Nicole Munger knew she would be going over the summer to Disney World — she goes every year with her family.
What the sophomore guard didn’t expect was that she would run into her teammate, junior forward Jillian Dunston, on the trip.
It was a chance encounter for both Munger and Dunston, but shows how the two Wolverines value the physical and mental break in the summers from the daily grind of being a collegiate athlete.
“You have to be able to do both academics and athletics,” Dunston said. “Academics are supposed to come first, but you have to find a balance. It can be tough, but you do your best. I think going home is beneficial both mentally and physically. You just need a break.”
Many members of the team stay in Ann Arbor through the spring and summer terms, which makes going home for an extended period of time a welcome reprieve.
But, the Wolverines don’t forget to stay in shape. At the end of each season, the coaches meet with every player to go over a set of attainable goals for the upcoming year. Sophomore center Hallie Thome took her review in stride.
“I worked on strength and conditioning,” Thome said. “So I’ll definitely be able to combat the strength of the Big Ten that everyone has. As a freshman, I knew that was a big thing that I was going to have to get used to, so as a sophomore, being able to come in and surprise the Big Ten, even though it might not look like I gained a lot of muscle, it’s there.”
Thome earned a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team last season, finishing second nationally in field goal percentage (63.1). Though she has impressive offensive skills, Thome is working toward “making a change on the defensive end.”
Older players also benefit from the comprehensive nature of the review. They recognize the invaluable efforts by their coaches, especially Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, to help them improve.
“It’s awesome to have a coach behind you on everything you do,” said senior guard Danielle Williams. “She’s an extraordinary person, just who she is and what she’s able to do and stands for, and her basketball IQ. She comes in every day with such a wonderful attitude.”
Barnes Arico is entering her fifth season in Ann Arbor. She is the first head coach to record four straight 20-win seasons and will return her full coaching staff for a third straight season.
Williams is one of four returning starters, along with Thome, junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, senior guard Siera Thompson.
On the other end of the spectrum, Michigan will also welcome five newcomers to the team — four freshmen and one redshirt junior, 6-foot-5 volleyball player Abby Cole.
Two of the freshmen already know each other quite well, as guard Akienreh Johnson and forward KeAsja Peace both come from Toledo, Ohio.
“I’ve known (Peace) since fourth grade, so the fact that we have been blessed to keep moving forward together means a lot,” Johnson said. “Not many people get to go to college with their best friend. And not many people get to go to Michigan and play basketball with their best friend.”
Upperclassmen like Munger, Dunston, Thome and Williams have the benefit of at least one season behind them to help sturdy themselves going into the summer. But for Johnson and her fellow freshmen, the transition to college life can be difficult. They used the summer to learn how to juggle an athletic career as a college student. Johnson credits her teammates, including Peace, for making the transition smoother.
With the season opener fast approaching on Nov. 12, the athletes will have to rely on their summer experience and workouts to push forward into the new season ahead.