On Sunday, the Michigan women’s basketball team will take on Wisconsin in its final game of the regular season, and Ann Arbor will say goodbye to one of the best senior classes in program history.
While the four seniors have taken different paths to reach the climax of their respective collegiate careers, they will all be celebrated together. There’s graduate student guard Taylor Rooks, who in her one season at Michigan has become just as much a part of the team as anyone else. There’s senior forward Samantha Trammel, who coach Kim Barnes Arico views as one of the program’s leaders. And then there are the team captains, senior guard Nicole Munger and center Hallie Thome.
Munger — who is just 31 points away from 1,000 career points — has started every game the last two seasons and has become the heart and soul of the Wolverines. Thome — 43 points shy of becoming the second most prolific scorer in program history — has started every game since she stepped on campus four years ago and has grown into the vocal leader of the team. The two, who are roommates and co-captains, have developed a close relationship during their time at Michigan.
“We see new things with each other and learn new things about each other, which is really special because some people plateau,” Munger said. “But we just really play off of each other, both in the locker room and on the court. She might be more vocal but I may be (more) reserved but lead by example. We just really complement each other both on the court and off the court.”
When Munger and Thome walk off the Crisler Center floor for the final time, the Wolverines will lose two of the players who helped establish the team’s attitude and identity this year.
Even after starting 3-6 in the Big Ten season, and after Munger and Thome’s final season looked like it might be headed toward disappointment, the captains and the rest of the Wolverines never doubted their ability to recover.
Since then, Michigan has won seven of eight games and currently sits in fourth place in the Big Ten standings, largely on the backs of its two senior captains.
“I think they complement each other extremely, extremely well,” Barnes Arico said. “They’re very different, but they both want the same things and they have the same goals and they have the same dreams and aspirations. But they both go about it in a very different approach. And I think when you have leaders you need that.
“You don’t need people that are all the same. You need to be able to attack the group in different ways and I think that both Nicole and Hallie have that balance with each other as roommates and as teammates.”
But as Barnes Arico reminisces with Munger and Thome about their careers, the trio has not allowed themselves to get distracted from the fact that they have a basketball game to play — and an important one at that.
Senior Day comes with the Wolverines in a fight for an NCAA Tournament berth and when every win matters. And even though Munger knows her career is dwindling, she’s not willing to get caught up in all the talk, and wants to, as usual, leave everything she has on the court.
“I think people are realizing that kind of the end is near in a way, so just giving it all we have,” Munger said. “No one’s feeling a hundred percent at this point in the season on our team, or on any team in America, so it’s just a grind. It’s February, March and you just gotta have fun with it.”
Still, though, Senior Day is bound to be an emotional time. To send off players — who are sometimes even considered family — that have played with the same program and been with the same people for four years is a tough ask.
And even though Barnes Arico has seen her fair share of seniors graduate and players come and go, that doesn’t make the end of an era any easier.
“It’s hard and sometimes I forget because it’s kind of what we do. And my children actually remind me because my own children are usually crying snots and tears because they have to say goodbye to them,” Barnes Arico said of past senior classes. “They have been such a large part, our senior class has been such a large part of my life, my children’s life, our Michigan life for four years. And to not see them every day leaves a little bit of a hole.”
Now, as the season comes to an end, it’s time for the next step in the lives of each of Michigan’s four graduating players.
Where they may go and what they may do is yet to be seen. But, no matter what, Barnes Arico knows they are all prepared to move on.
“As I tell their parents when we recruit them here, they’re at a point in their lives where it’s time for them to fly and time for them to spread their wings and go off,” Barnes Arico said. “And as parents, you trust us as their coaches when you send them to Michigan and now it’s time for us to trust that they are ready as grown children to go and conquer the world.”