Strong rotation solidifies Michigan as a team with potential
There’s an understanding in sports that while individuals may shine as stars, a team is only as good as the totality of players on the roster. In football, the quarterback is most successful when the offensive line and receivers are successful. In hockey, the team is most successful when both the wings and defensemen play well. The same concept applies to basketball. And for the Michigan women’s basketball team, its depth will be its strength this season.
“As a team goal, I think that we really strive to be Big Ten champs,” junior forward Naz Hillmon said. Junior guard Amy Dilk echoed her teammate.
Michigan has a few stars on its roster. Hillmon has been named to 187 watch lists, most notably the Jersey Mike’s Naismith Trophy Watch List and the WBCA Wade Trophy Watch List. Dilk has been named to the Nancy Lieberman Award watch list for the first time in her career.
While Hillmon and Dilk are considered critical components of the Wolverines, if they want to win a Big Ten championship they’ll need to be backed by a strong supporting group of players.
“Dilk and Hillmon are two special players and they have been recognized in the preseason,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said, “but we feel like we have a strong core of eight, potentially nine, players coming back that can really play significant minutes for us.”
Fifth-year senior guard Akienreh Johnson is one of the backbones of the team in terms of playing experience and leadership. Johnson has played in 101 games throughout her collegiate career and has started in 39 of them. Being the oldest player on the team, Johnson helps drive the culture and shape team dynamics.
“Just being that fifth-year returner, understanding what the program looks like, what we’re trying to do as a program, (Johnson) really has stepped up as a main leader,” Dilk said.
Another player that is expected to make a big impact for Michigan is junior wing Leigha Brown, an offseason transfer from Nebraska who received a waiver to play immediately. Brown was the leading scorer for the Huskers last season, and the Wolverines are excited to see her get on the court this year.
“Leigha Brown, who is a transfer, has been phenomenal,” Barnes Arico said. “Just a player. Just can do a little bit of everything; could score the basketball but also has a knack for finding Naz which is awesome.”
The Wolverines also have some dedicated returning players who will try and increase their roles on the team, like junior guard Danielle Rauch and sophomore guard Michelle Sidor.
“Two kids that are are giving us great minutes right now that hadn’t played a ton in the past, that have worked extremely extremely hard in the offseason … are Danielle Rauch who will give us some minutes at the point guard position for (Dilk),” Barnes Arico said, “as well as Michelle Sidor who shoots the three exceptionally well.”
Rauch has sat behind Dilk in the first two years of her collegiate career and has played in 46 games. Despite this, Rauch only averaged 11.4 minutes per game last year and has only attempted 24 total shots over the last two seasons. This year, Rauch is hoping to expand her role on the team and see more time on the court.
“I think my role definitely will expand this junior year,” Rauch said. “I kind of just want to pick up where I left off and the strides that I was making and continue to get better each day.”
Sidor will be returning to the lineup after a solid freshman campaign that saw her play in 31 games and shoot 30.6% from behind the arc, a part of the offense that Michigan has struggled with in the past. Sidor, like Rauch, will also seek to grow her role for the Wolverines as the team tries to win a Big Ten Championship.
“In terms of the way that (Sidor) plays and even her basketball IQ just really has heightened over this time that we've been away from each other,” Hillmon said. “She’s a really hard worker, always in the gym. You literally have to kick her out.”
The roster depth will be key as Michigan attempts to win a Big Ten Championship. The Wolverines are slated at No. 25 in the AP preseason rankings, a significant feat considering the fact that they have not held a preseason ranking in over a decade. Michigan seems poised to make a solid run toward winning the championship with stars like Dilk and Hillmon being supported by a strong rotation.
“We want to work harder than anybody else,” Barnes Arico said. “We want to do the intangibles and play the fence and get loose balls and take charges and do things that other teams aren't willing to do.”
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