Notebook: A new season beckons for Michigan

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By Minh Doan, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 14, 2014

After a surprising showing last season after losing a majority of its starters, the Michigan women’s basketball team is back on the court, just not in action quite yet.

With their first practice 11 days ago, the Wolverines return senior forward Cyesha Goree, who was named to last season’s All-Big Ten Second Team, as well as three other regular starters: senior guards Nicole Elmblad and Shannon Smith and sophomore guard Siera Thompson.

The core, headed by third-year Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, will be counted on to lead the Wolverines back to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season.

But behind the returning starters, Michigan also welcomes a five-member recruiting class rated No. 23 in the country, which is the highest ranking for a Wolverine recruiting class in program history.

Expectations are high in Ann Arbor, but for Barnes Arico, the biggest question will be if the returning starters who had success last year can sustain their accomplishments for another year.

YOUNG TALENT: The transition between high school and college is always a big change for most freshmen. But two players, guards Jillian Dunston and Katelynn Flaherty, have shown signs that they are ready to play right away.

“If we had to play tomorrow, I would say that they would both be contributing right now.” Barnes Arico said.

Dunston’s 5’11’’ frame not only matches up against men’s basketball junior guard Spike Albrecht’s size, but her physical presence has already been made aware of, and the adjustment in that regard has been easy for her. However, Barnes Arico noted that Dunston still needs to get used to playing top competition consistently before she becomes a major contributor.

Flaherty is the exact opposite. While she possesses true-scoring ability with her ball handling and shooting prowess, Flaherty currently lacks the size and physicality to compete with college basketball’s best.

Nothing is set in stone, though, as there is still a month until the team tips off its season on Nov. 14 against Detroit.

LEADERSHIP INSTABILITY: There isn’t much change at the top of the pecking order as Elmblad was named to the captaincy role for the second straight year. Last season, Elmblad led the team in average minutes played and started all 34 games on the season.

While Elmblad’s on-court credentials are worthy enough of her to be named captain, she was also named to the Academic All-American Second Team and a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, showing that she can be a role model off the court as well.

Barnes Arico noted that all of the seniors, not just Elmblad, have been helpful to the freshmen in their transition to college.

But underneath the stability in the leadership role, Elmblad is in the middle of a position change.

With center Val Driscoll lost to graduation, there is a hole in the starting lineup at the power forward position. After playing small forward for the past two seasons, Elmblad will move back to her original position at power forward, where Barnes Arico said she feels more comfortable.

STRONGEST BIG TEN EVER: Maryland and Rutgers will join the Big Ten this year, making the conference the strongest it has ever been.

“With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, those are two Hall of Fame programs,” Barnes Arico said. “I don’t think the (change) affects any (sport) as much as it does women’s basketball.”

The No. 11 Terrapins are led by legendary coach Brenda Frese and are coming off a trip to the 2014 NCAA Final Four. Maryland has made the NCAA Tournament 10 of the 12 years that Frese has been with the program.

Another legendary coach, C. Vivian Stringer, leads the Scarlet Knights. The squad is coming off a National Invitation Tournament championship and returns all five of its starters. The team is receiving votes in the Associated Press poll.

Adding on to the fact that No. 13 Nebraska, No. 14 Penn State and No. 20 Michigan State are all ranked, this season could live up to its hype as the strongest the Big Ten has ever been.