After advancing to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history, the Michigan women’s basketball team continues their run from last season after starting the year 3-0. Despite their record there are bigger challenges laying under the surface.
The Wolverines have faced injuries to key players — senior guards Amy Dilk and Leigha Brown — to start the year. Because of that, players such as senior forward Emily Kiser, senior guard Danielle Rauch and junior guard Maddie Nolan have stepped up in their absence.
One minute into the season opener against IUPUI, Dilk slipped out from underneath herself and hit the ground, suffering what appeared to be a serious injury. Dilk was eventually able to leave the court with assistance, and further tests indicated the injury was less severe than most originally thought. She is considered day-to-day.
Brown, in contrast, was not 100% heading into the season. As a result, she came off the bench in the season opener, quickly shifting back into a starting position as a result of Dilk’s injury and playing 39 minutes in the first game.
But in the Wolverines’ second game of the year against St. Francis Brooklyn, Brown’s time was cut short. In the first couple minutes of the first quarter, Brown appeared to have tweaked her ankle, and she did not return. She sat out Michigan’s next game and is also considered day-to-day.
Despite the injuries, the Wolverines have still found a way to get to 3-0.
“If you told me that we have two of our top guards in the country that are both up for significant preseason awards (that) are out at the beginning of the year, I would probably be holding my breath,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said.
The strong culture and foundation that Barnes Arico has built have allowed other players to rise to the occasion. When a player goes down, it’s the next player up.
“Injuries happen and it’s about getting the next players ready,” Barnes Arico said.
One of the players who has stepped up is Nolan. In the 73-54 win against UMass Lowell, she went 6-for-7 from behind the arc, scoring 18 points.
“I actually had no idea (about my statline) until after the game,” Nolan said. “I just kept shooting. It’s a thing we’ve been talking about a lot. It’s having confidence even whether the first one or not goes in and obviously have great teammates who are capable of driving the paint and dishing it out.”
Alongside Nolan, Rauch has seen her minutes nearly double from last season’s average through three games. As a result, she has already surpassed her single game highs in both points and assists, scoring 10 points and notching six assists against UMass Lowell.
Additionally, Kiser has now become the team’s defensive anchor. With Dilk and Brown out, Kiser was able to rise to the moment as she recorded her first career double-double in the Wolverines’ victory against UMass Lowell, scoring 13 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, both career highs.
While players have stepped up to this point, the Wolverines realize that the road to March will become more difficult.
“Our competition (we’ve faced) is not Big Ten play,” junior guard Michelle Sidor said. “But we’re taking it as a learning opportunity. Definitely (will be) watching film seeing what we can get better at, but definitely using it as an opportunity to learn.”
Michigan’s non-conference schedule is beginning to ramp up in terms of difficulty. Later in the month, the Wolverines will play No. 15 Oregon State, Mississippi State and No. 10 Louisville. Despite this, the Wolverines will use this challenge to better prepare themselves for Big Ten play — as well as for the NCAA tournament.
“I think we are definitely a work in progress,” Barnes Arico said. “I think these three games have given us an opportunity to get some of those younger kids some minutes that will hopefully help us in March.”