How USI WBB standout Vanessa Shafford became nation’s top shooter

EVANSVILLE — Vanessa Shafford is a bit superstitious.

Sort of. It depends on what works.

“If I play well in one game,” she said, “I have to do the same in the next game.”

This can change depending on the performance. Right now, when the University of Southern Indiana women’s basketball team has a home game, Shafford goes to McAllister’s and eats the same food, a sandwich with a side of Caesar salad.

However, it is not limited only to this. Same socks, spandex, whatever it takes to get the right results. If it goes south? Adjustments are necessary. She’s “starting to get less creative” with pre-game food, so that hasn’t changed that much, but other things can.

“I’ll change my hair if we lose or win,” Shafford said. “It’s bad, but that’s part of the thing.”

Change, consistency, you name it—Shafford makes it work. Prior to the Screaming Eagles’ final game, she was the top 3-point shooter in all of Division I college basketball. This includes men’s and women’s. Gonzaga’s Brynna Maxwell now has a slight advantage, but Shafford stayed on top for most of the season.

“When you think about Vanessa — how much extra time she puts in, how hard she works at it — it’s not surprising,” coach Rick Stein said. “She has natural ability and talent and athleticism, but that doesn’t always translate to being the best in the country.”

Shafford gets shots every day, works meticulously on her game and tries to improve. As for that 3-point shooting range of being the nation’s top marksman? She doesn’t think about it.

“It’s weird to hear that because I don’t really like to think about it,” Shafford said. “I’m honestly way too superstitious to think about it.”

“It’s a rhythm thing”

Shafford’s game isn’t just limited to the outside area, which has made her a valuable asset to USI. Teams can’t be content to keep her looks from the outside because she’s sovereign in the midrange and gets to the edge.

Every day she tries to make time to go to the gym and take pictures. If something isn’t how she wants it, she goes to Stein or another member of staff to fix it. Between classes, after practice, whenever – the Linton-Stockton graduate recognizes the process.

“It’s a rhythm thing,” Shafford said. “I don’t (always) come here for a full workout, just to get the right touch.”

“She’s in here all the time,” Stein added. “If someone in the country puts more time into their game and their shot, I want to see them because I’d challenge them pretty quickly.”

As far as deep shooting skills go, Shafford is team number one and refuses to take credit. It’s the kind of approach that led to her being elected team captain as a sophomore — “It doesn’t happen that often,” Stein said.

“I just stay consistent here. Working together with my teammates at every opportunity off the pitch is just as important as it is on,” said Shafford. “But for me, just getting in here, trying to get better, improve things, watch movies – mainly things outside of training.”

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Shafford tries not to look at things from the outside, focusing solely on the content of the program. She just recently re-downloaded Twitter. She admits she doesn’t always manage to block out outside noise — “it just depends on the day,” she said, laughing — but being focused on the task at hand has helped her stay focused, which in turn makes her one of the best has made productive 3-point threats in the nation.

“When you watch her shoot, you’re like, ‘Boy, she’s a natural,'” Stein said. “She knows her shot so well. … She could easily rest on being a great 3-point shooter, but she’s expanded her game tremendously.”

With the transition to Division I, Shafford’s numbers have improved. After shooting 44% from the 3-point line last season and being named to the Great Lakes Valley Conference freshman team, this season she’s shooting 50% from the perimeter and could be an All-Ohio Valley Conference honoree .

“We want to make sure that every single one of our players, our student-athletes that are here, is reaching their potential,” Stein said. “I don’t think Vanessa has reached the top yet, but boy is she playing damn good basketball right now.”

Stein: “She loves to get better”

Everything is a process for Shafford. Recording, watching movies, talking to trainers, developing superstitions – all a meticulous process of getting better, resulting in her being one of the best perimeter threats in the country.

She does everything with a purpose, and it spreads throughout the team.

“She loves to play, she loves to be in the gym and she loves to get better,” Stein said. “It’s not just her shot. She does these things in the weight room; She does those things when it comes to going to the gym with her friends, whatever it is. She dialed in and there’s no question it’s paying off.”

Shafford is exactly the kind of player Stein wants and the perfect fit for a program rising out of Division II. While wins haven’t been as consistent as the Eagles would like at this point, they’ve given themselves chances most nights, and Shafford and her 13.3 points per game are a big part of that.

“She’s been right in the middle of everything we’re doing right now,” Stein said. “Players like Vanessa help this cause to make sure we’re in this boat and on the hunt and hopefully there’s more (victories) to round out here.”

And looking at their success from the outside, and moving to this point, Shafford resorts to superstition. She’s not someone who talks too much on the subject. With the accomplishments she’s put together, it’s easy to see why.

“The 3 point thing, I just don’t want to jinx it,” Shafford said. “That’s the bottom line.”

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