Sophomore guards lead Vanderbilt
Christina Foggie, Jasmine Lister help injury-depleted Commodores to 12-1 start
One person leaves from Mount Laurel, N.J., and goes west, while another takes off from Corona, Calif., and heads east. At what point in the United States did they intersect in 2010?
Even a Vanderbilt mind can't solve this, of course, because you don't have enough information. So we'll fill in the details: Christina Foggie came from the Garden State, and fellow guard Jasmine Lister is from the Golden State. The middle of Tennessee was the destination for both, who are sophomores this season at Vandy.
"I really like Nashville," said Foggie (pronounced FOH-gey and rhyming with bogey, not soggy). "Jas and I were roommates last year. We thought it was cool merging our West Coast and East Coast cultures together."
The friendship/teammate part, yes. That was especially nice for Lister, separated from identical twin Cinnamon, who plays for Boise State's women's hoops team. Yet for a lot of last season, Foggie didn't have much fun.
A serious concussion she suffered Dec. 1, 2010, at Bowling Green -- in her sixth game as a freshman -- had lingering effects all season, limiting her to 21 games. It took the spring and summer for her to really get back to normal -- actually stronger than normal -- again.
Meanwhile, Lister started all 32 games for a 2010-11 Commodores squad that defined balance about as precisely as a team could. Lister led Vandy by averaging 11.8 points per game -- just in front of Jence Rhoads (11.7), Hannah Tuomi (11.2) and Stephanie Holzer (11.1). Foggie, who had quite a battle just to play the minutes she did, averaged 9.9 points per game.
Rhoads and Tuomi were seniors for the Commodores, who made their 12th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance in 2011. Vandy fell in the first round to Louisville, but with Lister and Holzer -- both named to the SEC all-freshman team -- as well as Foggie back, there was plenty to look forward to for 2011-12.
That has remained true even though the Commodores have once again had bad luck with injuries. Vanderbilt started this season with 10 scholarship players and one walk-on. Now those numbers are eight and one and Vanderbilt is still awaiting word on the shoulder injury Foggie suffered Thursday. The last thing the Commodores can afford is another player sidelined, especially if it's current leading scorer Foggie.
The bright side is that Vanderbilt is 12-1 and ranked No. 21 in the coaches' poll going into the SEC season, which for the Commodores begins Jan. 5 at South Carolina. Vanderbilt closed nonconference play Thursday with an 81-36 shellacking of Western Carolina, led by Foggie's 27 points before she was hurt.
Vanderbilt's only loss came Dec. 18 to NC State in Raleigh, N.C. While full credit goes to the Wolfpack for that 66-59 win, there were some extenuating circumstances for the Commodores. The day before in practice, they lost promising freshman guard Maggie Morrison to an ACL injury.
That combined with the lingering effects of a concussion that has sidelined junior guard Gabby Smith -- she was hurt before the season began and played in just one game before symptoms returned -- left Vanderbilt with just nine in uniform. If Foggie has to miss some time, an eight-is-enough strategy will have to do for the Commodores.
If you've watched coach Melanie Balcomb's Vanderbilt teams -- or even her Xavier squads before that -- you know her general philosophy is that she can pretty much never have too many guards.
"I like to play two point guards on the floor when I can," Balcomb said, and she was pleased with how Morrison was able to come off the bench, run the team and distribute the ball.
Morrison's contributions allowed Lister more freedom to focus on scoring. Morrison averaged 21.6 minutes in her 10 games and was doing exactly what Balcomb wanted: thinking like a coach on the floor.
Then Morrison got hurt. Another freshman guard, Kady Schrann, has started every game and now has worked a little more at the point-guard position to provide Lister a backup.
It has to be frustrating for Balcomb and the Commodores to be facing more injury uncertainty this year, just like last year. Still, they are 12-1.
"I think we can shoot well, and I think our post game can get better," Balcomb said. "We have a good inside-outside game that should be tough to guard."
Balcomb thought Vanderbilt was overlooked by most observers in the preseason. It's understandable why that happened, though, with the team's graduation losses and the fact that most people didn't see last season just how good Foggie can be.
It's really exciting for our program to see the two of them together. They're a very good complement to each other.” -- Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb on sophomores Christina Foggie and Jasmine Lister
Hers was one of those frightening, frustrating odysseys that athletes generally have to go through after a bad head-knock. Even the best, most prudent care and advice from medical professionals can't guarantee when someone will fully be asymptomatic.
"She was knocked unconscious against Bowling Green, and when she got carried out on a stretcher, she went into a seizure," Balcomb said. "She was in a traumatic experience."
Within 18 days, Foggie thought she was ready to return and played well at Duquesne.
"We thought, 'The old Foggie's back,'" Balcomb said. "Then you start to see her not be the same anymore. She was forgetting offenses, being hesitant, not remembering plays. Her symptoms were coming back, and she finally let us know. Then we pulled her out again."
After more time off, Foggie again appeared to be OK and returned to practice. But during a rebounding drill, she took a slight elbow to the head.
"She didn't even stop; nobody realized anything happened," Balcomb said. "Her team lost the drill, and she did a sprint. When she got to the end of the line after she ran it, she collapsed again. The ambulance came and took her away.
"As a coach, twice you watch a kid drop, and you're very scared for her. Then we waited a long period and met with her family. They decided she could come back one more time if she wanted to, which she did."
Reading this all in retrospect, it probably seems as if Vanderbilt should have shut down Foggie after the first concussion and redshirted her for the season. But that's hindsight. The thing about such injuries is that it's difficult to project the healing process. It's also fair to say that competitive athletics at all levels are still figuring out the best ways to deal with concussions.
"It was a scary time," Foggie said. "Because I would feel good, come back and then start to not feel good again."
Balcomb said Foggie needed the offseason "to get over the trauma. She worked really hard over the summer to build her strength physically and mentally."
Meanwhile, Lister said Foggie kept a stiff upper lip through last season.
"I had no doubt that she was going to bounce back because she's a strong person," Lister said, "and she has fought back."
Now the Commodores are hoping that Foggie's shoulder is all right. She is averaging 17.7 points per game, while Lister is at 12.9 and post player Holzer is at 12.2.
With such a small roster, the Commodores will have to rely on everyone to play a role, but Lister and Foggie are particularly crucial to this team.
"Jas got to play all last year, and she wants to take the big shots," Balcomb said. "Foggie was in and out last year. It's really exciting for our program to see the two of them together. They're a very good complement to each other."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.