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 more comfortable."

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."


Vanderbilt Athletic Department
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