Vanderbilt University isn't a run-of-the-mill institute for higher learning, itís unique among American colleges. Even if its academic programs hadnít been honored by national magazines--including its Ph.D. programs in Pharmacology and Religion, its MBA program, and law school--and the story of how Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt donated money in 1873 to create and endow it wasn't well known, it would remain unique. Even if loads of other colleges could lay claim to being named a national arboretum (in 1988) and have an entire campus named as a National Historic Landmark (in 1966). Vanderbilt would still be unique even if it didnít have a small student body (less than 11,000 including graduate and professional enrollment) and a picturesque 330-acre campus. Vanderbilt is different from other colleges across the U.S. for one important reason: it dwells in the same city as the Mecca of country music, the Grand Ole Opry. Yes, you can check out life at Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt.edu, but youíll get a lot more twang for your internet time at the Grand Ole Opry website. There's enough time for teams clad in Gold and Black for the rest of the year, so settle back for some good ol' entertainment.
With its storied womenís program, Vanderbilt has played in its share of major games over the years and several of them have come against Purdue. The Commodores upset the Boilermakers in the 2nd round of the NCAAs in Mackey Arena a few years ago, despite Purdue having two of its best players ever on the roster: Joy Holmes and MaChelle Joseph. A few years later, however, Purdue paid back Vanderbilt by ousting them from the NCAAs on a last-second 3-pointer by Jannon Roland. The teams have played quite often for not being in the same conference, last in the 1999-2000 season at Mackey Arena with the Boilers winning. Look for Vanderbilt to remain near the top of the NCAA rankings for years to come as first-year head coach Melanie Balcomb has inked one of the most talented and deepest classes across the country for next year. Standouts include point guard Dee Davis from Ohio and guard Katie Antony from Louisiana. Learn more about the Vanderbilt program at its official website.
With the peach of a program that Vanderbilt has, it seemed odd that its coaching situation remained unresolved awhile last year after the former head coach left for Ohio State. Vanderbilt made a number of runs at prominent coaches, then decided to hire Tom Collen before questions were raised about his academic resume. Collen resigned immediately and another search commenced, ending with the hiring of Coach Balcomb. All of the difficulty, despite having two of the best players in the nation at their positions led womenscollegehoops.com to consider what issues the Nashville-based school might have had to overcome in hiring a coach. Read the article at the Women's College Hoops website.
OK, letís set the record straight. Everyone in the nation (and the Purdue womenís forum) knows about Vanderbiltís all-everything center Chantelle Anderson who never misses from the floor and will be one of the top two picks in the WNBA draft next year. Everyone also knows about spunky, sparky point guard Ashley McElhiney, the too-small, too-slow, ice-in-her-veins leader of the Commodores. But this section of the opponentsí roundup is supposed to highlight players who arenít so well known to Purdue fans. So meet junior forward Jenni Benningfield: she currently leads the Commodores in scoring and rebounding at 15 points per game and over eight rebounds a game. Sheís deadly accurate from the field (60%) and has proved that she can hit the 3-point shot (over 40% career) despite being 6í3. Vanderbiltís unsung player as a freshman, Jenni struggled a bit last year as her numbers dropped but she seems to be back with a vengeance this year. With Anderson and McElhiney getting the bulk of the press this preseason, itís hard to find many interviews with Benningfield alone. Instead, enjoy her page on the Vanderbilt team site.
Vanderbilt will provide the Boilermakers with their most difficult challenge in the preseason, bar none. The Commodores are an experienced team with star players at the two most important positions in college basketball: center and point guard. Figure that no one on Purdue will stop Chantelle and the reverse is true for Shereka and Vanderbilt. Erika and McElhiney will probably cancel each other out. Hillary Hager and Beth Jones will find her long-lost twin in this game and cancel one another out as well. Jenni Benningfield is far more versatile and potent than any player Purdue can serve up at forward, so the edge goes to Vanderbilt in the starting five. On the bench, Vanderbilt can throw last yearís part-time starter and current spark Ashley Earley and guard Abi Ramsey. Purdueís super six frosh plus Emily Heikes have more depth to challenge Vanderbilt, but not the firepower that Earley brings. No, the Commodores havenít played any opponents of note and some of their statistics may be overblown (42.6% from 3-point range?!), but who has Purdue played? Watch for Vanderbilt to hand the Boilermakers a close loss in Arizona on Friday.
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