For the Michigan women’s basketball team, no starting spot is granted. It’s earned.
In Sunday’s win over Davenport, some fresh faces finally got a chance to not only show their potential, but also steal the spotlight in the process.
And after one game this season, the competition will only get bigger and tougher. That’s why only the best will see the court — many of whom could be freshmen by season’s end.
“Every day in practice, spots are open,” said senior forward Cyesha Goree. “You never know who’s going to start or who’s going to play. Everybody is going to work hard and earn their position.”
Added freshman guard Katelynn Flaherty: “Anyone can switch in any day. It just depends on the matchups, whether they want to start a bigger group or a smaller group.”
The freshmen, considered by Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico to be “incredibly talented,” have shown the typical inconsistencies that come with the transition to college basketball. Each freshman brings their own quality to the table, which makes Barnes Arico’s decision to choose one over the other a tough one.
Even with a lack of experience at the collegiate level, Barnes Arico said Flaherty has shown the most consistency through the first weeks of practice, to nobody’s surprise. Her ball handling is impressive, and she possesses the ability to create space for her and her teammates to score. In Sunday’s exhibition, Flaherty led the team in points and assists, with 17 and six, respectively.
While many freshmen struggle to make the transition from high school to college, Flaherty has flourished, and Barnes Arico already considers her a vital component to the team’s success.
But that doesn’t mean she won’t have her bad day.
“The other freshmen are freshmen,” Barnes Arico said. “I’m sure (Katelynn) will have her bumps in the road as the season progresses and she plays against tougher competition. She’s going to be a freshman at times.”
Competing with Flaherty for a starting spot is sophomore forward Jillian Dunston, who has the size and physicality needed on defense that Flaherty lacks.
According to Barnes Arico, Dunston has struggled with scoring in practice, so making the decision to start her over Flaherty trades offensive firepower for a tough defense.
“She has a great role model in Nicole Elmblad to show her it doesn’t only have to be about scoring,” Barnes Arico said. “You can rebound, be a great screener and you can be a great teammate. If you can do the rest of those things, you’re going to get a lot of minutes, and I think Jillian came in (Sunday) and did a tremendous job of doing that.”
Even after the starting lineup is set, Barnes Arico still has another hard decision to make: who will be first off the bench? The “sixth player,” as Barnes Arico calls it, will be the one who can come in when the rest get tired and make an impact; the one who will bring something else, something new. Luckily for Barnes Arico, she has options.
Junior guard Madison Ristovski possesses tremendous offensive skills and leads the program in three-point percentage. Meanwhile, freshman center Terra Stapleton and junior forward Kelsey Mitchell can provide a big inside presence. Then there’s freshman guard Maria Backman, whose 6-foot-1 build gives her plenty of length to play effective defense and score at the net.
With the season starting in just over a week, Barnes Arico has time to figure out which matchups work best on the court for her group of 14, and those 14 can make improvements to demonstrate their potential.
In that time, the Wolverines’ maturity will have to show itself early in order to stay in the race with one of toughest Big Ten conferences to date.