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After senior guard Amy Dilk went down with a long-term injury in the season opener, senior guard Danielle Rauch slid into the starting spot. At first, she did fine. Rauch filled the point guard role well and prevented the Wolverines’ season from sliding off the tracks.

As the season has progressed, Rauch has, too. Her confidence in conducting the offense has grown, and wins have followed.

“I talk to Danielle Rauch about that all the time,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the Wolverines’ win over Indiana last Monday. “Being our point guard is such a tough job. If you score buckets, that’s additional, but run our team and handle the pressure.”

That’s exactly what Rauch has done. Despite averaging just 5.4 points per game, she leaves an indelible mark on the offense.

Take Sunday’s win against Iowa, for example. If an offensive set didn’t work, Rauch would run to the ball, call for it, dribble back to half court and initiate a new set, saving numerous Michigan possessions.

This tendency — to spot problems and immediately try to fix them — isn’t something Rauch frequently displayed when she first stepped into Dilk’s role. Now, it’s an integral part of the Wolverines’ offense.

While she’s always been a leader off the court, Rauch has recently become one on it.

“Our senior leadership is incredible,” Barnes Arico said after Michigan fell to Louisville on Dec. 2. “Emily and Danielle are (leading) the way — along with Naz — and they just have a refuse-to-lose mentality regardless of what the scoreboard says. I think that’s what’s made them so successful in their life and in their career.”

While orchestrating the offense, Rauch racks up assists. Against Iowa on Monday, she notched seven, with a pair of bounce passes to the rim highlighting her acute vision. 

Recently, Rauch has tacked on another element to her game, aggressively crashing the rim at any opportunity. Despite being listed at just 5-foot-8, she managed to pull in eight rebounds against Iowa. Whenever a shot ricocheted off the rim or clanked off the backboard, Rauch seemed to find the ball, slithering past taller players to grab it.

“Danielle’s player always covers back when a shot goes up,” Barnes Arico said after Indiana. “Everybody else on our team is blocking out, she’s covering back in transition. That leaves Danielle free. Danielle is running in there every single time and cleaning up all those rebounds.”

And on the rare occasion that Rauch is focused on scoring, she does so with swagger.

Against Iowa on Sunday, Rauch opened the scoring for Michigan. When connecting on a 3-pointer from the top of the key, she held her follow-through while backpedaling down the floor, exuding confidence.

This same swagger appeared again later in the game, as she emphatically swatted a driving Hawkeye with both hands — proceeding to quickly flex, celebrate with her teammates and get ready for the next play.

Three years of limited minutes haven’t affected Rauch. While she has seen a steady increase in playing time over the course of her career, Rauch was never quite an essential part of the rotation.

Now, she has risen to the occasion and played her part in what’s shaping up to be the best season in program history.

“Danielle’s story is so special in its own right,” Barnes Arico said. “I think each kid appreciates their teammates’ story, and what sacrifices and what commitment they’ve made to our program.”

As Rauch’s confidence increases, her impact does as well. She’s no longer just keeping Michigan’s season on track. She’s grabbed the wheel and is helping steer it to historic highs.