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Senior forward Emily Kiser didn’t start a single game for Michigan last season. She averaged 12.3 minutes and just 2.4 points per game. But Kiser’s lack of playing time can be attributed to a factor that was out of her control — she was backing up the Big Ten Player of the Year.

Now, in her senior year, Kiser is one of just two Wolverines to start all nine games thus far. She has played in the frontcourt alongside senior forward Naz Hillmon, despite both having skill sets most suited to play the ‘four.’ Michigan has bigger lineups it could start, but Kiser is too talented to be left on the bench.

Kiser has emerged as one of the Wolverines key players early in the season and is finding a variety of ways to contribute. 

Kiser has been a force on the boards for Michigan this season. She has managed to pull in eight rebounds per game with 2.3 coming on the offensive glass.

“I think she’s definitely shown the ability in the last few games to rebound the basketball,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the Wolverine’s win against St. Francis Brooklyn. “And that’s something our team needs.”

Kiser has also become an anchor on the defensive end of the floor. Asking Hillmon to be the focal point of the team on offense and defense would be a tremendous workload, so Kiser’s defensive play has been of great importance. She has accumulated a team-high 10 blocks in just nine games — highlighted by a three-block performance against UMass Lowell — while also snatching a steal per game.

Against Akron on Sunday, Kiser’s defensive prowess was on display. Midway through the third quarter, Kiser left her assignment to trap Zips guard Annika Corcoran. The trap resulted in a steal for Kiser, and in the ensuing offensive possession senior guard Leigha Brown scored a pair of free throws for Michigan.

“I think she definitely guards the other team’s toughest post player right now,” Barnes Arico said after trouncing St. Francis Brooklyn. “Just to take that responsibility off of Naz a little bit.”

Kiser has also taken a step up offensively. Earlier this season, Hillmon couldn’t make the trip to Mt. Pleasant to take on Central Michigan due to a non-COVID-19 related illness. With the driving force of the Michigan offense missing, the question of who would rise to the occasion was looming.

The answer was Kiser. After missing her first three attempts from the field against the Chippewas, she turned her performance around and led the Wolverines in scoring with 16 points — what was then a career high.

While she thrived in Hillmon’s absence, Kiser has also learned to coexist with Hillmon on the offensive end. They demonstrated their chemistry on offense against Akron, picking apart the defense with an impressive high-low game.

In that matchup, Kiser also showed that she can be more than a complementary piece on offense. When Hillmon was subbed out with 3:32 minutes left in the third quarter, Kiser scored 10 straight points for Michigan, boosting their lead to 44.

Being able to coexist with Hillmon — and create her own offense while Hillmon is off the floor — shows how dynamic Kiser has become.

“I put in the work off the court. It’s starting to show a little bit here,” Kiser said. “I just want to keep it going. Really just whatever for the team, if that’s what they needed today from me.”