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Receiving the ball at the top of the arc, Maddie Nolan put up a shot and sank the basket as Bankers Life Fieldhouse erupted in the traveling Michigan fans. She kept her hand high and arced while running back to play defense on the Wildcats.

Then a freshman, Nolan had a breakout game against No. 11 Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament last season, scoring 13 points and 8 rebounds — both career highs. Now that she has a better understanding of Big Ten competition, she has high expectations for her upcoming sophomore season.

“Last year I came in and I wasn’t as confident as I could’ve been,” Nolan said. “Now this year knowing what I’m capable of doing and being whatever the team needs me to be.”

Nolan is taking her experience into her sophomore year. She and the other returners will have more responsibility than most seasons.  

The year comes with many difficulties due to the ongoing pandemic, yet the Wolverines are more than prepared. Housing players together and keeping a close eye on each other will only improve their chances of having a healthy and successful year. However, this comes with a few adaptations to the everyday life of the players. 

“We have to wear masks during practice so that makes it a little harder,” Nolan said. “We just have to make sure that we’re communicating even louder now because the mask prohibits us from hearing us sometimes.”

With the first full practices underway, the team is gaining a better understanding of each other’s playing styles and techniques. After an entire summer of individual workouts, the Wolverines lack the chemistry that is usually formed by mid-October. 

“It’s taking the time we’ve had here in the fall to really get to know each other and to get practice time in,” Nolan said. “Even coming in extra and learning how each other plays and hanging out with each other outside of the court has been a big part of the fall.”

The women’s college basketball season begins Nov. 25, giving the Wolverines a little over a month to continue their progression. Not only do they have to re-form last season’s chemistry, but they have to integrate the newcomers as well. Michigan has four new freshmen in guards Meghan Fiso and Elise Stuck and forwards Whitney Sollom and Cameron Williams. It also added junior transfer Leigha Brown from Nebraska. 

Without a summer of workouts and hanging out on an empty Michigan campus, the team has had to adapt to a new system of welcoming players. Coming up with different ways to incorporate them takes time, but the team is meshing well, according to Nolan. 

“Just figuring out where they fit in, what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are,” Nolan said. “We’re figuring out the different pieces of how they would play and what they like to do.” 

Nolan is only a sophomore, yet her experience last season will help her guide the newcomers. And the new players must not only adapt to collegiate basketball, but COVID-19 collegiate basketball. 

And Nolan hopes that she can take the next step this year as well. 

“Just knowing that I’m capable of playing at this level,” Nolan said. “Playing against really good teams was a huge confidence booster coming into this year.”

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