In her 13 seasons at the helm, Melanie Balcomb has established herself as an iconic figure for the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team while becoming the program’s all-time leader in victories.
Balcomb, who arrived in Nashville prior to the 2002-03 season, has guided the Commodores to the NCAA Tournament in 12 of her 13 seasons, and has won 20 or more games in 11 of those years. She owns a career record of 455-239, including a 292-135 mark at VU, and has led the Commodores to three SEC Tournament Championships, four Sweet 16 trips and eight top-25 finishes. With her 115-79 record in SEC games, Balcomb enters the 2015-16 campaign with more SEC wins than any active coach in the conference.
Balcomb has coached nine WNBA draft picks, a WBCA National Defensive Player of the Year (Jennifer Risper) and a two-time SEC scoring champion (Christina Foggie) during her tenure at Vanderbilt.
Balcomb, who has also served as a member of the USA Basketball Junior National Team Committee, became the all-time wins leader in Vanderbilt WBB history on Feb. 28, 2013, when the Commodores defeated Auburn. It was Balcomb’s 257th victory at VU, and enabled her to surpass Jim Foster for the program’s wins record.
During her 20-plus years of collegiate head coaching experience, Balcomb has emerged as a renowned offensive strategist, and that reputation has been enhanced during her tenure at Vanderbilt. Her Commodore teams have finished in the top-50 nationally in field goal percentage in each of her 13 seasons at VU, including four teams that have finished among the nation’s top four. Balcomb’s inaugural Commodore team in 2002-03 led the nation in field goal percentage, shooting 51.3 percent. The 2014-15 team ranked 10th in the country and second in the SEC at 45.4 percent, and the 2013-14 squad ranked 12th in the nation, and second in the SEC, by shooting 45.9 percent.
The Commodores are also one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams on a routine basis. In 2013-14, the Commodores ranked third in the nation, and led the SEC, in 3-point shooting at 40.0 percent. Balcomb’s 2006-07 squad led the nation in three-point shooting at 43.7 percent.
Balcomb’s teams have been especially successful at home, where Vanderbilt has posted a 164-38 record at Memorial Gym.
Balcomb, who was a standout player during her college career, was inducted into The College of New Jersey’s department of athletics Hall of Fame during a ceremony on June 5, 2015. Balcomb scored 1,099 points in her career (1982-85) at The College of New Jersey, which was then called Trenton State College. She ranks among the school’s all-time leaders in points and assists.
During the 2014-15 campaign, the Commodores suffered a rash of injuries, but Balcomb steered the team to several impressive victories. The list included a 78-62 win over previously-unbeaten Mississippi State on Jan. 11, which ended the Bulldogs’ 18-game winning streak. Vanderbilt, which finished 15-16 overall, also earned quality wins over Green Bay, Minnesota, James Madison and Arkansas, and posted SEC road wins over Alabama and Florida.
Balcomb led the Commodores to 18 wins in the regular season during the 2013-14 season. The team earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament which enabled Vanderbilt to stretch its overall streak of NCAA appearances to 15 consecutive years, including 12 in a row under Balcomb. The team, which climbed as high No. 16 in the Associated Press poll, reeled off 13 wins in 14 games during one stretch midway through the season. The productive stretch included a victory over in-state rival Tennessee, marking the third time in the past six seasons that one of Balcomb’s teams has defeated the Lady Vols.
Her 2013-14 Vanderbilt squad featured two players — Christina Foggie and Jasmine Lister — that formed one of the most dynamic backcourts in team history. Foggie, who led the SEC in scoring at 19.0 points per game as a senior, became the program’s all-time leader in 3-pointers and Lister became the team’s all-time leader in minutes played by a wide margin. Both players were named WBCA All-America Honorable Mentions, and Foggie was a second-round WNBA draft pick.
The 2012-13 squad at Vanderbilt dealt with serious injury problems, but still won over 20 games and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Three starters – Stephanie Holzer, Foggie and Kady Schrann – combined to miss 60 games, but the Commodores scored a pair of huge wins at Florida and over No. 10 Texas A&M late in the year to solidify their 14th straight NCAA Tournament bid.
Clarke led the team in scoring (16.6) and rebounding (8.4) to earn First Team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches, the 11th time a Balcomb coached player has done so. Clarke also earned first team all-conference honors from the Associated Press and All-Region recognition from the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
Vanderbilt won its first round game over ninth-seeded Saint Joseph’s, giving Balcomb a 10-1 record in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores fell in the second round to top-seeded Connecticut, capping the season at 21-12.
Balcomb started at Vanderbilt in 2002 and wasted no time in implementing her own style of winning. Working to transition veteran players into a new system while building new team chemistry, Balcomb’s first year saw the Commodores win six of their last seven regular season games, earn an NCAA Tournament berth, and lead the nation in field goal percentage (51.3) against the fourth toughest schedule in the country. She was named a finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year award.
