Following Vandy's 84-47 defeat of Tennessee State University (3-7), coaches acknowledged that the team has been without that privilege since the return to campus and practice gear was taken away.
"We want our girls to get to the level where they're working hard and understand what is expected," said Head Coach Melanie Balcomb. "They have to earn what they are given. It is a lesson of discipline and learning. They have to appreciate what they're given. This team is responding really well."
Adding to the team's adversity was the one-game suspension of three freshmen for violating team rules. A visibly disappointed Head Coach Melanie Balcomb said it was the first time she could ever recall suspending freshmen.
The eight available Commodores, only six of them healthy, were enough to hold TSU to 20 points in the first half and 27 in the second. The 52 points Vandy scored in the first half were a season high, aided by six three-pointers from senior guard Merideth Marsh, who ended with 24 points at the final buzzer. Jessica Mooney (15 points, 6 rebounds) played sick and Hannah Tuomi (15 points, 8 rebounds) suited up with an inflamed and infected knee. Lauren Lueders had 10 points and 8 rebounds while reigning SEC Freshman of the Week Tiffany Clarke led the team in rebounds with 9 and finished with 6 points. Vanderbilt (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) now leads the series with the Lady Tigers 14-2.
Hannah said the adversity of being short players as well as playing injured herself, was a test of their strength.
"It wasn't easy, but you always have to push through. We have adversity and we have to see who is the strongest. It was a challenge, but we overcame it and came out with a win. It was good to know we are tough enough to push through."
Recording 25 assists, up from 16.6 team average, the ‘Dores showed the benefits of a week of uninterrupted practice and the effort of those eight pleased their head coach.
"We made corrections, adjustments, and we were able to bring them to where they needed to be," Balcomb said. "We were working hard to be more unselfish and do something for someone else. We just worked on the little things for each other. It was all emotion and it looks like how it was supposed to look. It has been happening in spurts all season."
With the break for Christmas now underway, players Jence and Hannah said teamwork is still at the forefront of their thoughts.
"We can't let this break affect our focus," Hannah said. "I'll make a few snowmen and snow angels, but we'll all be in the gym over break. You don't want to overdo it, but you don't want to just sit around either."
Jence added, "We just need to keep working harder and get better. We've been getting better in practices this week and we need to carry that over. We have to keep the team in mind while we're at home."
The team returns to practice the day after Christmas to prepare for the December 28 home game against East Tennessee State and the December 31 matchup with fourth-ranked Notre Dame. It doesn't get any easier with SEC play jumping off January 3 against Ole Miss.
Merideth Marsh hits a 3-pointer.
Tiffany Clarke gets a hand on a TSU ball.
Jence Rhoads drives around Lady Tiger defenders.
Hannah Tuomi pushes off for two on a bad knee.