Michigan women’s basketball has been a basement dweller for most of its 36-year history. But those years of obscurity appear to be over.
When Michigan coach Kevin Borseth took the job in Ann Arbor three years ago, the program had seen six postseasons and never advanced past the second round in a national tournament.
Borseth went to the WNIT in his first year at the helm, the Wolverines wound up losing to Michigan State. After going 10-20 in his second year, the Wolverines sat on the NCAA Tournament bubble going into Monday’s Selection Day. While they didn’t make the pool of 64, Michigan is poised to make a deep run in the National Invitational Tournament – and that could be a blessing. If it had made the NCAA, that would have meant playing at one of a number of sites spread throughout the country against the best teams in the nation. Advancing would have been a tall task for a young team with very little postseason experience.
But Michigan can very realistically do some damage in the NIT, and a championship could take the program out of the shadows. And maybe next season they will see the NCAA. After all, with two starting freshmen and four returning starters, having a number of familiar faces in the next three years is only going to play to Michigan’s advantage, helping them along the road to becoming a basketball powerhouse.
And Friday’s first-round NIT matchup against Kent State (20-10 overall, 12-4 MAC) is just the beginning.
“I’m just thrilled, excited, anxious,” freshman guard Jenny Ryan said. “I have no idea what to expect. We’re just so excited because it’s a new thing for a lot of us. Half the team has never seen postseason play before, so it’s crazy.”
As he has done on two occasions in past coaching jobs, Borseth looks to turn the program around. He took Michigan Tech to the NCAA Division II Tournament seven times in his 11 years as head coach before coaching University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to seven NCAA tournament berths in his nine years there.
This has been the first year players recruited by Borseth have seen significant minutes, and with three graduating seniors and only one junior, the program will be almost entirely picked by the veteran postseason tournament coach next year.
While Borseth didn’t have much of a choice in starting two freshmen this season after six seniors graduated last year — four of whom started — not only has it proved a success, but the experience freshman gaurds Ryan and Dayeesha Hollins will have gained going into their sophomore year could help the team finish out those few extra games they needed to NCAA Tournament bid.
There is no question that before the talented freshman class led by Ryan and Hollins complete their careers at Michigan, the team, like the others Borseth has taken to new heights, will no longer be one of anonymity.
“I think that anybody around basketball that understands recognizes what we’re going through in trying to build our program,” Borseth said on Big Ten Media Day before the season. “I think they can see that. It’s going to work. It’s worked every other place, and it’s going to work here. It’s just the amount of time it’s going to take.”