While the game of basketball would be nothing without the stars that helped shape it, there is something to be said for the complementary players on the court — those whose contributions may not always appear on the scoreboard, but are crucial for winning games.
For the Michigan women’s basketball team, those players are junior guard Jenny Ryan and freshman guard Nicole Elmblad.
Ryan is a returning starter renowned by teammates and coaches as a hard worker who has the talent to create opportunities for her teammates. On Monday in a game against Florida Atlantic, Ryan racked up nine steals, eight assists and four rebounds to lead the Wolverines to victory after trailing in the first half.
“Jenny makes a lot of things happen,” said Michigan coach Kevin Borseth. “She’s got really fast hands, always trying to make her teammates better, and she’s got the ability to shoot it. She’s a tough kid, a tireless worker and I think the kids feed off of that.
“I think good players create and do things for themselves, but great players make the players around them better. I think Jenny is one of those players.”
While Ryan had the steals and assists locked down, Elmblad led the team in rebounding, grabbing a total of seven boards for the Wolverines. While her four points and three assists went relatively unnoticed, Elmblad filled a very important role for the Wolverines on the glass. This complementary style of play seems to be just what Borseth ordered.
“(Elmblad) really melds in well with the other players,” Borseth said. “Everything she does seems to flow with the rest of them. If her teammates aren’t where they are supposed to be, she knows to get to that spot. She knows how to move offensively, and defensively she is very smart, and makes great decisions. She’s a strong-willed kid, which is hard to teach.”
Borseth is a huge advocate of rebounding and going hard after the ball. It’s clear that he’s imparting these skills well onto his young players, who see these skills as a top priority going into Thursday’s matchup against Utah.
“We’re planning to go out and not let up on the boards,” Elmblad said. “We can’t afford to take any possessions off. This game is going to come down to everyone making the effort to grab rebounds, both on the offensive and defensive ends.”
Aside from its strong rebounding, Utah demonstrated its ability to put points on the board with its 74-60 victory over Southern Utah last Monday. Borseth and Ryan are convinced that the game will come down to much more than just rebounding.
“Defensively, Utah is very stingy and offensively they are very pointed,” Borseth said. “They know exactly what they want to do, they take care of the ball, they are spread but strategic at the same time. They are a team that really controls the pace on offense and mucks it up with their great one-on-one skills on defense. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Added Ryan: “Our main job against Utah will be stopping the drive. They have a great point guard (Rachel Messer), and I think she’s what really makes that engine run. We are also looking to keep their great post players off the glass so they can’t build any momentum on offense. And on top of that, we are going to continue to run our game and get inside looks.”
Those inside looks will likely go to the hot hands of the team’s leading scorers, junior center Rachel Sheffer and senior guard Courtney Boylan, but it’s important to remember where those passes are coming from. Those players — the Ryans and the Elmblads of the program — are who Michigan will rely on when the game is on the line.