Position-by-position preview: Upperclassmen core key for Wolverines
The Michigan women’s basketball team is relying on its upperclassmen heading into the 2017-18 season.
Though they lost two senior guards, Siera Thompson and Danielle Williams, the Wolverines have a lot of returners that make up the core of the team. That being said, there is a lot of young talent eager to get started.
Michigan finished last year with a 21-14 record and a WNIT Championship, but have their sights set on the NCAA Tournament this season after the heartbreak of missing out in 2016-17.
After losing two of its three starting guards from last season, it appears as though Michigan will almost completely have to re-work its starting lineup. The only returning player from the backcourt is senior Katelynn Flaherty, who has twice been named to the All-Big Ten First Team.
Flaherty has led the Wolverines since her freshman year. She averaged a team best 20.2 points per game. Flaherty was the 2017 WNIT MVP and holds the school record for points per game at 38. All eyes will be on her as she starts the season in a new position as point guard.
Joining Flaherty in the starting lineup is Nicole Munger. As a junior, the team is hoping her experience at the collegiate level will serve her well. She appeared in 35 games last season, averaging 15.4 minutes per game. Munger’s highlight of the season was a 12-point performance in the WNIT championship game, including seven in the third overtime period.
Akienreh Johnson is the only other returning guard for the Wolverines. She begins her sophomore season after appearing in just 10 games last season due to a knee injury sustained in early January.
Michigan boasts two new additions to the backcourt in freshmen Priscilla Smeenge and Deja Church. Smeenge recently moved with her entire family to Michigan from Florida, where she had a noteworthy high school career. As a senior, she averaged 21.6 points per game and was named School District of Osceola Female Athlete of the Year.
Church, a native of Southfield, Mich., is expected to lead the offense at point guard alongside Flaherty. Although she is just starting her freshman year, Church looks college-ready as a physical point guard. She helped her high school win three district championships and one regional championship. She averaged 24 points per game and was a finalist for Michigan’s Miss Basketball award.
Senior Jillian Dunston stepped into her role as a leader for the team last year. She played a crucial role for the Wolverines, averaging 7.7 rebounds per game. She started all 37 games, a large increase from her from nine starts her sophomore year. In addition to tallying double-digit rebounds in 12 games, Dunston had 286 rebounds on the year, which placed her fourth on the program’s single-season list.
Other returning forwards include Kayla Robbins, Keasja Peace and Samantha Trammel. During her freshman year, Robbins appeared in 34 games and averaged 8.8 minutes per game.
Newcomer Hailey Brown hails from Ontario, Canada, and the Wolverines will be hoping to put her international experience to good use. The freshman has played for the Canadian national team since 2013 and has earned a gold medal for U-17 and a silver medal for U-16. Despite her youth, Brown has plenty of experience at the international level, which Michigan hopes can translate to the collegiate level with a minimal learning curve.
Junior Hallie Thome is the sole returning center for Michigan. The 6-foot-5 junior will be returning to start her third season after making All-Big Ten as well as earning a spot on the WNIT All-Tournament team. She averaged 16.2 points per game, 7.1 rebounds and two blocks on the year. Additionally, Thome started in all 37 games and scored in the double figures 35 times. Last season she became the third sophomore in Michigan history to reach 1,000 points.