In 2003-04, Balcomb led the Commodores to their fourth Southeastern Conference Tournament title. She masterfully balanced strong upper-class leadership with exciting freshmen talent, winning 10 consecutive games and advancing to the program’s 11th Sweet 16 appearance. One year later, her team made its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Sweet 16. The Commodores posted the most wins (10) in the program’s history in Southeastern Conference play finishing with a 10-4 record.
The Commodores were ranked seventh in the final AP poll of the 2006-07 season, and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament after winning another SEC Tournament title. That Vanderbilt squad was the nation’s best three-point shooting team, and ranked among the top 10 in points scored. The team’s 28-6 mark was the best record for a VU squad in 14 years.
The 2008 season was also one of Balcomb’s most impressive coaching jobs. Despite graduating three All-SEC seniors, she led the Commodores to a 25-9 record and the school’s 13th appearance in the NCAA sweet 16, all with two freshmen and no seniors in the starting lineup.
In 2009, Vanderbilt won its sixth SEC Tournament title, the third for Balcomb in the last six years. The team also advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the 14th time in school history — Balcomb’s fourth trip with the Commodores. Vanderbilt finished the year ranked No. 8 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll after narrowly missing an upset of No. 1 seed Maryland in the Raleigh Regional Semifinal.
National accolades came flooding in for Vanderbilt, including senior Jennifer Risper being named the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) National Defensive Player of the Year. Risper and classmate Christina Wirth, who herself was named an All- American and the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, were both selected in the 2009 WNBA Draft. In 2010 Balcomb was faced with one of her most challenging tasks. Faced with replacing National Defensive Player of the Year Jennifer Risper and All-American Christina Wirth, Balcomb guided an undersized team back to the NCAA Tournament, where they narrowly missed advancing to their third consecutive sweet 16.
Despite having to overcome numerous injuries throughout out the season and a size disadvantage in almost every game, Vanderbilt finished the season 23-11 overall. Individually, Balcomb helped junior point guard Jence Rhoads earn first team All-SEC honors, while senior shooting guard Merideth Marsh earned second team All-SEC accolades. Elan Brown and Tiffany Clarke were also named to the SEC All-Freshman Team.
The 2010-11 season featured many obstacles that Balcomb successfully maneuvered through to reach another NCAA Tournament and finish third in the SEC. Injuries took an unfortunate toll on the team throughout the year with at least one of Vanderbilt’s five leading scorers unavailable for 14 out of the team’s 32 games. Injuries coupled with matching Georgia for the fewest upperclassmen in the SEC challenged Balcomb to use different personnel groupings regularly.
Despite the challenges, Balcomb again reached 20 wins, finishing 20-12 and 10-6 in the SEC. Individually, Balcomb helped Jence Rhoads earn honorable mention All-America honors from the Associated Press in addition to first team All-SEC recognition. Rhoads was also a WBCA Region 3 All-American. Freshman center Stephanie Holzer was named honorable mention All-SEC, SEC Sixth Woman of the Year and to the SEC All-Freshmen team. Freshman point guard Jasmine Lister was also named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. In 10 seasons at Vanderbilt, Balcomb has won 13 games in the NCAA Tournament, including a 9-1 mark in the opening round. She holds a winning percentage of 65.7 against SEC opponents. In all, Balcomb owns series advantages over 10 of the 11 other schools in the SEC before 2012.
The 2011-12 season saw one of Balcomb’s youngest teams, as the squad of 11 featured just one senior, yet she still successfully steered the Commodores to a 23-10 mark and a 13th-straight NCAA Tournament. Leading the way was break-out star Christina Foggie, who became the first Balcomb player to lead the SEC in scoring (17.7 ppg).
Foggie was a First Team All-SEC selection and was joined by four other Commodores earning All-SEC honors – Jasmine Lister (second team), Tiffany Clarke (second team), Stephanie Holzer (honorable mention) and Kady Schrann (All-Freshman).
Vanderbilt defeated three ranked opponents on the season (No. 12 Oklahoma, No. 17 Georgia and No. 11 Tennessee), earning a seven seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores hosted at Memorial Gym, defeating 10th-seeded Middle Tennessee in the first round before falling to second-seeded Duke.
