The SEC season for women's basketball began on New Year's Day, but thanks to a first round bye, the SEC schedule for the 'Dores begins tonight in Columbia, South Carolina. The early day off may have been a blessing in disguise, as it provided several extra days of healing for injured players.
A roster of only ten recruited players can be a positive, and that was Head Coach Melanie Balcomb's mindset going into the 2011-2012 season.
"The first two weeks of practice, and everybody thinks they’re going to play – because they are, so they’ve stayed into it," she said before practice on Wednesday afternoon. "And you see their attitude determines their altitude, so they’re all playing at a high level, which has made us play at a high level. And then we’ve had little injuries here and there, somebody goes out and the next one comes in, and so they all have to be ready, and I think that’s been a real positive for us, not a negative."
However, as the team finished the non-conference portion of the schedule against Western Carolina last week, the small size of the roster looked as if it might prove disastrous. Late in the game, sophomore guard Christina Foggie, the team's leading scorer, left the game in obvious pain and went straight to locker room with what appeared to be an injury to her shoulder.
A serious injury to Foggie would have been bad enough by itself, but unfortunately for Vanderbilt, she wasn't alone. Junior guard Gabby Smith suffered a concussion in practice before the season-opener. After a comeback attempt in the second game, post-concussion symptoms returned, and she has been sidelined ever since.
Then on the day before the team's only loss at North Carolina State, the season ended for freshman backup point guard Maggie Morrison who suffered a torn ACL. Morrison's injury made an already small roster even smaller. Coupled with Smith's continuing battle with post-concussion symptoms, the numbers were particularly acute for the guard positions, with G/F Elan Brown becoming the only available reserve guard.
With the number of available guards already low, a serious injury to Foggie would have turned a difficult situation into a nearly impossible. Not only would the team have only freshman walk-on Nadine Ndip available as a reserve guard, the team would also have lost its leading scorer, who has scored more than 20 points in six of the last eight games.
Fortunately for Vanderbilt, however, the injury turned out to be not as serious as originally feared, and Foggie talked about the injury prior to practice on Wednesday.
"It’s pretty bruised but nothing’s broken or cracked and my shoulder’s fine," she said. "I’m just dealing with a bruise, basically."
The injury initially appeared to be considerably more serious than that. "I was going up for a rebound, and a girl kind of forearmed me right on the collarbone," said Foggie. "That was tough. It’s like getting kicked in the shin because there’s not much muscle around it. It bruised up and was swollen right away,"
Because of the level of pain and the immediate swelling, it was feared that her collarbone was broken. X-rays, however, proved to be negative. "It hasn’t bothered in the last few days. I’ve been shooting a lot and practicing," she said.
Another piece of good news for Vanderbilt is that Smith may also be able to return to the court. "I’ve been practicing for the last week or so," she said. "It’s been a build up. At first, I was just able to do conditioning, and then finally yesterday was actually my first full practice where I wasn’t taken out of anything."
Although it isn't certain that Smith will play Thursday night, her progress has been encouraging. "Before I would come back and it would be too much, then I’d kind of regress and then go forward again," she said. "So this time we just took things really slow so I wouldn’t have to regress."
Now it appears that Smith might finally be ready to return to action on Thursday night. "That’s the plan, but once again, you have to keep an eye on everything, but that’s what we’re hoping for," she said. "We never really know until the tipoff.