Practice highly competitive for Michigan ahead of exhibition

Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 7:53pm

Jillian Dunston has a chance to step up and earn major minutes this year.

Jillian Dunston has a chance to step up and earn major minutes this year. Buy this photo
Allison Farrand/Daily

 

The Michigan women’s basketball team is just two days away from playing its only exhibition of the season, and coach Kim Barnes Arico still isn’t sure about who she wants in the starting lineup. With the loss of three seniors who started every game last season, there are three spots in the air, leaving Barnes Arico to pick from a primarily young team dominated by underclassmen — most of which still need a lot more experience on the court.

“We might have three definites that are probably gonna play 30 minutes a game. After that, everyone is fighting for minutes,” Barnes Arico told WTKA on Tuesday. “Seven players were all around the same minutes. There’s a 10-person rotation, which is kind of big.”

Sunday, the Wolverines will face Ferris State, and the “three definites” who are likely to be on the court first are sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty, junior guard Siera Thompson and senior forward Kelsey Mitchell.

Mitchell, who was sidelined her freshman and sophomore seasons due to a knee and a foot injury, respectively, earned some minutes in 22 games last season, and is setting up for what could be a breakout season.

With how much Barnes Arico has built up Mitchell’s progress in the offseason, it’s more than likely that she’ll be in the lineup and the Wolverines’ primary presence under the basket Sunday.

“She has not given up,” Barnes Arico said. “The first practice of the year, I came out the building shaking my head like, ‘Oh my goodness, who is Kelsey Mitchell?’ ”

Sophomore forward Jillian Dunston and freshman center Hallie Thome may also see some meaningful minutes Sunday, with one possibly getting the start alongside Mitchell. Dunston stayed in Ann Arbor in the spring to continue improving her game, especially her physicality, and worked primarily with Mitchell in the weight room.

During the team’s media day two weeks ago, Dunston called practice “extremely competitive” even though the team only had a few under its belt by then. For Dunston, contending for minutes with the likes of Mitchell and the 6-foot-5 Thome would only increase that notion.

“Even last year, with Nicole Elmblad having her spot, we still competed like that every day,” Dunston said. “You want to prove yourself everyday, because you never know.”

Among the guards, Flaherty and Thompson are likely two of the “three definites” who Barnes Arico mentioned, considering both averaged over 10 points last season and Flaherty led the team with 499 total.

With two spots up in the air, senior guard Madison Ristovski and sophomore guard Maria Backman may be in starting contention, the latter of whom has shown tremendous improvement, according to Barnes Arico.

Then there are the four freshmen, who went a combined 109-7 during their senior year of high school. Sunday’s exhibition would be an ideal time for the newcomers to earn substantial minutes and find their stride in a low-stakes environment.

Barnes Arico has her options, and choosing among the 10-player rotation may not get any easier in the days leading up to Michigan’s first competition.

“That makes it extremely, extremely competitive, and it really makes everybody in the program bring their best game everyday,” Barnes Arico said. “They know they’re fighting for playing time, they know they’re fighting for an opportunity to be out on the court.”