Whoever said experience guarantees improvement was proved wrong in a big way by the Michigan woman’s basketball team Thursday.
Last season (3-15 Big Teb, 10-20 overall) Michigan coach Kevin Borseth had four starting seniors to work with. Center Krista Phillips is the only starting senior this year and two freshmen, Dayeesha Hollins and Jenny Ryan, have started every game this season.
To start last season, the team was impressive, opening 8-4 in non-conference match ups and 2-2 in the first four games of the Big Ten season before spiraling into despair, losing 13 of 14 remaining conference games.
But this year’s young team will not suffer that same fate.
The Wolverines still have a lot of work to do halfway into the season with most of their Big Ten games looming. But Michigan (2-3, 10-5) is already on its way up, standing ninth in the conference after being ranked dead last in the pre-season media poll. They swept Iowa — the first ever sweep in Borseth’s tenure — and have just one loss at home after a heartbreaker against Northwestern last week. They certainly have the tools to do a lot of damage in conference.
Offensive output has skyrocketed from last season largely due to Hollins’s impressive freshman campaign thus far. The Wolverines are scoring an average of 70 points per game. Last year, they averaged 55.
Hollins has put up double digits in all but two games this season, and her confidence in the college arena continues to grow.
“Oh my goodness. I was so nervous,” Hollins said after her first game. “My hands were sweating and I was shaking and I don’t know why.”
Ten games into the season, against Xavier, Hollins came alive. Her nerves had vanished as she led the team with a career-high 22 points.
“I just told her I wanted to see the player that I saw play in Atlanta a couple years ago,” Borseth said after the win over Xavier in her hometown of Cincinnati on December 14. “I just wanted her to go out there and play. What you witnessed out there tonight was the way that kid’s capable of playing.”
Ryan, also a freshman, leads the team in rebounds, averaging nearly seven per game, two more than any of her teammates.
The six freshmen this year have helped created a team chemistry wholly different from last year, and it seems to be helping on the court. The off-court bond has helped them to have confidence in one another on the court.
“Love the new players,” sophomore guard Courtney Boylan said. “Love the freshman. Our team already has such a better chemistry. We get along in the locker room we get along on the court. We battle out there but when we get off the court we are all still friends. I think that’s a big thing that we all trust each other.”
More than half of the squad remains in the dark to last season’s 3-15 conference schedule – and they want to keep it that way. The new energy and optimism the freshmen bring to the team is crucial if the veteran players are to keep last year’s disappointing history in the past.
So while the freshmen don’t know how they will perform against top teams like Illinois and Minnesota, they’ve proved that sometimes its better not to know what you can’t do.