Vanderbilt 30-year Tribute to Women's Hoops

Former players return to Vanderbilt to honor 3 decades of history for the women's program on Sunday. Coach Melanie Balcomb reminisces about the tradition of excellence that is a building block for the current program.

Tradition is powerful. Ask opponents who visit Memorial Gym and sense the history, observing the banners touting 5 SEC tournament titles, 20 NCAA appearances, a Final Four and a national championship. The Vanderbilt women's program has turned 30, and on Sunday, January 27, the school's Alumni Relations office will pay tribute to its growth and national prominence at a noon luncheon.

The Vanderbilt women were the school's first team in any sport to win a national title – the Women's National Invitational Tournament in 1984. Since the program's start in 1977, the Commodores have averaged 21 wins per season and achieved national rankings in all but two of the past 25 years. The 1992-1993 Final Four team earned Vanderbilt's first ever number one ranking and held that position for 6 weeks until the season's end.

1995 graduate and point guard for the Final Four team, former WNBA New York Liberty guard Rhonda Blades Brown, is scheduled to speak, as will former women's athletic director June Stewart, former assistant coach Pat Moran and Coach Melanie Balcomb before a 2 p.m. SEC match against Ole Miss (8-8, 2-1). Vanderbilt (13-6, 2-2) will attempt to end the Rebel's two-game win streak; the team's sole SEC loss was to No. 10 Georgia, 62-75, in Athens.

Only the fourth coach to lead the Commodore women, Balcomb said the school's tradition of winning and excellence led her to leave Xavier for Vandy in 2002.

"When we played in Memorial Gym for the first time, I could feel that overall tradition of success. I could feel it in the gym, I could see in the banners, in the Hall of Fame. They display a lot of the tradition here, and there was a great crowd that had great respect for the program. It was a very tough place to play."

Eric Smith
Misty Lamb shoots. Misty Lamb Thompson and Rhonda Blades Brown are among players to be honored at the tribute. Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Photography.
Among the former players expected to attend are graduate assistant coach Caroline Williams, who holds Vanderbilt and SEC records for career three-point field percentage with 46.5%, second all-time in the NCAA; 1993 Final Four team member Misty Lamb Thompson, a 1,000-point career scorer; and former WNBA San Antonio Silver Stars player Karen Booker, who coached at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Sewanee.

Blades, Lamb, Mara Cunningham and Heidi Gillingham had made an impression on Balcomb. "That Final Four team got great national exposure. I remember them being so tall, having so many big players. The other memorable history that stands out was watching Chantelle Anderson in her early years, watching those games against Tennessee on television, the rivalry showcased on ESPN."

The foundation is set for the current program to continue making progress. "Right now I feel good about where we're at as a program and what I came to do," Balcomb said. "We came to build on the tradition and try to take it to the next level which means getting to another Final Four and winning a national championship. That's still our goal, still our motivator and that's why we came here. We haven't achieved that yet, so we're still not done."

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