A combination of new and old has spiced up the competition among the guards of the Michigan women’s basketball team.
The Wolverines return four outside players who played meaningful minutes last season, including two starters — juniors Siera Thompson and Danielle Williams. Thompson enters the year as Michigan’s second-highest scorer, scoring 10 points per game, but will most likely make her presence known leading the offense.
After earning 99 assists last season, Thompson has a proven ability to run the Wolverines’ offense, which has made her feel confident that she’ll keep her spot in the starting five.
Thompson has also excelled at helping her teammates find their fit in Michigan’s offensive system as she looks to become the floor general the Wolverines need in early games.
“I’ve had to learn and figure everyone out,” Thompson said. “I’ve needed to figure out who’s the best at doing what, especially since we lost three starters who we knew so well.”
Thompson may be considered a lock at the ‘1,’ but who she’ll be paired up with in the backcourt still remains highly contested.
After an impressive freshman season, sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty may seem like the favorite to land next to Thompson in the lineup. Returning as Michigan’s highest scorer and the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year, Flaherty has spent a large amount of the offseason working on skills she struggled with last season.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico has seen Flaherty’s ability to drive to the basket and overall physicality improve. The expansion of Flaherty’s game may lead to her being able to play more positions as well. The possibility of playing Flaherty at small forward may suit her skills better, opening up the shooting guard position for others.
Outside of Flaherty, Williams and senior guard Madison Ristovski both have their eyes on a starting spot. Neither Williams nor Ristovski have eye-popping offensive stats from last season, but they make up for it by playing tough.
The battle between Williams and Ristovski may be the closest through the first few weeks of practice, but both say it’s made them better players and helped the unit as a whole.
“It’s super competitive, because girls want to get better,” Ristovski said. “But at the same time, we’re making each other better. Everyone’s competing for minutes, but it’s also great that we help each other, and it’s been important to have a group of guards that have chemistry.”
Despite the experience the returning Wolverines bring, their spots aren’t necessarily guaranteed with a talented pair of freshmen catching up to them.
Freshman guard Lauren ‘Boogie’ Brozoski has made a serious push for earning significant time on the court. The Gatorade State Player of the Year in New Jersey isn’t expecting to be in the mix for a starting position, but still has challenged her teammates in practice.
“I’ve really been working hard, and trying to learn my role,” Brozoski said. “I’m not trying to say I’m going to fight for a starting position, but I know one day I will, and it comes with hard work, dedication and learning from the best around me.”
Barnes Arico has been impressed by the effort Brozoski and fellow freshman guard Nicole Munger have put in, but will be tentative in expanding their roles as the season begins. The pair may need time to adjust to the physical grind of a collegiate schedule.
“With the freshmen, it’s going to be the grind of the season and how much they can handle,” Barnes Arico said. “How much can they handle playing a team like Maryland and bouncing back and playing in a game two or three days later? That’s when you really see how ready these freshmen are.”
With a variety of options, whomever Barnes Arico decides to start in the backcourt in the Wolverines’ opener on Nov. 8 will continue to feel the pressure of retaining her spot in a deep and talented position.
“Everybody has equal ability to score,” Thompson said. “We’ve all been working hard to not just have one go-to player, but to have everyone able to contribute.”