After earning the first Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history last March, this Michigan women’s basketball team is far from done. They’re just getting started.
But the expectations that come with finishing at No. 11 in the nation aren’t getting to the Wolverines’ heads. In Ann Arbor this Thursday, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico made her approach to the upcoming season clear at Michigan’s media day:
“I think sometimes when you get caught up in what the expectations are, you forget the process,” Barnes Arico said. “We talk about that a lot as a program. Let’s just be the best Michigan team that we can be today.”
The culture of hard work that Barnes Arico has built at Michigan is paying off: her message has clearly resonated with the team. The effect of this humble and hungry philosophy was evident in her players’ attitudes.
“One of our things that we say here is that we’re the hardest-working team in America,” said junior guard Maddie Nolan. “So we’re constantly trying to get extra shots up and get in extra workouts.”
Nolan averaged 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season while shooting a team-high 36.2% from behind the arc. She played 21.6 minutes per game last season, but could be seeing the floor more frequently this season after guard Akienreh Johnson’s graduation in the spring.
Forward Hailey Brown joined Johnson in graduating last season. Losing these two starters will hurt the Wolverines, but a strong senior class is stepping up to lead.
“One of the biggest things is leading by example,” said senior guard Danielle Rauch. “I’m a big proponent of that, because I don’t want to be someone that tells other people to do something that I wouldn’t do.”
Rauch wasn’t a major contributor last season, averaging 16.2 minutes and 2.3 points per game. However, she did start five games, and this could indicate that she is headed for a bigger role on the court in her senior season in addition to her role as a leader in the locker room.
Rauch isn’t the only senior stepping up as leader. Senior forward Naz Hillmon is looking to build off of a successful junior campaign for both herself and the team.
“I want to do anything that I can to help my team be successful,” said Hillmon. “I know that if I’m putting 110% out there and doing my best, that’s the most you can ask for. But, I’m a competitor. I like to win.”
Hillmon was a tough problem for opposing teams last year, averaging 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game and earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Her dominance in the post was a constant, highlighted by a school-record 50-point and 16-rebound game against archrival Ohio State in Columbus last season.
Senior guards Leigha Brown and Amy Dilk join Hillmon as the returning starters from last year’s team. Brown averaged 18.2 points per game last season while shooting an efficient 52.3% from the field. Meanwhile, Dilk led the team with 3.9 assists per game a year ago. This one-two punch of scoring and playmaking will continue to be a dynamic combination in the backcourt for Michigan.
After a successful campaign last season and with a lot of talent returning, the Wolverines appear poised to continue their presence in the national spotlight. But until that happens, it looks like Michigan will keep working hard and trusting the process.
“Everything that we had to go through and all of those little hurdles and obstacles that we had to overcome really brought us closer together,” said Barnes Arico. “And we were ready for the moment when the moment came.”