Between the rounds with the Commodores

With a day between games following Round One of the NCAAs, Vanderbilt players on Monday scouted Xavier, answered media questions at a press conference, engaged in a closed practice and focused on Round Two in the biggest stage in women's collegiate basketball. VandyMania caught some of the players before they hit the hardwood.

Tuomi town meeting
At the afternoon press conference, student athletes Merideth Marsh, Jence Rhoads and Hannah Tuomi faced assorted media for the third day in a row. Following up on the compelling angle of Hannah missing last year's tournament and solid performance in Sunday's 83-76 DePaul win, reporters were quick to ask the 6-1 post about her recovery and the difficulty in watching the game rather than playing. Hannah responded that confidence and physical health were slow to return, and she agreed with Xavier's Amber Harris (knee injury last year) that sitting on the sidelines was hard.

Head Coach Melanie Balcomb spoke at length about her player's physical and emotional rebound. "Not having the ability to play for a long time, a long rehab and a long time where she was off the court, that was tough. Just watching her down the stretch, we've become a better team because we have her presence inside. Her face has changed. I can usually tell in their faces about their happiness or calmness. She's smiling a lot more. She was frustrated a lot in the season with her inability to do the things she had done before and she is a player who was playing with some fear."

"Hannah's got great footwork. Hard work is a mentality and to outwork people and get the mentality where you don't think you're going to get stopped. She goes up against bigger kids every night and it doesn't affect her mentality. She does it with confidence because she's been successful going against it."

Family ties
Merideth Marsh is a former AAU teammate with three of the Xavier Musketeers. In 2004 and 2005, the young point guard fed balls to 6-5 forward Amber Harris, 6-6 center Ta'Shia Philiips and 6-0 guard Dee Dee Jernigan in The Family, an Indiana team that earned a No. 1 national ranking during her summer tenure. She had the distinct pleasure of dishing alley oops to Harris, one of the few women in high school who could dunk.

"We were good friends and I played with them for two solid summers. It's kind of cool to see teammates you played with in high school have such outstanding college careers. It's cool to see people living their dream."

Those ties give her insider knowledge to the kind of play Vandy can expect Tuesday night. But the opposite is true as well. "Of course players will change their game over four years but I do have a little bit of an inside scoop on how they play," Merideth said, adding, "they could say the same thing for me, too."

Family ties, part two
Much has been made of the return to Cincinnati for players Ashlee Bridge and Gabby Smith as well as Melanie Balcomb. The team enjoyed meals at the delicious Montgomery Inn Boathouse on the river, and with the hotel in the city's beautiful downtown, there are views to behold but not much hangout time for the natives.

"We've been together as a team the whole time," Gabby said. "We went to a movie the other day at a place where my friends could see me so that was fun. My best friend came down for the game yesterday. She goes to school in Cleveland. My grandparents and my family all came to the hotel last night so I was able to hang out with them for a couple of hours."

Media magnet
When Lauren Lueders wrapped up a senior internship in 2009, she experienced what takes place on the other side of the camera. The ‘Dores attracted extensive television coverage which spotlighted the black and gold for much of the SEC season. Lauren assisted Nashville's News Channel 5 as a sports intern this past summer, so the NCAA media exposure is not as impressive as in past seasons. She and Jence Rhoads are not superstitious and have no pre-game rituals – the focus, cameras or not, is preparing to win and media coverage is part of the package.

"This is a big stage and it was good to have been around the media before. It was such a good experience this summer. I learned so much. And now I'm playing in the NCAA and I've been on both ends. You just get such a unique perspective and it's pretty neat."

Swaying to the music
True or false? Tiffany Clarke, the All SEC Freshman power forward, is more inclined to rip down a rebound than relax to the soft soul of Alicia Keys or urban hip hop. If you answered all of the above, you win a front row seat to watch Vanderbilt (23-10) play fifth-ranked Xavier (28-3) on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Conditioner & cheering squad
When Strength & Conditioning Coach Tash Weddle runs the Commodores through their paces, she gets them ready to bump, jump and sprint with the core training needed to shape these particular athletes (she also works with lacrosse and soccer teams). Fifty minutes before game time she hits the court to direct players in drills for stretching and warm-ups. At game time during these rounds, she's on the bench with a pair of injured players, and all three add to the cheering squad for the five on the floor.

"The biggest thing right now is to give them enough rest, to get them off their feet and making sure they're not staying up late," Tash said. "Usually it's lights off at eleven. Mostly it's about regeneration. They've done the work in the off season and they're all definitely in shape, but sometimes fatigue covers up fitness, so right now we're watching that."

Jordan Coleman and Stephanie Holzer join the coaching staff on the bench to shout their encouragement and high five their teammates. Jordan is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the December 2 Wright State game, and 6-4 freshman center Stephanie has sat out all season to fully recover from ankle surgery.

"I'm still limited with what I'm allowed to do in practices depending on how my ankle and leg are doing," Stephanie said of her team role. "I can jump and run in drills and try to help the girls get better. Obviously we want to be out there, and it's hard not being out there, but at the same time, I'm totally committed to this team and wanting them to go as far as they can."


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