The Michigan men’s and women’s basketball teams have a lot in common — they both play in the newly renovated Crisler Center, they both have players that can shoot the lights out from beyond the arc and they are both coming off seasons that ended in berths in the NCAA Tournament.
But unlike the men’s squad, the women’s team lacks the roster depth that helped earn the men’s team the No. 5 ranking to the season.
The main reason behind the women’s deficiency is something that is out of the team’s hands – injuries.
Torn ACL – to be exact.
The bug started early in the summer when freshman forward Rebecca Lyttle, sophomore forward Cyesha Goree and freshman guard Symone Denham all tore their ACLs.
“Rebecca is not there yet, but those other two have been practicing but have been out for six months, so obviously their conditioning and their touch is not nearly there,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico on Oct. 10th.
Since then, Goree and Denham have seen some action – albeit for 10 minutes of garbage time in the team’s exhibition-game thrashing of Slippery Rock. In Michigan’ s first two regular-season games, though, they haven’t had any minutes, and the same holds true with Lyttle.
While that group continues to rehab and attempt to get back to near full-strength, junior forward Val Driscoll and freshman forward Kelsey Mitchell aren’t as fortunate. They both tore their ACLs within a week of each other in August and have been declared done for the season.
“That’s five ACLs in the last six months,” Barnes Arico said. “I’ve never been associated with (ACLs). It’s a freak thing.”
The situation became even more peculiar last week when it was announced that redshirt junior forward Kendra Seto suffered an ACL tear in her right knee that will force yet another player to miss the season.
A roster that once consisted of 15 players is now down to 12, and through the first two regular season games, only eight of those players have seen the court.
Without the trio of forwards that were expected to come off the bench — starters 6-foot-4 senior guard Kate Thompson, senior guard Jenny Ryan and sophomore guard Nicole Elmblad played 37, 39 and 40 minutes, respectively, against Detroit. In addition, the lone starting forward — senior Rachel Sheffer — played 32 minutes.
The three substitutes, freshman guard Madison Ristovski and senior forwards Nya Jordan and Sam Arnold combined for just 19 minutes, and the Wolverines were out-rebounded 36-33.
“Our number one concern on the year is our rebounding,” Barnes Arico said. “Coming into the year we were last in the Big Ten last year in rebounding. We haven’t improved our size or our athleticism up front, so I know every single night it’s definitely a concern.”
Perhaps the biggest loss of the three forwards missing the season is Kelsey Mitchell, who was the runner-up to her teammate Ristovski in the 2012 Michigan Miss Basketball voting after averaging 17.3 points, 14.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 8.1 blocks a game for University Liggett High School.
“We lost a ton of kids this year with ACL injuries, kids that we knew we’re going to contribute,” Barnes Arico said. “Kendra was going to give us some minutes, Kelsey was going to give us some minutes, and Val was going to give us some minutes.”
Barnes Arico’s attention is now drawn towards the healthy bench players. Players that need to show themselves in practice, before getting game action.
“(The bench players) have to get better. They have to raise their level of play each and every practice, so that way they become consistent and that way I feel confident getting them in the game,” Barnes Arico said. “(The second and third bench players) might be close if they can get better each and every single day.”
While Barnes Arico and her coaching staff hope that the bench can play marginal minutes and spark some plays while giving the starters a breather, Ryan is confident that her teammates will come through.
“We have great players that now have their opportunity to show what they can do,” Ryan said. “That’s what a team is all about.”