Women’s basketball is back.

Wednesday marked the Michigan women’s basketball team’s first practice of the 2020-21 season. It’s a season no one was sure would happen — and they still aren’t. 

While the Wolverines are excited to be back on the floor, they understand the unpredictability of this season.

“I just think at this point we feel really fortunate that we’re in the position that we’re going to have a season,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said.

Despite the uncertainty, it’s time for Michigan to get back to work. Last season, the Wolverines ended on a disheartening loss to rival Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. And without the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan is hungry to finish what it started.

“I think we felt unfinished because we actually had a great run in the Big Ten Tournament and we were going to have a great NCAA Tournament run” Barnes Arico said. “We have so much left to do.” 

Back in early March, as the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon the United States, college students across the country headed back home to quarantine. During that time period, teams were restricted from having normal summer and pre-season practice. As a result, no player has played a game since the loss to Ohio State.

“It’s been a long time,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s probably been the longest time for anyone in our program that they haven’t played in a game in their lives since they started playing basketball. So the excitement is definitely there.”

Wednesday, the team masked up to get back on the floor. Despite limited home workouts, it was the first time the whole team had been back together on a court. And for the Wolverines’ four new freshmen, it was their first taste of college basketball.

“We have four freshmen that looked like they were young and their eyes were wide open and they were trying to learn everything and embrace everything,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s always fun as a coach to watch those freshmen and how they absorb the first couple of days and how they handle things.”

Michigan returns two key starters from last year — junior guard Amy Dilk and junior forward Naz Hillmon. Alongside those two experienced players is fifth-year guard Akienreh Johnson, junior guard Danielle Rauch and junior forward Emily Kiser. The Wolverines will look to these players for leadership, as the remainder of their team is mostly underclassmen.

In Wednesday’s practice, the focus was on the Wolverines’ identity. With four new freshmen, there is increased competition for playing time. From day one, Barnes Arico wants to emphasize toughness and finding an edge.

“We always say at Michigan that we want to be the hardest-working team in America,” Barnes Arico said. “And what does that look like? Who’s our toughest player, who’s our best defender, who’s going to sell out and dive on the floor, and who’s going to take the charges.”

With over 40 days until Michigan’s first potential game, there’s lots of time to improve, make changes and develop a culture. Ever-changing circumstances will continue to hang over the heads of all college sports. But until something changes, the Wolverines will be on the floor, doing everything they can to ensure they’ll be ready.

“We always talk about fluid — that seems to be the word of 2020,” Barnes Arico said. “That things are ever-changing and that things are fluid, but trying to do our part. And we all have to be accountable and responsible for doing our part.”

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