Kicked Out of the Locker Room?

If you were watching the ESPN broadcast of Vanderbilt's victory over Kansas State on Monday night, you probably heard Heather Cox refer to the team being "kicked out of the locker room." If you wondered what she was talking about, here's the answer.

When Heather Cox said on Monday night's broadcast that the Vanderbilt players had been kicked out of the locker room during the regular season, the vast majority of Vanderbilt fans could only scratch their heads in bewilderment.

"I never heard about that," said one avid fan of the women's team, for example. "Was she thinking of Tennessee?"

The question was understandable because of the considerable amount of publicity surrounding Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summitt's eviction of the Lady Vols from their locker room in February. And earlier in the season Rutgers Head Coach Vivian Stringer kicked her team out of the locker room after their collapse against Tennessee.

So Vanderbilt fans naturally wondered whether the same thing had happened at Vanderbilt. Had Head Coach Melanie Balcomb kicked the Commodores out of their locker room?

The answer to that question is "No".

The Dores were in fact kicked out of the locker room, but Balcomb didn't do it.

"I was the one who did it," says Jen Risper.

Nobody outside the program heard about it at the time because the message wasn't intended for the fans or the media; it was a message to the team. Consequently, there was no publicity about it until Cox's comments on Monday night.

It happened in early February after Vanderbilt lost to Mississippi State 66-61 in Starkville.

"It just hit me after the game," Risper said on Wednesday. "I was like, 'I need to do something. . . I'm a senior on this team so I need to do something that's going to affect every single one of us, not just certain people.' I knew Tina would back me up, whatever I would have thrown out, so I wasn't really concerned about talking it over with anybody."

So she told the team, "We don't deserve our locker room, and we're not going to be in there anymore. When we get dressed or whatever we do, we can do it in the visitors' locker room."

"It didn't need to come from our coaches," said fellow senior Tina Wirth. " In past years they've taken away our practice gear and stuff, but we're a mature team and we know what needs to be done and also what we need to do to ourselves to motivate or discipline or whatever word you want to use."

For anyone who remembers high school locker rooms, the importance placed on using a locker room might be hard to understand.

But a college locker room at a top program doesn't bear much of a resemblance to the starkness of the locker rooms in the memories of many fans.

"It's great," said Wirth. "It's been re-done this year, so it's even nicer than in past years. I know a lot of the girls spend a lot of time there. The freshmen often sleep in there because it's so far away [from the new freshman Commons].

"We've got a pool table, three huge Tvs so you can watch whatever you want," she said. "It's given to a team that earns it, and we weren't playing like we should so we didn't earn that."

After the loss in Starkville, the team went on the road and beat Kentucky, then returned home for wins over Florida, Georgia, and Auburn. After the win over Auburn on Senior Night, it was decided that the team had earned the right to return to the locker room. Later, they'd affirm that decision by winning the SEC Tournament then advancing to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

This weekend they'll have the chance to raise the bar even higher when they travel to North Carolina for the Raleigh Regional. The regional semi-finals will be held on Saturday. In the first game at 11 a.m. CT Baylor plays Louisville, followed by the game between Vanderbilt and Maryland at 1:30 CT. The winners will play in the regional finals on Monday night.

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Now that you know the story, you might wonder what the locker room actually looks like. If so, you're in luck, because sophomores Rebecca Silinski and Jence Rhoads, with the help of Chanel Chisholm and Jordan Coleman, agreed to show it off after the Selection Show a couple of weeks ago. After you take a look at the photos, you should understand why "using a locker room" is considered a privilege.

Photos copyright 2009 by WhitneyD for

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