ROSEMONT, Ill. — Seven months ago, Kim Barnes Arico walked the Crisler Center sideline as her team fought for its postseason life.
Thursday, the head coach of the Michigan women’s basketball team walked up to the podium at Big Ten Media Day, publicly addressing the media for the first time since her 2015-16 squad assembled in Ann Arbor over the summer.
Barnes Arico discussed the Wolverines’ deep run in the WNIT, citing the extra month of practice, game prep and intense competition as invaluable experience for Michigan’s underclassmen.
“During that month, we changed things up a little bit,” Barnes Arico said. “So we gave an opportunity for our younger kids, who hadn’t played a lot during the regular season, to get some game experience in the postseason. That run was incredible, and I think it gave us some confidence coming into this season.”
Michigan’s “Big Three” — Nicole Elmblad, Cyesha Goree and Shannon Smith — who combined to score 51 percent of Michigan’s points and grabed 59 percent of its rebounds, have graduated. Sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty and senior guard Madison Ristovski will have to step up as the Wolverines’ go-to options offensively.
“It was great to have that run last year and have an extra month of games and practicing,” Ristovski said. “It set the tempo heading into the spring and summer.”
FINDING A LEADER: Michigan returns just four scholarship juniors and seniors compared to nine underclassmen. The development of strong leaders like Elmblad, a two-year captain, has consumed a large portion of the Wolverines’ offseason.
“We want to create a culture of excellence and a championship mindset,” Barnes Arico said. “We spent a lot of time in the offseason with our upperclassmen and more experienced players really creating that culture and environment and giving them different responsibilities. They’ve bought into that.”
In particular, Barnes Arico has been very impressed by senior forward Kelsey Mitchell, who has been through a fair amount of adversity the past couple years, injuries have kept her from logging meaningful minutes. Now healthy, Mitchell has been a bright spot through the first two weeks of practice.
FLAHERTY STEPPING UP: Flaherty returns as the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year and Michigan’s leading scorer. Barnes Arico was impressed in Flaherty’s growth over the summer in areas she didn’t have an impact in last season.
The Wolverines’ opponents will most likely counter Flaherty’s offensive capabilities with difficult defensive matchups and double-teams. Flaherty will be challenged physically this season, and Barnes Arico wants to make sure she’s prepared mentally to be strong when she need to be.
“People are going to really try to focus on her,” Barnes Arico said. “We really have focused on that, and we try to bump her, be physical with her. The guys are always defending her, throw two people at her, just mix things up on her to kind of try to simulate what she’s going to face this season.”
Not only has Flaherty grown stronger during the offseason, but she has also developed as a vocal leader. Barnes Arico has noticed Flaherty becoming more open with her teammates both on and off the court. With a lack of upperclassman experience, the sophomore could become the face of an upward-trending program if she can live up to Barnes Arico’s praise.
“Katelynn has just grown a tremendous amount since her freshman season,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s way more vocal and confident. She’s engaging with the freshmen. She’s buying into what we’re doing and sets that example everyday in practice.”