On Women’s Hoops

Angela Cesere
Freshman captain Krista Clement kept Michigan positive despite the losses. (Mike Hulsebus/Daily)

Sophomore Kelly Helvey raised her arms in celebration, index fingers pointed toward the Crisler Arena ceiling. Freshman Ta’Shia Walker let loose a 1000-watt smile as she looked up at the cheering crowd. Then, freshman co-captain Krista Clement strutted into the post-game press conference, beaming as she flashed a “W” sign.

As if by magic, the cloud of frustration haunting the Michigan women’s basketball team since mid-December had vanished. The Wolverines finally returned to the win column on Sunday, outlasting a spirited Indiana team and coming away with a 63-61 victory.

“We wanted the ‘W,’ ” freshman Jessica Starling said. “It was too close, and we were right there.”

The raucous postgame celebration stood in stark contrast to the matter-of-fact way the Wolverines handled their previous victory. On Dec. 11, Michigan took care of business easily, dismissing IUPUI 68-48. With the Wolverines’ record standing at 4-4, no one dreamed they would have to wait over a month before their next win.

But the bottom fell out on Michigan’s season, starting on Dec. 14 in Kalamazoo. The Wolverines then dropped a frustrating 79-62 decision to Western Michigan and lost freshman forward Katie Dierdorf indefinitely to a hip injury. Soon enough, they were freefalling, blowing a few close games and getting steamrolled from the get-go in others. Last Thursday, the Wolverines dropped their ninth in a row, falling to No. 10 Minnesota 73-49.

Following a skid of that magnitude, most experienced teams — let alone squads featuring seven freshmen — would be at their breaking point. But not the Wolverines.

“That’s one of the most impressive things about this team,” Clement said. “Other teams would have lost a game and not come ready to practice the next day. But we continued to stay positive with each other, and we knew that, through our hard work, it would pay off. That had a lot to do with (senior captain Tabitha Pool) and the coaches being so positive.”

Despite the many difficult moments during their nine-game losing streak, the tight-knit Wolverines never criticized each other. As the losses piled up, Michigan stayed true to its team-first philosophy.

“If someone messes up, we just pick them up and be like, ‘It’s ok,’ ” Pool said. “We just try to stay positive the whole time. If someone’s down, we pick them up.”

But a positive attitude alone couldn’t guarantee an end to the losing streak. The Wolverines needed to keep working hard — and they did. With lively practices in Crisler Arena, Michigan continued to grow accustomed to coach Cheryl Burnett’s system.

“I can’t get this team out of the gym,” Burnett said. “They get here early. They stay late. They enjoy each other. They enjoy our staff. We enjoy them. They’re trying to do all the right things. In that way, it’s actually been a very rewarding year, which has not been indicated by our record.”

On Sunday, the Wolverines came out with an obvious sense of determination from the opening tip. Michigan bodies were flying everywhere — the Wolverines were diving for loose balls, fighting through screens and contesting jump shots. But with 1:11 to go, the Hoosiers held a 61-60 lead. It was gut-check time. And for the first time in 43 days, the Wolverines passed the test.

“We had a little thing going,” Helvey said. “We would look at each other and pound our chests because we have heart. We went out there and just played with heart (Sunday).”

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