Sports

The Shooter

Winthrop's Tiffany Rodd has been a sparkplug for the Eagles this season and is determined to put the ball up behind the 3-point line every time she gets the opportunity.
Winthrop's Tiffany Rodd has been a sparkplug for the Eagles this season and is determined to put the ball up behind the 3-point line every time she gets the opportunity.

To shoot or not to shoot hasn't crossed Tiffany Rodd's mind since she came to Winthrop three years ago to play basketball.

Rodd has her finger on the trigger every time she steps onto the court and especially likes firing away from 3-point range.

"I'm always looking for the three,'' said Rodd, a 6-foot junior from Clinton, Tenn. "Some nights you start strong and the shots keep dropping. And there are nights where nothing is going in.

"Those nights, you keep shooting and eventually they'll start falling. A shooter has to keep shooting.''

That's exactly what Rodd has done as a starter since the day she walked onto campus.

Rodd is Winthrop's leader in career 3-pointers with 197. She went into the season with 125. With 72 so far this season, Rodd jumped into third on the all-time Big South Conference list in 3-pointers made and has a shot at moving into the top spot before graduating next year.

The top two players on the list played at the same time -- 1999-2004. The leader is former Coastal Carolina standout Nikki Reddick, with 239. Radford's Kylie Williamson made 203.

"I looked at the record before the season and breaking it has been a goal that I have put in the back of my mind,'' Rodd said. "But we've been busy this year and I really haven't thought about it again.''

Busy is a word that makes all of coach Bud Childers' players smile. The 2007-08 season has been one for the record books, one that keeps getting better and hopefully will include a trip to the NCAA women's tournament.

The first step is at 7 p.m. on Friday, when the Eagles play Charleston Southern in the final game of the opening round of the BSC tournament.

Winthrop finished the regular season 19-11, the most wins since moving to NCAA Division I 20 years ago. They were third in the BSC at 7-5. Rodd was instrumental in the surge, second on a team void of seniors with an 11.4 scoring average.

"As Tiffany goes, that's the way we go,'' Childers said. "She's our Michael Jenkins. Whenever she plays well, we have a chance at winning. When she gets hot and starts knocking them down, we are hard to beat.

"Every team we play designs their defense to stop Tiff. She's been beat up, pushed, knocked into the stands and press row, dragged by the jersey and she's even been bitten. But Tiff is hard-nosed and seldom gets rattled by the abuse she takes.''

Jenkins plays for Winthrop's men's team and the comparison to him is almost scary. The Eagles went to the BSC tournament last weekend, in the same place where the women will play, and turned it on. He scored 59 points, 33 in the championship, hit 9-of-16 3-pointers and was voted MVP.

If Rodd can hit a streak like his, Winthrop could walk away with the title and a bid to the Big Dance. She is surely capable of catching fire at the right time.

Rodd loves basketball and has played with pain throughout her career. Childers describes her as a "natural athlete,'' one of the most skilled players he's coached in his six stops.

Childers said he heard of Rodd, that several people he respected had told him to give her a closer look, and that she was a very good post player. Rodd played a lot at her tiny high school, Anderson County, because she was the tallest player on the team.

"When we went up to see her, I was impressed that she had a good stroke from the outside on a couple of threes she shot,'' Childers said. "Several small schools were recruiting Tiff, but they wanted her to play the post.

"We asked her if she'd like to come down and play shooting guard for us. After visiting, she took us up on our offer.''

Making the transition was not that hard, she said, but it was a challenge to adjust to the higher speed of playing as a guard. Rodd grew up the daughter of a coach, Al Rodd, who made sports and equipment accessible to Rodd and her brother, Jesse, a college football player at Maryville (Tenn.).

Her father coached football and basketball for Anderson County, but by the time Rodd got to high school he had switched exclusively to track. Rodd was on his team, competing in the pentathlon and the pole vault.

"My dad has always been there for us no matter what sport we played, but I didn't focus on shooting 3-pointers until I got here,'' she said. "I've tried just about every sport and the big decision I had to make was to give up gymnastics or basketball. I made the right choice.''

Rodd, who wants to play basketball overseas or get into criminology after college, hopes to extend the season, for the women's team to make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time. The chance is there. Winthrop split home and away dates with all but one conference team this season -- Radford, which won 65-57 and 67-54.

The bad news is if Winthrop wins on Friday, the Eagles will likely face Radford at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday in the second round. The good news is -- here comes another of those comparisons -- Winthrop's men lost to UNC Asheville twice in the regular season but beat the Bulldogs on the third try in the conference tournament.

"If Tiff gets hot and if we play like I know we can, I like our chances,'' Childers said. "We played in the finals two years ago and in the semifinals last year with these same players, so we can do it if everything falls into play.''

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