As soon as Katelynn Flaherty walked off a basketball court wearing maize and blue for the final time, senior center Hallie Thome immediately stepped into the spotlight.
Receiving preseason All-Big Ten recognition before this year’s campaign, Thome begins the season as Michigan’s expected go-to player as well as a team leader. In the Wolverines’ 88-40 thrashing of Mount St. Mary’s in their first game of the season on Friday, Thome greatly contributed to that dominance as she led all players in points (25) and rebounds (10) – good for her first double-double of the year.
“(Thome) was outstanding,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “(Some Moutaineer defenders) were smaller, but she had two of them all over her all the time and she was still able to catch the ball and finish in traffic and really dominate the game, rebound the basketball exceptionally well and impose herself on the other team. I thought she was terrific.”
While Friday night may have been Thome’s time to shine as the Wolverines’ star of the night, she made sure to stay humble as she emphasized that any player could thrive on any given night.
“I definitely think it puts our team in a good spot having the ability to have one player have a night like that. But, like I’ve said before, on our team, that can be anyone on any given night,” Thome said. “That is the special part about this team, it’s not just one person, and surrounded around one person. Basketball is a five-person sport and this is how it is going to be played this year.”
Despite her accolades, Thome doesn’t see herself as a go-to player, instead recognizing the squad’s balance – a testament to her newfound leadership.
As one of only three seniors on this year’s squad, Thome has embraced that leadership role by setting an example of how to play the game right for the rest of the team and by mentoring some of the younger players.
“I think she continues to work and show an example by her work ethic every day,” Barnes Arico said. “Those freshmen came here for an opportunity to play with Hallie Thome and they’re learning from her and they’re improving from watching her. So she just sets a great example every day.”
Both Barnes Arico and Thome made special note of the relationship that Thome has developed with freshmen forwards Naz Hillmon and Emily Kiser. The three sometimes go out to eat meals together, which emphasizes the relationship that Thome has already built with the freshmen and will continue to strengthen as the season goes along.
“(I mentor) Naz Hillmon as a post player, and Emily Kizer,” Thome said. “… Just to have post players and not be worried. Coach even mentioned this in her meeting that if I get in foul trouble, or if Hailey (Brown) gets in foul trouble, we finally have someone who can come in, whether it’s Emily or Naz. They’re both great players.”
Thome, in her final season as a Wolverine, knows that she plays an important role in shaping the future of Michigan women’s basketball. But until the day comes that she has to hand the reigns of the program off to the next generation of players – just like Flaherty did to her – she will continue to lead the team.