"I had to play more minutes because of the injuries. It wasn't our plan at the beginning of the season for me to be playing the 4 position all season," Lauren said. "No one wanted that to happen to Jordan (Coleman) or Steph (Holzer), but you do what you do. That was the key to our team. Different people stepped up all the time whether it was people off the bench, whether it was Elan (Brown) hitting big threes or Gabby (Smith) or Becca (Silinski). That's what was neat about our team."
When Jordan's season ended prematurely due to an ACL tear suffered on December 3, the injury was a double whammy after freshman center Stephanie Holzer, a McDonald's High School All American, had pre-season surgery and endured months of recovery to strengthen her ankle.
"It was a crazy year for our team with all the injuries. For me to start playing the 4 was very different. It was something I continued to get better at over time and that helped my confidence level. I've always been confident but when you get out on the floor and start to hit shots, your confidence grows and that's what happened this year."
The boost in confidence was evident – in 10 of 12 categories for career high stats, Lauren tied or bested previous marks in the 2009/10 season. Highs and ties included 18 points against Ole Miss, 6 field goals made against ETSU, 13 field goals attempted against ETSU, four 3- pointers made against Tennessee, 11 3-pointers attempted against ETSU, 4 free thows made against Ole Miss, 5 free thorws attempted against NC State, 8 rebounds at Ole Miss, 5 assists at Tennessee and 37 minutes at Florida.
But the game that stood out most for her during the regular season was the win over previously unbeaten No. 6 Georgia. "Jence (Rhoads) had just gotten hurt (broken hand). I was hurt. I played through it but I don't know how. It was a lateral ankle sprain and probably involved every ligament in there." Lauren played 34 minutes without a turnover, and played in pain. Her ankle still throbs and in a recent pickup game, she needed it taped before hitting the court.
There was pain of a different sort after lofting a last ditch 3-point attempt that bounced into heartbreak in Vandy's NCAA Second Round game at Xavier. The No. 3 seed Musketeers played catch-up after the ‘No. 6 seed Dores allowed 10 points leads to slip twice in the second half.
"I thought it was going in. I can remember those seconds in my head. I can see everything. I can see Hannah (Tuomi) passing the ball out to Jess (Mooney), and Jess fumbled it just a sec and passed it to me and she (defender) came out and she's so long I didn't' think I could get it out over her so I took a step left and it kind of messed up my rhythm a little and I faded. When it left my hand it felt real good. It gives me chills to think about. I can say I thought it was going in and when I saw Jence's shot, I was sure it was going in. I remember standing there and then falling to the floor."
Passion was a staple of Lauren's game. From spontaneous body slams with teammates to fist-clenching yells of encouragement, the physically tough and emotionally sensitive Lauren wore it on her sleeve.
"That was my role this year - the emotional leader – but often that can hinder you," Lauren acknowledged. "It did in my younger years. I'd get mad at myself. Jence and Hannah were so tough and straight-faced and I was kind of the one that let it ride emotionally."
As a soon-to-be graduate in Human and Organizational Development, those emotions are surface level again. "I have a lot of emotions. I am extremely excited to move on in life. I'm a little nervous. I'm sad basketball is over, but you move on."
Lauren is taking time to hunt for work after graduation; this will be her first full summer ever without basketball. But whatever that job is, it will be something she loves doing – perhaps media, maybe social work. "I really like it here. I haven't ruled out grad school so that's a thought still lingering."
As for takeaways on how she viewed her time as a student athlete at Vanderbilt, Lauren reminisced about growth, and how challenges on and off the court chiseled her personality.
"As a freshman, most things in your life have gone your way. You made it to Vanderbilt and you're getting to go for free. With some things not going my way, I can say that my character was tested daily. I matured tremendously and I know I'm a better person leaving here than when I came in. I also know I am very equipped to handle anything that the real world or life has to throw at me. I've been through enough here that I'm ready to face anything out there."
Rebecca Silinski and Lauren Lueders during a Notre Dame timeout.
Lauren Lueders encourages Gabby Smith at Tennessee.
Lauren Lueders and Elan Brown enjoy Hannah Tuomi's basket.
Lauren Lueders looks for a shot as Sarah Watkins defends for Arkansas.
Lauren is comforted by parents Doyle and Donna Lueders on Senior Day.