VU's Marsh puts big game into small frame

Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 8:30pm
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The fact that Merideth Marsh is 5-foot-6 is no indication that she won’t challenge some of the tallest and most athletic women’s college basketball players in the country. / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

When it comes to her personal life, Merideth Marsh is a study in organization. Everything is folded neatly and fits into a particular spot. She sees it as attention to detail and there is comfort and certainty in such an approach.

"If you open any of my drawers, my T-shirts are folded, my socks are colors and whites, my desk drawers have little plastic things that have individual sections for pencils and notepads,” she said. “I’m very organized like that.”

Yet nothing makes her squirm more than any attempts to compartmentalize her game on the basketball court.

Don’t dare think that because the Vanderbilt senior is one of the most accomplished three-point and free throw shooters in school history that she is content to operate away from the basket. In no way is the fact that she is 5-foot-6 an indication that she can’t — or won’t — put the ball on the floor and go to the basket against some of the tallest and most athletic women’s college basketball players in the country.

She is a multi-faceted performer who openly rails against any attempt to pigeonhole her play.

“I don’t like that,” she said. “I don’t like being labeled one-dimensional.

“I think people are having to respect me a little bit more knowing that I can pass, I can create for myself and then I also can create for others. I’m not just going to go to the corner and be easy to guard. I hate if someone thinks I’m easy to guard. It’s degrading or something like that.”

Small player, big numbers

Roughly two-thirds of the way through her final season of college basketball, Marsh is Vanderbilt’s leading scorer at 14.9 points per game and is second in assists. Although her 145 three-point attempts account for slightly more than 40 percent of her team’s total, she also was tied for the most free throw attempts.

With 11 points in a Dec. 31 loss at Notre Dame, she became the 31st women’s player in Vanderbilt history to score 1,000 points in her career but she matched two others as the shortest ever to hit that landmark.

Donna Atkinson scored 1,656 from 1983-86 and Ashley McElhiney put up 1,093 from 2000-03. Both — like Marsh — were listed at 5-foot-6.

“I never looked at the size like, 'Oh my gosh, these girls are big,’ ” McElhiney said. “You just have to have that mentality that you’re going to do whatever it takes to help your team win.

“(Marsh) is a huge presence on the court for them. She can knock down the big shot, but things also are much more calm and organized when she’s out there.”

What’s particularly notable about Marsh’s offensive production is that she often does better against the tougher competition.

In 2008-09, she made 39.1 percent of her 3-point attempts for the season but 48.8 percent against SEC opponents. Similarly, her scoring average in conference play was more than three points higher than her overall average.

She set her single-game career-high earlier this season with 28 points at Mississippi State and 10 days later scored 25 against Tennessee.

“It’s not like in high school I was playing against monstrous people like I am now, but I’ve always had to find an edge,” Marsh said. “You just have to find that edge that’s going to let you control the person who’s guarding you. I’m not saying I’m perfect and I do the best at it all the time. … You just have to outsmart them.”

Mind games

Her mind, in fact, is what she considers her greatest attribute, and it has little to do with how the SEC Academic Honor Roll member measures up against others. It is more about how she processes the action and how she is able to review and critique her own performances.

Even before digital technology, Marsh had no use for videotape.

“I have a pretty photographic memory,” she said. “I can replay almost a whole game in my head, for the most part. … I can definitely recall certain things. I’m not going to say I can recall every game, but if it was a big game or a game that they took me or us out of it, I can, for the most part, recall it.”

One contest from earlier this season that earned a permanent place in her mental files was a 66-60 non-conference loss at home to Bowling Green on Dec. 4. She missed all six shots she took in that one and finished with four points, easily her lowest total of the season.

The replay began almost immediately after the final buzzer and continued on a loop, unabated for hours.

“They took away my outside shot and I was kind of stagnant for periods of time throughout that game,” she said. “That’s something that bothered me a lot. … So, of course, I’m laying in bed trying to go to sleep and it’s not helping because I’m picturing all these different things in the game. It was just rough.”

She has scored at least 11 in all but one of the 14 games that have followed and has not made fewer than three baskets in any of them.

That ability to comprehend the game led her to focus on basketball once she started high school at Louisville’s Christian Academy. Before then she played soccer and softball and competed in gymnastics.

“I don’t know what it is about basketball,” she said. “… My mind just works like that. Everything comes extremely easy — seeing it, understanding it. I’m pretty good at seeing one or two plays ahead. I don’t know. I just have that mindset. That’s probably why I stayed with it.”

Nice and tidy

That, and it does offer opportunities to feed her “attention to details.”

Take free throw shooting, the one thing that never changes from game to game, court to court or situation to situation.

Last season she set Vanderbilt’s single-season record when she made 90 percent of her attempts (45 out of 50 overall), including 25 in a row at one point. That broke a mark that had stood for nearly 20 years. For her career she has made better than 85 percent and is on pace for the second-highest success rate in school history.

Plus, at home games she is the one who is entrusted with selecting the game ball from a rack full of possibilities wheeled out on the floor for warm-ups.

“I’m very picky when it comes to picking a ball, and not just in games but practice,” she said. “I think everyone knows that – just because I can’t handle a ball if it’s even the slightest bit flat. … Sometimes I test out two or three before I put the game ball over there.”

Then there are the demands of a student-athlete — particularly one at Vanderbilt — that also place a premium on structure and order.

“I like schedules,” she said. “I could tell you my whole schedule for a week, from hour-to-hour. That’s how set it is. I like that. It’s going to be way different when I’m done with school.”

Maybe.

She hopes to pursue a professional playing career — most likely overseas — for at least one year and plans to transition quickly into coaching, which see expects will be her profession.

In that role, she can organize workouts for an entire team, create schedules for her staff and all the other things that go into it. Heck, she can even do the laundry if she likes … which she does.

“I love to do laundry and to fold clothes,” Marsh said. “Once you’re done with laundry, you feel a sense of accomplishment. There’s not a bin full of dirty clothes. I just like to do laundry.

I don’t know if that’s weird. That’s just my personality. I’m very organized. I hate sloppiness. I like to be clean and neat.”

It may not be weird, but like her accomplishments on the basketball court, it’s one of the things about Marsh that sets her apart.

 

1 Comment on this post:

By: damons on 2/8/10 at 9:25

Great story!!!