It’s no secret the Michigan women’s basketball team is good. But can it be great?
Since coach Kim Barnes Arico took over in 2012, the Wolverines have improved in all areas — competition, recruiting, scoring, shooting, driving. She’s taken the program from last in the conference to a Big Ten championship contender.
But in order to answer that question this season, the Wolverines will need a leader.
It’s clear what Michigan’s goals are. Ask any player on the team and they’ll say they want to win a Big Ten championship and an NCAA Tournament. “The hardest working team in America” is a common phrase to hear from any member of the program.
While the need for leadership continues to increase, the options are abundant.
Last season, the Wolverines got a taste of the necessity of leadership when then-senior forward Kayla Robbins went down with a knee injury. Robbins had started the first 18 games of the season. She was a vocal player that led by example for the other underclassmen starters. Her injury left a hole in the starting lineup that had to be replaced immediately.
Multiple players stepped up to the chance, and other starters solidified their importance to the lineup.
Junior forward Naz Hillmon made her presence known last year, starting all 32 games en route to All-Big Ten first-team honors. She’s the clear choice for the leadership role this year. A loud voice in practice and games, she commands the team from the post.
The Wolverines’ best player, Hillmon has made an impact both on and off the court. Aside from leading Michigan in scoring last season, she has been instrumental in getting the team involved in anti-racism activities and registering to vote.
Another contender for the position is junior guard Amy Dilk. Generally, the point guard of the team is viewed as a leader, and Dilk lives up to this role. She commands the offense skillfully and leads by example. Dilk also started all 32 games last season. She’s an integral part of Michigan’s offense and defense, putting up shots and guarding other teams point guards.
“It’s great to see the experienced kids in Naz Hillman and Amy Dilk who have been two-year starters for us,” Barnes Arico said after the first team practice on Oct. 14th. “They really led out there.”
Fifth-year senior guard Akienreh Johnson will also make her case this season. As the player with the most experience on the team, it’s natural for her to assume a leadership role. Johnson has been a key leader throughout her years, helping underclassmen like Dilk and Hillmon become acclimated to the team culture. Along with Hillmon and Dilk, Johnson started all 32 games last season. Playing well in the post with Hillmon, Johnson can make the Wolverines offense unstoppable.
Starting all 32 games together also gives Dilk, Hillmon, and Johnson an increased leadership capability. Their chemistry will be valuable to the Wolverines in establishing a team culture.
While the upperclassmen’s presence is strong this year, sophomore guard Maddie Nolan will also give it a go. After stepping up last year after Robbins’s injury, Nolan became a crucial bench player for Michigan and even started in the final 11 games of the season.
Junior guard Danielle Rauch and junior forward Emily Kiser will both bring more maturity to the team.
As for the rest of the roster, it’s filled with limited experience.
Michigan has added four new freshmen to the mix — guards Meghan Fiso and Elise Stuck, and forwards Whitney Sollom and Cameron Williams.
This limited experience increases the need for a leader. COVID-19 has dramatically changed the preseason experience for the Wolverines, and it’s important Michigan establishes its culture and integrates its freshman into the team quickly — a task that falls upon a leader’s shoulders.
Overall, the Wolverines roster isn’t lacking in experience. What they do with that experience will determine the success of their season. With a month to go until the potential first game, there’s time for someone to step up and lead the team.
“I think we’ve got a great mix,” Barnes Arico said. “And we have great experience and great leadership.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.