When Vanderbilt senior Tiffany Clarke was a freshman, she didn't believe her teammates who told her how fast the four years would go by. Now she knows. "It came by faster than I thought it would," Clarke said on Wednesday. "I can’t believe four years have gone by this quickly."
Tonight Clarke and her fellow seniors, Gabby Smith and Elan Brown, will play their final game in Memorial Gym. Their time at Vanderbilt will be honored in Senior Night recognition both prior and following the team's last home game tonight when Auburn comes to visit.
The format is a departure from previous Senior Nights during Head Coach Melanie Balcomb's tenure. In previous years, the seniors have been recognized after the game. This year because of the late start time, the Senior Night ceremony will be broken into two parts. Prior to the game, the seniors and their parents will be formally introduced and presented with their parting gifts. Then, after the game, there will be time for reminiscence.
Tonight is also the last opportunity for fans to donate items for Hoops for Kids the team's on-going project to encourage donations to the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital for the children's waiting room. Appropriate items include 8-packs of crayons, small Legos, Play-Doh.
The game also presents the possibility of Balcomb becoming the all-time winningest coach in women's basketball at Vanderbilt. Sunday's win over Texas A&M tied her with former coach Jim Foster for most wins, so the next Vanderbilt win will put her at the top of the list.
But put the hoopla aside, and what's left is an important SEC basketball game against Auburn (15-12 overall, 4-10 SEC). Pundits generally agree that Vanderbilt's win on Sunday probably ensured an NCAA win, but at this point, every game is important to bolster the team's resume for the Selection Committee both for selection and for seeding.
"They’re way better than their record; don’t let their record fool you," said Balcomb on Wednesday. "They’ve got a new coach. They’ve been responding really well to that coach, and as the season has gone on they’ve gotten better and better at knowing what they’re supposed to be doing in a new system with a new coach and what she wants."
Auburn is led in scoring by 6-1 Hasina Muhammad (15.3 ppg), 6-1 Tyrese Tanner (12.7 ppg) and 6-3 Blance Alverson (12.1 ppg). Najat Quardad, the 5-1 point guard, leads the SEC with 6.1 per game.
"They have three scorers, obvious scorers that we’re going to have to take away their strengths and shut down," Balcomb said, "but they also press and force a lot of turnovers and we’re going to have to take care of the basketball and be able to execute against their long, rangy, athletic full-court defense."
Tip-off is 8 p.m. Senior recognition will take place approximately twenty minutes before the game. Following the game there will be additional time to look back on the seniors' Vanderbilt careers. The game will be televised on CSS with former Auburn coach Joe Ciampi providing analysis and the radio broadcast with Charlie Mattos will be on 560 AM.
Photo day, September 2009: Gabby Smith, Tiffany Clarke, Stephanie Holzer, and Elan Brown. (Holzer received a medical redshirt as a freshman following ankle surgery, so she still has eligibility remaining.) (Click image to view a larger version.)
Photo Day, September 2009: Gabby Smith and Jordan Coleman
Photo Day, September 2009: Tiffany Clarke
First road trip, Southern Illinois, November 2009: Elan Brown
Team photo, September 2009: Jence Rhoads, Tiffany Clarke, Ashlee Bridge, Jordan Coleman, Stephanie Holzer, Hannah Tuomi, Rebecca Silinski, Lauren Lueders, Jessica Mooney, Merideth Marsh, Angela Puleo, Gabby Smith, Elan Brown. (Click image to see a larger version.)
September 2012: Gabby Smith, Elan Brown, Tiffany Clarke
* * * * *
Photos copyright 2009-2012 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com