The Michigan women’s basketball team ended the season ranked No. 11. Seven months later, heading into the pre-season, the Wolverines on Tuesday were slotted into the same ranking.
Michigan is one of five teams from the Big Ten to be included in the AP Top 25 poll along with No. 5 Maryland, No. 8 Indiana, No. 9 Iowa and No. 17 Ohio State.
Given their ranking, expectations remain high. The Wolverines will return 11 players, including three returning starters, from last year’s team.
Senior guard Leigha Brown returns as a scoring threat from last year’s team. Brown averaged 18.2 points per game last season while shooting an efficient 52.3% from the field earning her All-Big Ten second team. She is expected to take a step forward this season following the loss of starters guard Akrienah Johnson and forward Hailey Brown.
“I would say for me personally, I want to be a part of the 40-50-90 Club,” Brown said. “Other than that, just trying to build (off last year), I feel like we already have a winning culture, and we’re just continuing to build off of that and just see how far we can go.”
Members of the 40-50-90 club shoot 40% from 3-point range, have a 50% field goal percentage and a 90% free throw percentage.
Senior guard Amy Dilk is the second of three returning starters. Dilk led the team in assists, averaging 3.9 assists per game last season. Being both a starter and a senior, Dilk is viewed as one of the leaders of the team and key to building Michigan’s culture.
“Coming in, we got together with the coach and she wanted our class to be that culture change.” Dilk said. “We stand by being the hardest working team in America. You can say it but then you also have to do it so I think our class really set the tone, especially for the younger ones.”
The Wolverines added four freshmen to their roster. The goal for them is to contribute any way possible this season.
“I’m just trying to get better every single day,” freshman forward Taylor Gibson said. “I know I will have to wait for my time, so I am just trusting the process through everything and being a good teammate.
“Just to get minutes first of all, not any specific number, but I just want to do what’s best for the team,” freshman guard Jordan Hobbs said. “I know that’s a very generic answer but it’s more of the team’s goals. But as we progress towards the season I think more individual goals will come.”
Dilk added: “Coach always talks about leaving your legacy … so just really teaching the younger kids ‘this is what we do here and this is how we do it,’ and I think our class really established that.”
The Wolverines learned a lot from last year’s March Madness run that can be applied to this year. The team had to overcome adversity in many ways including injuries and COVID-19.
“Last year, we had a bunch of different situations, whether it was personal to us, or whether it was throughout our country that we’ve had to handle adversity,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “I think each of those situations brought our team closer together instead of further apart.”
The culture that Barnes Arico has brought to Michigan is second to none. Players and coaches all feel involved within the team. The players always put the team first. When Naz Hillmon was being interviewed after Michigan defeated Tennessee to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, she was emotional talking about how her team was getting recognition rather than her individual accolades.
“Going to the Sweet Sixteen by beating Tennessee was the first time it was truly about our team and how important that was and how much that meant to her and was way more important than any individual accolade,” Barnes Arico said. “And I think that was what our team was all about last year.”
With forward Hailey Brown graduating last season, senior Emily Kiser is now expected to get to take the starting position at forward.
“I’m just continuing to develop different things,” Kiser said. “With Hailey Brown leaving who was a great 3-point shooter.”
“I’m trying to keep developing that (3-point shot) to open it up for Naz (Hillmon) inside, I’m just trying to play more physical, whether it’s on the defensive side or offensive and just finishing.”
With the return of 11 players and the addition of four freshmen, the Wolverines are poised to make another deep run.
“You want to bottle it because every year is different and there’s no guarantee that this year is going to be the same and we will work for that for sure,” Arico said.