The Michigan women’s basketball team began its season on Wednesday with an exhibition against Northwood. With three of its main rotation players from last season not returning, it was an opportunity for the Wolverines’ younger players to earn minutes before the regular season.
Michigan’s three freshmen — guard Maddie Nolan, guard Michelle Sidor and center Izabel Varejao — all took advantage of their first in-game opportunity to impress the coaching staff.
Varejao was the standout of the trio. In 21 minutes, she led the team with 18 points, shooting 8-for-10 from the floor — tacking on six rebounds, three blocks and two steals. When she was on the floor she made her presence felt the paint, scoring 16 points inside, and her teammates continued to look for her for easy baskets.
“It feels great, honestly,” Varejao said. “Before your first game, being a freshman, you’re a little nervous. … It’s my first time playing college basketball, and then I go out there and I play well like I did today. It just encourages me for next game.”
Varajeo also showed that she can be a threat from 3-point range. Towards the end of the fourth quarter she attempted a three, and while it did not fall, her shot appeared comfortable from deep. An ability to score in the paint and on the perimeter could make Varejao a difficult player to defend.
“I usually shoot threes but today didn’t have many opportunities,” Varejao said. “…it’s hard to block (6-foot-4) players especially if it’s threes, so it just gives me more options in the game.”
While Varejao racked up statistics, Nolan impacted the game in ways that didn’t necessarily show up in the box score and earned minutes with four of the starters to start the fourth quarter. In the second quarter, Nolan missed a three, but hustled to get her own rebound and found sophomore forward Naz Hillmon under the basket, which resulted in two free throws. In the fourth quarter, Nolan dove on the floor for a loose ball, a play that caught the attention of senior guard Akienreh Johnson.
“Maddie came in and got down on the ball,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if you guys have seen her, but she’s got that knee brace, but she’s still on the ground, she does not care.”
Of the three freshmen, she was not as highly-touted of a recruit as Varejao and Sidor, but Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico saw a lot positives in her game.
“I think any time you can have a player that understands their role and buys into what you need them to do to help the team be successful, they are an unbelievable addition to the team,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s just gradually getting better and better each and every single day, and I’m gaining confidence in her ability to really help us be successful.”
Sidor showed how her quickness could be a game-changer for the Wolverines. Throughout the second quarter, Sidor had the opportunity to run the point and consistently pushed the pace. She scored six points in her six minutes in that quarter alone, along with an assist and a steal.
“I think we really want her to push the pace, but that kid is a scorer,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s a bucket-getter and I think she really needs to have that mentality on the floor for us because she does shoot the three exceptionally well and she can score around the rim. So I want her to be aggressive, and I was happy with her ability to do that tonight.”
Not only did the trio’s performance impress coaches, but it also gave Michigan’s experienced players confidence that the freshmen can be important contributors this season.
“I was so excited,” Johnson said. “Iz was able to make some great moves. Michelle has been getting rebounds … I think they just played really great, and I was really very happy for them.”