Michigan women’s basketball coach Kevin Borseth sat alone at a table during Big Ten Media Day on October 29. All around him, some of the best players and coaches in the country answered questions about the upcoming season. Borseth’s table was empty for most of the day, with the exception a former beat writer or two coming over to talk every so often. He knows his team doesn’t enjoy the fanfare as the programs at Ohio State and Iowa. But the lack of visitors doesn’t faze Borseth, as he pulls out a crossword puzzle and goes to work.
It would be an understatement to say that Michigan is flying under the radar entering this season. The Wolverines are not ranked in the top three in either of the Big Ten preseason and media polls and have no players named to the preseason All-Big Ten teams.
Borseth was the first coach to speak during Big Ten media day, and he started off his press conference by saying, “It’s my job to make sure these microphones work so you can hear everyone else afterwards.”
Borseth seems to relish the lack of attention. He breaks out of his crossword-induced bubble when he begins to talk about his team, one with a scary dearth experience. The team’s youth is a major reason for its low profile early on, something that Borseth understands completely.
“Jury is always out on young teams,” Borseth said. “And we certainly are young.”
The Wolverines return only one senior, but if one is all you get then guard Veronica Hicks is a good one to have. She was named Michigan’s most valuable player last year and was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. Hicks will be the go-to scorer this year, but her role goes beyond just offense. Borseth calls Hicks the leader and rock of the team, a role that she embraces.
She bears the huge responsibility of showing a green roster the right way to do things, and so far, she has led the team through offseason workouts by being vocal and working hard.
“I think everybody knew what they wanted to work on this summer, and instead of just talking about it we all went out and did it,” Hicks said. “We have seen improvements all around as a team.”
The other two returning starters are junior guard/forward Carmen Reynolds and sophomore guard Jenny Ryan. Reynolds was also an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, mostly because her three-point percentage was the 10th best in the country.
For this team to be successful, Reynolds must continue to be a dangerous shooting threat to take some of the offensive pressure off of Hicks. But her impact goes beyond that.
“I definitely want to step up vocally because we are a younger team, and if I carry myself with confidence everyone else will follow,” Reynolds said.
The team will need its players to shoot consistently from the outside in order to succeed on the offensive end. If Reynolds can shoot like she has in past seasons, the Michigan offense will be in good shape.
On the other side of the spectrum is Ryan, last season’s Michigan defensive player of the year. Known for her rebounding abilities, Ryan understands that she has to step up offensively as well this year.
“I’m not saying I don’t need to continue to improve on my defense,” Ryan said at Michigan Media Day last month. “But this year from an offensive standpoint, I need to be a threat because last year I felt that people could relax on me defensively.”
As far as experience goes, that’s about it. Besides those three players, Michigan does not have anyone on its roster who played more than 10 minutes a game last season.
“We have three players coming back from last season with considerable experience and other than that we have a bunch of greenhorns,” Borseth said. “They have ability, but you just don’t know until you see them on the court.”
While the Wolverines won’t know exactly what they have in their arsenal until the season is underway, there are several young players predicted to get significant playing time. Junior Courtney Boylan is the team’s projected starting point guard and will see a lot of the court this season. Boylan is listed as a generous 5-foot-7, but she plays with an aggressive style that makes up for her lack of size.
Sophomore Sam Arnold and freshman Val Driscoll will likely split the playing time at center, unless Borseth decides to go with a smaller, quicker lineup.
Arnold didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, but she has put in plenty of offseason work and has been praised for her improvement by both Borseth and Hicks. She is 6-foot-4 , but runs the floor better than Driscoll and is more of a threat from the outside.
Driscoll plays like a true center and should bring an element of toughness to the post. There is a good chance she could be one of the team’s leading rebounders this season, depending on how quickly she can pick up the college game.
The surprise player of the year for the Wolverines might be sophomore forward Nya Jordan. Jordan had a hand injury earlier in the offseason, but nevertheless she managed to impress Borseth.
“She is a better player with one hand than a lot of people are with two,” Borseth said. “Nya Jordan is going to be a good player.”
Ultimately, Michigan will ride or die with its newcomers.
If their youth eventually betrays them, the Wolverines could crash and burn quickly.
“Some of us have the experience, we have the athletes, and we have the know how to take it day by day,” Ryan said. “We know that every drill matters, every play matters, and every game matters, and it will show up in March.”