Before arriving at Vanderbilt, the Cranbury, N.J., native spent seven seasons at Xavier University. Beginning in 1995, her up-tempo style wreaked havoc on the Atlantic 10 while building the Musketeers into a national contender. In 1998, Xavier recorded its second post- season appearance in school history with a selection to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. Each of the next three seasons, Xavier competed in the NCAA Tournament, capped in 2001 by a victory over perennial power Tennessee and a run to the Elite Eight. En route to earning three invitations to the NCAA Tournament and compiling a 136-78 record during her tenure, Balcomb’s offensive schemes helped push Xavier onto the national stage. Musketeer field-goal percentages ranked among the top three in the nation during three different seasons while the 1999 squad led the country in 3-point accuracy at 40.1 percent. Her 2000-01 squad averaged 79.4 points per game, the highest total in program history. Individual records were rewritten as well. Of the 15 Musketeers who have scored at least 1,000 points in a career, six of them played on Balcomb-coached teams.
Before her accomplishments at Xavier, Balcomb took her first head coaching position at Ashland University. Prosperity was immediate as Balcomb’s first unit matched the best record in school history at 18-9 while registering its first winning season in the Great Lakes Valley Conference with an 11-7 mark.
Prior to becoming a head coach, Balcomb served three years as an assistant at Providence College (1990-93), during which the Friars went 62-30, made two NCAA Tournament appearances and once (1990-91) led the nation in scoring while they amassed a 26-6 record. In 1989-90, Balcomb was an assistant at Ohio University and she began her coaching career with a four-year stint (1985-89) on the staff at Niagara University. In all, Balcomb has coached 19 players who have received All-SEC accolades. Nine of her players have been drafted by the WNBA, including VU’s Chantelle Anderson, Ashley McElhiney, Jenni Benningfield, Ashley Earley, Carla Thomas, Dee Davis and Christina Wirth. Her Xavier teams won two league tournament titles (2000 and 2001) and one regular-season championship in the Atlantic 10 Conference (2001).
Xavier’s successes during the Balcomb era helped push for construction of the Cintas Center, a state of the art facility which became home to Xavier basketball at the start of the 2000-01 season and – ironically – was dedicated with a victory over Vanderbilt. That season the program posted a school record for attendance with a total of 40,098 fans, who thrilled in the Musketeers’ style of play and their results. Commodore followers have enjoyed the entertainment as well.
Her basketball education began at an early age among some of the most well respected coaches in the game. Balcomb’s father, Alan, was a varsity boy’s coach for 30 years at South Brunswick (N.J.) High School, and then served as an assistant for four years at Princeton University under Pete Carril, the master of the half-court game. For Balcomb, however, a complete education goes far beyond the hardwood. Every eligible, four-year player during Balcomb’s coaching tenure has earned her degree. In May of 2011, Balcomb’s team earned a Public Recognition Award for finishing among the nation’s top 10 percent in multi-year Academic Progress Rates (APR). Six of seven squads at Xavier earned team grade point averages that ranked in the Top 25. In 2004-05, 40 percent of the Commodore basketball team was named to the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll. Vanderbilt led the SEC with eight players being named to the honor roll in 2003-04.
Two Commodores have been named SEC Scholar Athletes of the Year under Balcomb. Hillary Hager received the honor in 2004 and Christina Wirth won it in 2009. Wirth was also named a 2009 Lowe’s Senior CLASS All-American, while receiving WBCA and NCAA post- graduate scholarships. Hager recently returned to Vanderbilt and received her doctorate in 2010.
Balcomb also stresses the importance of community service to her teams. After the devastating Nashville flood in 2010, Balcomb and her coaching staff volunteered in helping to clean up flood-damaged areas. Balcomb herself has been active in outreach to the surrounding area, participating in numerous fundraising events for local and national organizations, including Coaches vs. Cancer, the Race for the Cure, Mercy Ministries, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and the Girl Scouts of America. She joined colleagues to represent the SEC in the 2008 4Kay Golf Classic to benefit the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
An avid golfer, Balcomb finds time to make it to beach on her rare weeks off, and also enjoys reading.
? All-time winningest coach in Vanderbilt women’s basketball history
? 15 NCAA Appearances, including 12 straight at VU
? Five NCAA Regional Semifinal appearances
? Three SEC Tournament championships
? Fastest Vanderbilt coach to 200 wins
? 2003 Naismith Coach of the Year Top 25 finalist
? Two Atlantic 10 Tournament championships (2000, `01)
? 2001 NCAA Regional Finals appearance
? 2001 Atlantic 10 regular season championship
? 2001 Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year
? 2001 March of Dimes Greater Cincinnati Coach of the Year
? 2001 Naismith, ESPN Coach of the Year finalist
? Inducted into Greater Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame, 2001
BALCOMB BALL AT VU
? Three SEC Tournament titles
? VU-record 11 SEC wins in 2008
? 10-2 record in NCAA First Round
? Four Sweet 16 appearances
? Nine WNBA Draft picks since 2003
? 100% graduation rate
? 2013-14 team ranked third in the nation in 3-point percentage and 12th in field goal percentage
BALCOMB’S YEAR-BY-YEAR RECORD