As the Michigan women’s basketball team took on Division II Wayne State for its first exhibition matchup Thursday night, a few familiar faces lit up the court. The Wolverines crushed the Warriors, 93-41, with heavy assistance from junior forward Jillian Dunston and sophomore guard Nicole Munger.
Dunston provided a dynamic rebounding presence with four offensive and eight defensive boards, making her the only Wolverine to break into double digits combined for the game. She put up eight points as well, but her defensive play gave Michigan the impact it needed.
“Rebounding gets us more possessions, offensively and defensively,” Dunston said. “It limits their possessions and gets us more possessions. I think as long as I can do that for my team … that helps us a lot.”
Added Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico: “She’s just a rebounding machine, all over the place, and much more confident on the offensive end, which is something we really need from her.”
As an upperclassman, Dunston is taking on more of a leadership role than she has in the past, which, combined with her on-court play, places her in a vital role for the Wolverines.
“She’s playing so much more confidently,” Barnes Arico said. “This is her team. When she was younger, she was always looking up to others. Now, she has to lead the younger girls. And she’s doing a great job.”
Munger stood out against the Warriors as well, hitting the court for just six minutes in the first half, but tallying 11 points — including a streak of three 3-pointers. She added five more in the second half, earning more playing time as the game went on.
“(Munger) was scrappy, all over the place,” Arico said. “Loose balls, second-chance opportunities. She’s another player that is a gym rat and works incredibly hard. I think we’re going to see great seasons from both of them.”
Only junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, who was recently named to the preseason All-Big Ten team, scored more than Munger, finishing with 17 points.
“It was my teammates that were finding me,” Munger said. “Some nights just go better than others. It was really great that my teammates were finding me and honestly, I just want to thank them.”
Neither Dunston nor Munger were starters last year, but each of their performances has warranted serious consideration for starting positions this season if they can keep up the pace they set tonight. Wayne State gave the Wolverines a perfect opportunity to shake off nerves and re-acclimate to a level of intensity that practices simply cannot simulate, but it was far from a challenging opponent for Michigan. As the Wolverines move on to face tougher competition, both players will need to continue exceling in their roles.
“Nothing is really solidified until the day of the game,” Dunston said. “You kind of have to continue to prove yourself. You can never relax.”
With big names like Flaherty and sophomore Hallie Thome to compete with, Dunston and Munger have no time to sit on their heels. They have shown that they can be definite assets, and now it’s up to them to earn those coveted starting spots.