Maddie Nolan is shooting 53.3% from 3-point range this season. Allison Engkvist/Daily. Buy this photo.

Since her freshman year, junior guard Maddie Nolan has risen through the ranks, following the traditional trajectory of most underclassmen, slowly gaining playing time and prominence.

Now she holds a starting role that she’s not relinquishing.

Coming to Michigan from Indianapolis, Ind., Nolan wasn’t a ranked recruit. Yet, her perseverance is paying off. This season Nolan is a starter, and will likely hold that position for the foreseeable future due to injuries to senior wing Leigha Brown and senior guard Amy Dilk.

Nolan’s strengths make up for those absences well — namely, her 3-point shooting and defense.

After the graduation of guard Akienreh Johnson, the Wolverines had some gaps in their defense. Nolan has easily filled Johnson’s role producing stops on the defensive end with grit and aggression. While she’s not always as fast or as tall as her opponents, she makes up for it by jumping in passing lanes and disrupting drives.

She’s also contributed on the defensive glass. Nolan crashes the boards and is willing to be physical on every play. Her emphasis on the intangibles has gotten her the starting role, and will likely continue to sustain her minutes throughout the season.

But her offensive capabilities are what set her apart. Without Brown and Dilk, Nolan has stepped up to help fill both their roles. She’s currently the leading 3-point shooter on the team, and drained six 3-pointers in Tuesday night’s game against UMass Lowell — her career-high for a single game.

“Maddie’s an exceptional shooter,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the UMass Lowell game. “And we’ve kind of, me personally, have been on her a little bit all week because I thought she got hesitant in our IUPUI game after she missed a couple of shots. And we really need her to be aggressive and look to shoot the ball and score the basketball.

“She did a great job of that tonight, she’s an unbelievable shooter, and I think she’s going to have a lot of nights like that for us this season.”

Last season, Nolan shot 36.2% from behind the arc. So far this season, she’s shooting 53.3% from deep. She’s the second-leading scorer on the team behind last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year senior forward Naz Hillmon. 

Nolan’s 3-point shooting is an important part of her game, but she’s also stepped up in other offensive ways this season. With Dilk out, Nolan and senior guard Danielle Rauch have tag-teamed the point guard position. Nolan is second in assists right now, only two behind Rauch. With Hillmon in the post, assists from the guards are a necessary part of the Wolverines’ offensive game-plan. 

“Maddie brings a super high IQ level,” senior forward Emily Kiser said. “Which is really fun. It’s really fun to play with, and it makes everyone better. And she’s been shooting the lights out.”

While these are only non-conference games, Nolan establishing herself as an offensive threat opens up the floor for senior forward Naz Hillmon in the post moving forward. This was a challenge for Michigan last season, and in a stacked Big Ten conference, taking Hillmon away will be the focal point of every opposing team’s defensive scheme. 

But with Nolan, there’s a wrinkle in those plans and a burgeoning second option.