Conference tournaments are underway and the students at Vanderbilt are on spring break. It can only mean one thing: the month of March and the madness that accompanies it is officially upon us.
As a player, you hope to improve each month of the season before reaching your crescendo in March. One player, in particular, who has taken that exact route leading into the postseason for Vanderbilt is shooting guard Merideth Marsh.
In Vanderbilt's final two regular season games at Auburn and at home against Alabama, Marsh averaged 17.5 points per game, while shooting 66.6 percent from the field and 60.0 percent from beyond the arc.
With Vanderbilt's first game in the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament taking place at 9 p.m. on Friday against the winner of the Auburn and Arkansas game, Marsh's stellar play couldn't come at a better time.
Making Marsh's recent numbers even more eye popping is the fact that the sophomore is averaging 9.0 points per game this season, and is still transitioning to shooting guard after playing point guard her entire life.
"It's not something I'm used to at all," Marsh said of her new role. "I'm used to distributing the ball and getting people open, and getting shots for everyone else."
Being the consummate team player that she is, Marsh would much rather give the credit for her recent play to her teammates as opposed to herself.
"My play has been because of the team," the Louisville, Ky., native said. "Coach just wants me to step in there and be a shooter, so I attribute all of my shots to Jence (Rhoads) and Jessica (Mooney), and all the people who have been getting me the ball."
Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb agrees that the play of Marsh's surrounding cast has had a positive impact on her play, but also believes Marsh is getting into a comfort zone at shooting guard.
"I think she is shooting the ball very well," Balcomb said. "She is a big threat from three-point, but she is also learning to play without the basketball in her hand. It takes a while to get into that comfort level and get that confidence that she has right now. The other thing is that her teammates are shooting the ball equally as well, so they just can't face guard her and take her out of the play."
Marsh also believes that an increase in her confidence level at the position has led to her play.
"It is definitely something different and it is something that at the beginning of the year I was struggling with and I feel like now more so than ever, I'm starting to feel confident in my role and starting to feel more comfortable with it," Marsh said.
Balcomb isn't the only one that has noticed Marsh's play. Earlier this week, the conference dubbed her as the SEC Player of the Week for the first time in her career.
"I think she has a lot of confidence right now and she is shooting the ball great," sophomore guard Lauren Lueders said. "We are really executing the offense, and she is getting looks and hitting them."
While Marsh's scoring ability has been a boon to the Commodores offense, equally as important to Vanderbilt's success this season has been her point guard skills that enable Balcomb to play two ball handlers at the same time.
"It is what I've always liked to have - two point guards in my system," Balcomb said. "You want kids that aren't just shooters, you want someone who can pass and handle, and Merideth gives that to us at the two spot. She gives us a lot more flexibility to do a lot of things because she reads the game like a point guard."
Sophomore point guard Jessica Mooney has also taken a liking to having an additional player on the court, who can handle the basketball.
"It feels great playing point and having her out on the floor with me," Mooney said. "Just knowing that I don't have all the pressure on me to break the press and being able to have somebody confident in bringing the ball up is great."
Lueders believes that the leadership skills Marsh honed at the point guard position has provided another leader on the floor for the Commodores.
"She has a point guard mentality and she can lead the floor just like Jence (Rhoads) and Jessica (Mooney)," Lueders said. "I think it really helps having two point guards out there."