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1997-98 Women's Basketball Review

There were lessons in the losses of 1997-98. The third best start in program history was derailed when key players were lost to the Commodores for extended and important stretches of the season.

Once again Vanderbilt made it to the NCAA Touranment, the 10th consecutive trip, only this time an early overtime defeat provided the most compelling of all.

"I hope that the hurt of losing early in the NCAA would burn in these players relative to expectation," Head Coach Jim Foster said. "Don't assume anything, be prepared for everything. I donąt think we were prepared for what happened at the end of the year."

In typical fashion, Vanderbilt racked up more than its share of victories, winning at least 20 games for the seventh year ­ every year with Foster at the helm. On January 18 in front of one of largest crowds at Arkansas, the Commodores defeated an Arkansas team that ultimately made it to the Final Four.

Other victories over Top 20 teams which reached the post season included a 68-65 win over Georgia and a 79-71 victory over Alabama. The Commodores defeated Iowa in the Honda Elite 4 Holiday Classic, 60-54, in Orlando, Fla. Ashley Smith was named the Honda Player of the Game with 11 points and nine assists. In a span of eight days (Jan. 3 - 11), Vanderbilt ended two losing streaks, first by snapping an eight-game losing streak at Ole Miss which dated back to the 1980-81 season; and second, a 62-51 over Auburn for the first time in three seasons.

Vanderbilt roared out of the gate with five straight victories and 13 wins in the first 14 contests, the third-best start in program history. Victories came in all styles and fashions, large (91-51 over North Texas), small (65-63 over Davidson), high-scoring (91-72 over Cleveland State) and low-scoring (60-54 over Iowa).

Seven different players during that stretch led the team in scoring at least once.

The promise of that beginning was doused by injuries, though, as Beth Ostendorf, Nettie Respondek, Katie Janky and Chavonne Hammond all missed extended periods of time to illness and injury. The constant roster and lineup shuffling cost the Commodores any sense of continuity as they ‹ quite literally ‹ limped along through the latter part of the season, which ended all too soon.

Vanderbilt was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in overtime by UC-Santa Barbara.

"That was hard," third-year sophomore Candice Storey said. "Toward the end of last season we kind of re-vamped a little ... kind of made a transition to what we wanted to accomplish. That (loss) was kind of a blow to that. It was disappointing."

After missing one game early in the year, Respondek sustained a broken left foot in the regular season finale and was unavailable for the postseason.

Hammond was lost for the NCAA Tournament when she injured a knee during a workout in between the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

Ostendorf scored a career-high 26 points in an early non-conference matchup, had back-to-back games of double digit scoring a few weeks later then missed five contests with a stress fracture in her foot.

Janky was unavailable for the first five contests with a stress fracture of her own and was forced to play her way into shape.

Through it all, though, the Commodores persevered. They never lost more than two games in a row and finished fourth in the SEC regular season standings at 9-5, their best showing in three seasons. They earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament then advanced to the semifinal round with a victory over Ole Miss.

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