jen: My team was Got Yo Drawls.

They were Too Swoll to Lose, but they lost.

Tina: We got killed.

Jen: And we put mean names on the back. We had crazy names. For everyone on their team. Like somebody had Tina and put "Wirthless" and then I had Jessica and we called her "Booney. It was really fun. Got Yo Drawls won, like twice.

Tina: But it was cool, too, because I'm sure that Tash wouldn't have done that if we hadn't earned it all summer long. She rewarded us because we worked so hard all summer. She's really passionate about her job, too, and that's evident in everything she does. But she's really gotten to know us to and sees that we're going to work hard and still have fun.

And the coaches are part of it, too. Obvoiusly, our coaches can't make us be a team, but when we already are, they're on board, too. I think that's what really makes it work, because if it's two separate groups, coaches on one side, players on the other, not supporting each other or even going against each other, you might have good chemistry over here, and good chemistry over there, but it falls apart in the middle.

Last year, like Jen said, we talked about the freshmen, but we talked about our relationship with our coaches, too. We both had great relationships with our high school coaches, and I've always had a good relationship with every coach I've played for. So we talked about how we're going to randomly go up to their offices when they don't call us up there to talk, just to stop in and say, "Hey," make that more informal, and show them that we're trying to get to know them better .

So in the summer when you have a lot of time that you don't have during the year, we'd just stop by and say, "Hey, Coach Norman if you need a baby sitter, we'd love to babysit," and then she'd have us over at her house and we'd babysit. Just little things like that, and then they could see like "These girls want to know us, why not? Why not tell them about us?"

Jen: They made tons of effort, too. Coach Balcomb always says that her door's always open -- and it really is. She's always in her office. All of them are always up there, welcoming us, They're never like, "I'm busy right now." Never. You never feel like they don't want you there.

When Coach Balcomb brings her dogs up there, she'll always text me: "Gizmo and Gabby are here! " Then I'm like, "I'm coming right up!" It's cool to know that your coaches want to be with you as much as you want to be with them. It's really not like the titles "Coach" and "Player". It's like "We're people."

Jen: Before Valentine's Day, Coach Lisa [Cemingnano] and Coach Vicky [Picott] had this idea where we put our names in a hat and all the teammates and managers would pick a name.

Tina: Like Secret Santas and secret admirers.

Jen: You would leave the notes, like, "I admire this about you" and leave them like a little gift. You'd constantly leave them presents like that.

Then we had the idea that we should do something for the coaches. Everybody wrote a letter to each of the coaches to tell them how much we care about them and how much we admire them for what they do, and how thankful we are. We got bags and put the notes and candy in them. Then in the hotel, we'd knock on their door and give them their little bag, and I think they really liked that. It was cool.

Jen: I think all of that just helped build towards our ultimate goal. We won the SEC championship, but none of us are really satisfied with that. We're happy that we won it, but we don't talk about it any more. We may say, "Wow, we won it!" -- but we know what we really want, and we aren't there yet.

Photos courtesy of Tina Wirth. Top Stories