Benningfield Stepping to Forefront
By Josh Tenisci
In the game of basketball, every player has a role. Some players are looked
to for their scoring, some for their rebounding, others for their defense. Any
coach who has at least one player who can fill every necessity on the floor
has a good opportunity for success.
Heading into the 2002-03 season, most of the attention surrounding was directed
toward how the team would handle playing for new head coach Melanie Balcomb.
With a new coach came a new style - especially on the offensive end. Balcomb
has instilled a more high paced, up-and-down offensive style. The new offense
was a difficult transition early on but the team is now coming more adjusted
to Balcomb's philosophy.
"It has been a big transition, but it has been a positive one," forward
Jenni Benningfield says. "Coach Balcomb and Coach Foster are similar in
some ways but different in others. As a team, we are happy with what Coach Balcmob
has brought to the table. We are becoming very comfortable in practicing and
executing her style. A big reason for this was our trip to Italy this summer.
The trip gave us two weeks to figure out what to expect for the season, her
expectations and her overall thinking of the game."
Along with a new coach, a lot of attention was centered upon All-American center
Chantelle Anderson and All-SEC guard Ashley McElhiney. There is a good reason
for this, as these two have been key to the Commodores making two-consecutive
trip to the NCAA Elite Eight.
However, with the loss of two key starters from last season, - forward Zuzi
Klimesova and guard Jillian Danker - opponents could now focus more of their
attention on stopping Anderson and McElhiney. Early on this season, teams have
been running less man-to-man and more zone in hopes of stopping Anderson. While
the oppositions have slowed her down a little bit, this has left other Vanderbilt
players open to more of an offensive threat.
"Obviously, our first thing is to get her the ball. She (Anderson) is
an incredible player," Benningfield points out. "The amazing thing
is that early on this season teams have double-teamed her, but she does other
things. It's not like if she doesn't score 20 or 25 points, she isn't in the
game. She rebounds and passes the ball to other players, which allows others
to get involved."
The defensive strategy by opposing teams has made Benningfield, Vanderbilt's
third returning starter from last year, a lot more dangerous a weapon on the
offensive end. The junior, from Louisville, Ky., has also returned to the form
she had during her freshman season, which she averaged nine points a contest.
Benningfield has also moved back to her original position - forward - after
playing guard the previous two years.
"I never really felt out of position, but I knew I felt more comfortable,"
Benningfield said. "The last two years I had to do what coach (Foster)
asked me to do, and that was fine. I ended up getting comfortable playing guard
over time, but from day one when she (Balcomb) put me at forward, I knew I felt
Benningfield has given Balcomb a serious scoring threat, which has helped alleviate
a lot of pressure on Anderson to score a lot. She is second on the team in scoring
with a 15.3 average.
With experience at both the guard and forward positions, Benningfield presents
a difficult match-up for anyone who guards her. This problem stems from the
fact that she is 6'3" and can shoot the ball well from the inside and also
around the perimeter. During her freshman and sophomore seasons, Benningfield
knocked down 98 three points while shooting over 40 percent from behind the
arc. Through Vanderbilt's first six games, she was shooting an incredible 63
percent from the field. Benningfield has also led the Commodores in scoring
and rebounds in three of their six games.
"Knowing that I was going to be moved to forward, I really worked on my
inside game as well as my outside game such as my three-point shot," Benningfield
said. "By playing forward, not many post players are going to be able to
come outside and guard. Some of the things I have gotten have come from Chantelle
being double-teamed. In any game, it could be any of our players scoring in
double figures, but my teammates have given me the ball in a position where
I can score."