In the 1954 film White Christmas, the singing/dancing Haynes sisters (played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) perform a number titled “Sisters.” The lyrics, in part, contain these lines: “Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters … Caring, sharing, every little thing that we are wearing.” Some 50-plus years later, those lines take on new significance for Vanderbilt when senior guard/forward Christina Wirth takes to the basketball court wearing the number 34—the same number she’s worn since high school and the same number she shares with her sisters.
Her older sister, Alana, was the first Wirth to wear number 34 when they played together at Seton Catholic High School in Mesa, Ariz. “When she graduated she asked, ‘Will you take my number?’ So I took her number.”
Their 16-year-old sister, Theresa, now a sophomore at the same high school, wears 34, but she is the last player at Seton High who ever will.
“My high-school coach actually retired my jersey this past year,” Christina says. “It was pretty neat. I had no idea she was going to do that. I talked to her about it, though, because my younger sister really wanted to wear that number.” That was acceptable to the coach. Theresa is wearing 34 even as Christina’s jerseyhangs from the rafters.
“I have 9-year-old twin sisters, too,” Christina says with a laugh. “We joke with them that when they’re in high school, they’ll wear the numbers 3 and 4.”
During her high school career, Wirth compiled 2,550 points, 1,173 rebounds, 312 steals, 266 assists and 120 blocked shots. In 2005 she was selected as the Arizona Player of the Year and the Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year, and was named to the USA Today All-America Top 25 and to Street and Smith’s and McDonald’s All-America teams.
“I had never really heard of Vanderbilt until I got my first letter from them in high school,” Wirth recalls. “I researched Vanderbilt and learned a lot that I liked. For me it came down to Vanderbilt and Stanford as the final two choices. Distance was never really a factor for me.”
She also had been courted by Arizona State, but that was too close to home. “You grow up a lot when you move away. I took my official visit here and loved the other players. That was probably the biggest selling point for me. I could tell that the team had great chemistry, and I wanted to be a part of that. I could see myself as having them as my friends.”
Thus a new sisterhood entered Wirth’s life.
“We had a great summer,” Wirth says of this year’s team. “We were all here spending time together when things weren’t quite so hectic, and also were training with our strength coach. We got in pretty good shape this summer, so we’ll try to carry that over to the preseason and practice.
“During the summer, when mostly athletes are here, it’s fun to meet people on other teams who are going through the same things you are. During the school year we don’t all live in the same dorm. In the summer we do—most of us on the same floor. You walk out of your room, and next door is your teammate. You just hang out and fun stuff happens.”
During her Vanderbilt career Wirth’s numbers have continued to climb. Last year she started all 34 games (there’s that number again). She scored 446 points for an average 13.1 per game; had a shooting percentage of .473, which included a .415 three-point shot percentage, and a free-throw percentage of .833; grabbed 170 rebounds for an average of five per game; and accounted for 89 assists, nine blocked shots and 48 steals.
The 2008–09 season began Oct. 17 with an intense practice schedule. “We go really hard the first few weeks of practice and always have a pretty tough nonconference schedule,” Wirth says. “The SEC is tough from top to bottom. You can’t really take a night off, which is the way it should be.”
When it comes to her studies, Wirth doesn’t take a night off, either. “Through all her success, Tina has always been very humble,” says Christy Hogan, academic counselor and tutor co-coordinator. “She is a talented, well-rounded person who works hard in everything she does and never loses her faith.”
Wirth is on track to achieve her goal of becoming a nurse practitioner, specializing in pediatrics. “Human and organizational development at Peabody was my undergraduate major,” she says, “with a minor in child development. There’s a master’s bridge program with the nursing school, and now I have two years of nursing school to get my master’s and become a nurse practitioner. They’ve been great about my basketball schedule. Just being able to start my master’s while I’m still on scholarship is great.”
On the basketball court, as on a health-care team, “It’s about being part of something bigger than you,” says Wirth, who has volunteered at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. “You want to give your best and work together for amazing results.”