Last year, the Michigan women’s basketball team made history, amassing several program firsts: reaching the Elite Eight, being ranked in the top 10 and being a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, to name a few.
Heading into the 2022-23 season, the 25th-ranked Wolverines hope to build upon that success. Michigan is tasked with doing so without Naz Hillmon — last year’s leader — as well as Danielle Rauch and Amy Dilk, both of whom served as key players at the point guard position throughout the 2021-22 campaign. Hillmon’s departure has been the biggest storyline of the offseason, but the Wolverines are returning four key players — graduate forward Emily Kiser, fifth-year wing Leigha Brown, senior guard Maddie Nolan and sophomore guard Laila Phelia, who is coming off a breakout freshman season. These pieces set Michigan up with a strong foundation as the season approaches.
Kiser, Brown and Nolan return as clear leaders and expected starters, with extensive experience in the program and on the court. Phelia looks primed to take on a bigger leadership role and her spot in the lineup seems all but secured, leaving one starting spot up for grabs. During the offseason, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico supplemented the roster losses with a transfer — sophomore guard Greta Kampschroeder — in addition to three freshmen: guard Kate Clarke and forwards Alyssa Crockett and Chyra Evans. The Wolverines also retain numerous players working to make their first substantial impacts on the court.
Ahead of Michigan’s season-opener against Delaware State on Wednesday, The Daily breaks down the Wolverines’ roster, from experienced leaders to new faces, and everything in between.
Without a true point guard on the roster, the Wolverines will use the early season to figure out how to effectively fill that spot. Brown started at the point in Michigan’s exhibition game against Daemen on Nov. 5, but senior Michelle Sidor and sophomore Ari Wiggins also picked up minutes in the position — and Kampschroeder could also see time there.
Brown is primed to make a significant impact on the court, whether that’s at the point or the wing. Despite battling injuries all last season, she averaged 14 points and 3.4 assists per game — good for second-highest and highest on the team, respectively. Brown’s ability to create shots for herself in conjunction with facilitating opportunities for her teammates will be crucial this season, especially in the absence of a true point player. Look for her to serve as a pillar of the Michigan offense regardless of where she plays in the backcourt.
When Brown isn’t at the point, Sidor and Wiggins will likely both earn minutes in that spot. Sidor has been praised for her work ethic and leadership capabilities. She was one of the most vocal bench players last season — and is hoping to extend that impact onto the court and establish herself as a dependable contributor. Wiggins brings speed and dynamic passing abilities to the table after flashing potential in her freshman season.
Kampschroeder comes to Ann Arbor from Oregon State, and she looks to make an immediate impact in her first season with the Wolverines. She stood out in Michigan’s exhibition game, racking up 16 points in 17 minutes and going 4-of-5 from behind the arc. Kampschroeder also brings hustle and intensity on defense, making her a weapon on both sides of the ball and a likely contributor in the guard rotation.
“(Kampschroeder) is a great scorer, high IQ player, can run all day,” Barnes Arico said at Big Ten Media Days on Oct. 12. “I think she’s going to be able to play multiple positions for us, anywhere from point guard all the way through the four.”
As the Wolverines transition towards a new guard-dominant playstyle, Nolan looks like she’ll be an integral part of the Michigan lineup. Without Hillmon in the paint, the Wolverines will need to rely more heavily on 3-point shooting, and Nolan certainly brings that skill to the table. Last season, Nolan shot 40.5% from three, the highest rate on the team by a wide margin.
Phelia brings another strong scoring ability, but through different skills — namely, her ability to drive to the basket. A two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honoree, Phelia boasts strong natural athleticism and an unmistakable presence on the court. This year, she is expected to build even further upon her memorable freshman campaign.
Rounding out the backcourt are junior wing Elise Stuck, sophomore guard Jordan Hobbs and Clarke. Stuck can play at both guard and forward, providing versatility on the court and deepening the roster off the bench. Hobbs will likely see an increase in minutes from last season, especially considering her ability to crash the boards — something she already showed in the exhibition game, grabbing six rebounds. Michigan is looking to fill the rebounding gap that Hillmon left, and it will presumably need to look to guards along with forwards to do so.
Following a strong senior season, Kiser returned for a graduate year and is a lock to lead the Wolverines’ frontcourt. After struggling to find consistent minutes in her first three years, Kiser started every game as a senior, establishing herself as a key contributor and an essential part of the frontcourt. She averaged 9.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in 31.4 minutes per game last season, and she is primed to bolster that statline even further as she takes on an even greater leadership role this season.
Junior forward Cameron Williams is a strong candidate to slide into Michigan’s open frontcourt spot. Last season, Williams averaged just 2.7 points in 6.7 minutes per game, but she demonstrated impressive shooting in the paint with a 70.6% field goal percentage. She filled the starting role against Daemen, and while she won’t be leaned on offensively like Kiser, she provides another valuable option to the frontcourt.
The most prominent newcomer at the forward position is Crockett, the highest-ranked recruit in the Wolverines’ freshman class. Crockett brings a high basketball IQ and versatility to the table, setting her up to earn minutes as a young spark off the bench.
“(Crockett is) transitioning well; I can see her really getting a lot of time as a freshman,” Barnes Arico said. “(She) shoots the ball exceptionally well, can run the floor really well.”
Junior Whitney Sollom and Evans complete the frontcourt. Both players look to make their first real impact on the court — Evans as a freshman and Sollom as a junior who hasn’t seen the court much in her first two years.
Senior Izabel Varejão is the lone center on Michigan’s roster. Varejão appeared in 24 games last season, averaging 2 points and 0.9 rebounds in 4.7 minutes per game — her role was limited with Hillmon on the roster. This season, there’s potential that she could see the court more often, especially with a pressing need for rebounders. But the Wolverines could rely more on smaller lineups, so what Varejão’s exact role will be remains a question heading into the season.
The Wolverines have experienced leaders heading up their squad and are determined to prove that they can succeed without Hillmon. Ranked No. 25 after their historic finish last season, the team is embracing an underdog mentality and has set lofty goals of winning the Big Ten and reaching the Final Four.
Whether those goals are feasible remains to be seen. This Michigan squad has no shortage of leaders in Brown, Kiser and Nolan, and it features various players — like Phelia and Kampschroeder — with notably high ceilings. The Wolverines recognize that their playstyle needs to shift in the wake of Hillmon’s departure, and that was displayed in their exhibition game on Saturday. If Michigan is able to consistently hit threes, control the boards and adapt when shots don’t fall, the Wolverines will have the tools to reach the same heights as last year. They have the pieces in place to mold a successful team — whether those pieces can consistently click will determine just how successful their 2022-23 campaign will be.