Nabbing seven freshmen to fill out a roster with just three returning players — not easy.

Finding seven players ready to step in and play at the Big Ten level — even harder.

Signing seven Big Ten-caliber players who all earned academic awards in high school — nearly impossible.

But Michigan women’s basketball coach Cheryl Burnett managed to beat the odds with her first recruiting class at Michigan. In addition to their prowess on the court, these freshmen have what it takes to succeed off of it.

“We look for special people, players and academicians,” Burnett said. “Every member of our incoming class was a straight-A student in high school.”

The players’ academic credentials back up their coach’s claims. Krista Clement was the valedictorian of LaSalle High School in St. Ignace, while Ta’Shia Walker earned the same honor at Sexton High School in Lansing. Clement was elected student council president and Katie Dierdorf was class president at Visitation Academy in Missouri. Meanwhile, the rest of the class racked up a litany of academic awards, such as the “Superintendent Excellence Award” (Janelle Cooper), “CIF Scholar Athlete” (Sierrah Moore), “Board of Education Honors Diploma” (Becky Flippin) and “Who’s Who in America for Academics/Athletics” (Jessica Starling).

But even the brightest students go through an adjustment period when they venture off to college. To ease the transition, the freshmen arrived in Ann Arbor early to take classes over the summer. Getting used to the academic rigors of college life before the basketball season proved to be helpful.

“I think everyone’s adjusted pretty well,” Clement said. “I think the first couple of tests were pretty hard — getting used to what the professors wanted from you. But since then, it’s been good.”

For these student-athletes, the University’s athletic tradition and its wide-ranging, well-regarded academic programs proved attractive. Walker, for example, hopes to take advantage of the University’s sports management program in order to fulfill her goal of becoming a marketing executive. Cooper was impressed by Michigan’s dentistry program.

“There were a lot of steps that went into my decision making,” Clement said. “But I wanted the best of both worlds — athletics and academics.”

Burnett understands that a school’s academic standing can be a deciding factor in landing some of the best ballplayers in the country. That’s why Michigan’s impressive academic offerings go hand-in-hand with Burnett’s plans to bring the Wolverines to new heights on the court.

“That’s one of the things I feel so privileged about,” Burnett said. “To be able to walk into these players’ homes with their families, and show them how we’re academically ranked. To be able to truthfully say that the quality of education is second to none — it’s immeasurable in recruiting.”

The result: A nucleus of seven freshmen who are serious about hitting the books as well as the hardwood.

“Not only do they play basketball at a high level,” Burnett said. “They overachieve in other aspects of life as well.”


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