- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Michael Laurila, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 19, 2012
When the Michigan women’s basketball team received an NCAA Tournament bid last Monday, it was a pleasant surprise.
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The Wolverines had made the tournament for the first time in 11 years and finally received the recognition they’d hoped for.
But when Oklahoma easily defeated Michigan in the first round on Sunday, it was unpleasant. And still a bit of a surprise.
Though the 11th-seeded Wolverines were the underdog, and ultimately had to play a road game since the first round took place in Norman, Okla., they still felt confident going into the game.
Their confidence didn’t translate into a victory, but that’s beside the point.
For one of the only times during head coach Kevin Borseth’s tenure Michigan’s first-round contest put the program on the national scene — which is a victory, but just a moral one.
But how can any loss for a team that wanted more be a victory?
It’s simple. For the past decade, all of the best recruits in the nation wouldn’t even consider playing for the Wolverines. There was no reason for them to. Michigan hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament in years, has never won a Big Ten title and was rarely even in contention for such a championship.
The Wolverines were continually out-recruited by Big Ten teams such as Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State nationally and regionally.
But Borseth has proven himself an elite coach and developer during his time in Ann Arbor, especially this season. This year’s senior class, which included star point guard Courtney Boylan and three-year starting guard Carmen Reynolds, was Borseth’s first-ever recruiting class.
Boylan was named Minnesota’s Miss Basketball coming out of high school, but at 5-foot-7 she was thought to be undersized for the Big Ten. The 6-foot Reynolds was pegged as a great shooter, but was too small to play forward and not quick enough to be a lead guard.
They both lacked natural ability and body type, and they might’ve been merely average as their collegiate careers waged on. But Borseth’s tutelage and his shoot-first, ask questions later, motion-style offense enabled both players to thrive. He is known for his ability to recruit players that fit into his scheme, and with Michigan now on the national scene, he could have a lot bigger pool to choose from.
“Our program has changed so much since coach Borseth came here,” Boylan said. “(Reynolds and I) were a part of his first recruiting class, and to be able to leave our footprint on the program means so much to us.”
As Boylan and Reynolds leave, the program’s success won’t leave with them. Michigan returns three junior starters in guards Jenny Ryan and Nya Jordan and center Rachel Sheffer. Sheffer led the team in scoring this year and showed much improvement from her sophomore campaign. The Wolverines also received ample bench production from junior guard Kate Thompson and junior forward Sam Arnold this season, and they both could potentially start next season.
Similarly, freshmen guards Nicole Elmblad and Brenae Harris had flashes of greatness over the course of the season as well. Borseth said all year that Harris, who is a candidate for the vacant point guard position, was a better defender than Boylan because of her speed and size. How successful she will be next year will depend on her development over the summer.
I’m not saying that Michigan’s loss to Oklahoma was a good thing. Obviously, a win would’ve been better, but realistically, the Wolverines were a long shot to advance past the first round. Still, while on the national stage, they just might be able to land some of the top prospects in the country — or at least the Midwest. These players, along with their returning roster, just might be able to achieve more than a rare tournament berth in the years to come.
Whether or not the success that the Wolverines found this season will continue is impossible to tell. But they have the right ingredients to maintain their high-level of play — strong upper-class leadership, a go-to scorer and a coach who runs a tight ship. Michigan has definitely arrived on the national scene and with another year of all “Borseth players,” the Wolverines will look to make a little more noise than a first-round loss in the coming years.