Center Stage on Senior Day

Vanderbilt senior center Liz Sherwood looks back and ahead as Senior Day approaches on March 2. The well-loved senior made her mark in the SEC with multiple Sixth Man of the Year awards, the 1,000 Point Club and helping lead Vandy to an SEC tournament title.

Fifth-year senior Liz Sherwood is about to get serious. On Sunday, March 2, following Vanderbilt's last season home game against Alabama, the 6'4" center, known for a wild sense of humor and great rapport with fans and fellow students, will take the arm of her father Jim and walk onto the familiar hardwood of Memorial Gym on Senior Day to soak up memories from three of the most meaningful years of her life.

Time has moved quickly, perhaps too rapidly for the reluctant graduate-to-be who will receive a B.A. in Economics on May 10. The emotions of what is coming flow across her face as she reflects on the next phase.

"It's weird," she ponders. "I never thought this day would come. It's so funny that every year goes faster and faster and faster. My freshman year, I never thought that sucker would end. And now, like whoa, the season just started and now it's the end."

There is basketball yet to be played after Senior Day, just days later with the March 6-9 SEC tournament, also in Nashville, and that will ease the transition. "I like to think I'll be okay, but I might cry. At the end of the day I cry a lot at sentimental stuff."

One of those occasions to remember came February 21 when Liz joined Vanderbilt's elite 1,000 Point Club with a 10-point effort against Arkansas. The 108 points she scored with Connecticut as a freshman did not count towards the total, but the number has grown to 1,014 after 8 points at Auburn, and there will be more opportunities. She currently ranks 27th all-time in scoring at the school, just 4 points from passing Rhonda Blades (1,017 points, 1992-95).

That accomplishment, as well as being twice named the SEC Sixth Woman of the Year and leading the nation in field goal percentage multiple weeks, will be more appreciated once this ride is over.

Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb described Liz's contributions as immense. "She's done a ton for this program. She's made a huge impact and a positive impact on our program for all the years she's been here. I think she'll realize that when she looks back. Hopefully we'll go far and make a run and she will do more."

Little signs along the way have helped Liz adjust to the change that's coming. Not the least of which was a birthday in December. She is now 23, five years older than Vanderbilt's incoming freshmen.

"Yeah, it will be different. It's probably time for a change," she admits. "My teammates keep reminding me how old I am. I feel like I need to start life, but I'm not ready to give this up yet."

The age gap was even more pronounced when Jackie, the well-meaning mother of Colorado freshman Hannah Tuomi, paid Liz a compliment that produced unintentional laughter.

"It was a nice little reminder on Hannah's official visit when her mom told me that they used to go to my high school games when she was little. I was like, 'thanks. That was great.' That's the moment when I felt really old."

A heavily recruited High School Parade All American, Liz played her freshman year in Storrs, Connecticut, home of national champion UConn. Hampered by a knee injury which limited action, she did not participate in UConn's Final Four games. Liz, who places a premium on happiness, was definitely not content. She decided to sit out a year of eligibility in a transfer to Vanderbilt, which by a narrow margin had nearly signed her first.

"UConn, my favorite subject," she answers. "I thought people would forget about that over time." Asked if she has any regrets, she says she doesn't dwell on what might have been.

"There's the occasional wondering. But I choose to ignore it. Every once in a while people ask what it would have been like? Who knows?" she says with a shrug.

Since then, Liz has made her mark in the SEC and as a student-athlete. Coach Balcomb recognized her progress. "She's grown as a student as well as a player and a person in all the things we do on and off the court as a team and in the community. I'll be proud of her as she graduates. She's done so well in every area; she'll be so well rounded and have the opportunity to do whatever she wants from here on."

Leaving Vanderbilt means leaving a tight-knit family as well. An only child, Liz has sisters on the court, teammates she's laughed with, cried with (cheesy B-movies get her every time) and played pranks with.

I don't think there is another time in your life when you're as close to 12 or 13 other people as you are when you're on a college basketball team," she says fondly. "Some of my friends play professionally, but it's never the same. They said after college, basketball is just a job."

Juniors Tina Wirth and Jennifer Risper joined the senior the summer of 2004 when they were freshmen and her eligibility began. "Liz is tough," Tina says. "She has every move in the book. You don't always see it. For somebody that big to do that it's really incredible. When she really wants to bury you, there's nothing anyone can do to stop that."

After graduation, Liz is setting her sights on more basketball - whether it's on U.S. soil or elsewhere, she just wants to play.

"By no means am I putting all my eggs in the WNBA basket. I want a backup plan. I've seen a lot of people go through stuff, and then they're stuck until winter. I think I'd like to play somewhere. If the summer doesn't work out, then I'd like to play overseas. I still want to play more basketball."

Liz has changed, found adventure, found family, found maturity during this special period of life. Putting aside humor for a moment, Liz remarks that she has adapted, and she has hoops and school to thank for it.

"When I grew up, I lived in a very small little box. I've learned a lot about different people and that there's just more out there in the world. That's a big step that college provides you with and, I've kind of transitioned in my life. I came to college when I was 18 and now I leave at 23. That's 5 years - that's big. I've done a lot of growing over the years."

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Photos copyright 2006-08 by Whitney D for

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