For any athlete, two years of injuries can incur just as much damage mentally as it can physically. But for a senior on the Michigan women’s basketball team, a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a broken foot have revamped her mindset, leaving her looking to finish on a high.
Wednesday, at the Michigan women’s basketball team’s media day, coach Kim Barnes Arico began her opening statement by mentioning a player that hasn’t been in many headlines: forward Kelsey Mitchell.
After highlighting the new additions to her staff and recapping the Wolverines’ WNIT run last spring, Barnes Arico discussed the small number of scholarship upperclassmen on the team (four), led by Mitchell and senior guard Madison Ristovski.
“Out of those four (upperclassmen), I think the biggest surprise right now is (Mitchell),” Barnes Arico said. “She has had an injury-plagued career thus far, with a torn ACL and a broken foot and last season trying to regroup from those injuries, but in practice, she has been incredible. I know we are only 10 practices in, but we are hoping she can have a Cyesha Goree-type of breakout season.”
Goree, a senior last year, stepped into the spotlight by improving her average of 1.1 points per game to 12.1 during her junior year. While Barnes Arico doesn’t anticipate those types of numbers right out of the gate from Mitchell, she expressed her excitement to finally witness the potential that has been tucked away for the past three years.
Mitchell, at 6 feet, is one of the shortest forwards on the team, but she is still expected to play in the paint and size up some of the bigger guards in the conference.
“Even though she’s only about 6 foot, her power is equal to (freshman center) Hallie Thome’s height (6-foot-5),” said sophomore center Terra Stapleton. “She knows how to maneuver around people, and she definitely knows how to body somebody.”
Stapleton, whose locker neighbors Mitchell’s, said the senior is not the type of person “that’ll take no for an answer,” and that she’s been bursting with energy for the first handful of practices.
All of Mitchell’s teammates attested that her confidence jumped this year, and she couldn’t deny it either. On the tail end of her Michigan career, it is reassuring for Mitchell to know she is, at long last, healthy enough to contribute.
“I have to say I’ve improved most in my confidence in myself,” Mitchell said. “Just in my ability and knowing I’ll be physically OK to play at this high of a level.”
The kind of gritty, hard-nosed presence Mitchell provides is just what Barnes Arico is looking for, as this year’s biggest concern is replacing the graduated seniors — a stalwart trio that made up 59 percent of the team’s total rebounding.
Filling such a large void will take the entire team, but Barnes Arico believes Mitchell could put a chunk of that weight on her shoulders.
“I’m hoping that Kelsey can stay healthy enough, because she really has been a spark in practice,” Barnes Arico said. “She is showing things that I haven’t seen in four years.
“She hasn’t experienced the grind of doing it on a regular basis, and that’s making me a little nervous about her because of the wear and tear on her body, but if she can hold off and be even half of what (Goree) was able to contribute (two years ago), it could be a special year.”