Under the direction of Head Women’s Basketball Coach Melanie Balcomb, the Commodores put together a season that culminated with the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship, a trip to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament, and recognition by the state of Tennessee. Along the way, seniors Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper reaped national honors.
The women finished the 2008–2009 season with an overall 26–9 record, 10–4 in the SEC regular season. Picked by league coaches in the preseason to win the SEC, Vandy fell one conference win shy of tying its record for SEC victories and finished second behind Auburn, receiving a first-round bye in the league tournament. In tournament play the Commodores beat Georgia by eight points and crushed LSU by 14 on the way to the championship game with Auburn. Vanderbilt clinched a 61–54 victory over the Lady Tigers with some crucial three-point baskets at game’s end.
“I just can’t wait to play again,” Balcomb said after winning the tournament. “I know we’ve got to wait awhile for the NCAAs, but I think we’re ready to do some great things.” The Commodores advanced through the NCAA Tournament with convincing wins over Western Carolina University and Kansas State University. Vanderbilt reached the Sweet 16 round of the tournament for the 14th time in school history and lost a close match to Maryland, 78–74.
Even as the season came to a conclusion, accolades for the team and individuals kept coming. Three Commodores were named to the All-SEC team. Senior forward Christina Wirth was a unanimous first-team All-SEC selection, was named Most Valuable Player of the SEC Tournament, and was named SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Senior guard Jennifer Risper was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and selected to the All-SEC second team along with junior guard Merideth Marsh.
Wirth received an honorable mention on the 2009 State Farm Coaches’ All-America Team as selected by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. She was named to the All-Senior All-America first team by the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award committee, which honors senior student athletes who have excelled in four areas: classroom, community, character and competition. She also received the WBCA Scholarship Award. She scored an average 16.6 points per game while boasting a 4.0 grade point average during her first semester of graduate studies in the Vanderbilt School of Nursing.
Risper was named Division I Defensive Player of the Year by the WBCA at an award luncheon in St. Louis during the NCAA Women’s Final Four. The senior guard played in the post late in the season and led the SEC with 81 steals.
After March madness subsided, the team was honored by the Tennessee General Assembly. Sen. Douglas Henry, BA’49, JD’51, sponsored a joint resolution “to congratulate Coach Melanie Balcomb and the Vanderbilt University Commodores on winning the 2009 Southeastern Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship.” The legislation was sponsored in the House by Rep. Brenda Gilmore, MEd’88, signed by Gov. Phil Bredesen, and presented on April 23.
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