The Michigan women’s basketball team runs out of the tunnel at Crisler Arena before every home game. In the front — leading the pack — is backup guard Courtney Boylan.
The sophomore then stands in the paint while all the starters names are called. The starters then run to Boylan for chest-bumps before they take the court.
Boylan is part of the bench — the motivating force behind the Wolverines’ success.
Michigan is in a tough position. Like last year, the Wolverines jumped out to a strong start only to find themselves teetering on the edge of another Big Ten collapse.
But this year, there is one big difference — the bench. The bench could be the key to a strong Big Ten season.
The Wolverines have seen consistent production from their bench this season, as non-starters are averaging 14 points a game.
“We need to have (a good bench) all year,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “We just want to get anyone to score that we can. We don’t care who scores — those kids have to be able to score because they work on it quite a bit.”
But even more impressive, the Wolverines have been winning games primarily because of the second effort in the paint. Michigan’s eight-player second string is averaging almost nine rebounds per game, putting them in the top half of the conference.
But Michigan’s numbers don’t tell the whole story. The leadership and energy that the Wolverine bench brings to the court are invaluable.
Boylan is a 3-point threat and one of the team’s vocal leaders. Coming off the bench, Boylan routinely shows her intensity, making a fist and pounding her chest or slapping her teammates’ backs.
“I always play hard for coach,” Boylan said. “He cares, and after last season that just made me want to try even harder because he is just 100 percent behind us, and I want to give him everything. I have to so that our team can be successful.”
Boylan usually enters the game alongside fifth-year senior Ashley Jones, whose aggressive presence and size assert physicality for a Michigan group that’s known as a small team. Jones missed all of last year due to injury, but this year she has made a difference with her emotion.
“We need intensity every day so we can get that game-like feeling,” Jones said at practice before the season started. “Intensity and your adrenaline has to get going for games. (Winning) is a combination of a lot of things: nerves, get excited, you have the adrenaline going.”
Besides Boylan and Jones, there is a slew of freshmen that see court time and contribute, including forward Nya Jordan, who has 19 rebounds on the season but is only playing about six minutes a game.
Boylan, Jones and Michigan’s freshmen may not have the glory yet. And though they aren’t part of the starting five, without them, Michigan wouldn’t be in the hunt for a Big Ten title and an NCAA tournament berth.