Immediately after being left out of the NCAA Tournament a season ago, the Wolverines felt the disappointment that comes when your name is not called on Selection Monday. Coach Arico was unsure how the team would respond at practice the next day but Jillian Dunston set the tone by stating, “It is our job to prove they made a mistake”. The Wolverines didn’t let the exclusion define them en route to a 6 game winning streak that culminated in an 89-79 Triple OT win against Georgia Tech in the WNIT Final.
Heading into her 6th season as the head coach of the Wolverines Women’s Basketball Program, Kim Barnes Arico explained how proud she was of her team’s ability to overcome adversity and make a championship run. She expressed joy over the positive energy in the program and is looking forward to November 10th when the Wolverines open at home against George Mason and raise their WNIT Championship banner, the first banner in program history.
The Wolverines will be led by senior guard Katelynn Flaherty, a natural scorer, who for the past 3 years was set up with opportunities to score off screens and passes from departed point guard Siera Thompson. Without Thompson, who was starting point guard for the last four years, Flaherty will take over some of the point guard responsibilities. This is a role that Arico believes Flaherty can be successful in and even more important, a role that Flaherty is looking forward to taking on. She told her coach, “I want to be the point guard”. Flaherty has worked tirelessly over the summer on her ball handling skills, her court vision, and her ability to set up her teammates, as she anticipates a more ball dominant role in the offense. Flaherty said that the game has “slowed down tremendously” for her which has made her more comfortable in making decisions that involve running the show. Junior forward Sam Trammell said when discussing Flaherty’s leadership, “Katelynn’s voice has really grown, her communication has greatly improved”. Flaherty is on pace to shatter the school’s career scoring record as she sits 58 points away heading into her senior year. Flaherty believes that fans can expect to see strong chemistry and a fast-paced offense on the floor this year. She realizes that she can “take nothing for granted” her senior year and Wolverines fans will want to be sure to come out and watch her in her final year at Michigan
The Wolverines will also look for senior Jillian Dunston and junior Hallie Thome to step up into leadership roles. Both players look to be major contributors on the court for the Wolverines. Coach Arico believes that her duo of Flaherty and Thome could be “2 of the best players in the country” and will be tough for opposing defenses to handle. This claim is backed up by their invitations to participate in the USA Basketball trials, 2 of the 35 players offered the opportunity. Dunston provides a strong leadership voice and as her coach put it, “will do whatever is needed to win”, even if it doesn’t show up in the box score. These three players have set the tone and the pace at practice early on.
The three freshmen include Priscilla Smeenge, Deja Church, and Hailey Brown. Smeenge originally committed to Florida but flipped to Michigan when her family moved so that they could have the opportunity to watch her play. Deja Church is expected to immediately contribute at point guard so that Flaherty can maintain her off the ball scoring role. Church is a strong, slashing guard who is comfortable scoring in a variety of ways. With her crafty moves to the basket, she can draw fouls and get to the line and will bring a tough-nosed mindset to the defense. Church takes great pride in her ability to defend at a high level. Hailey Brown comes to the Wolverines from Ontario, Canada. Brown played for the Canada U19 Bronze Team in the FIBA U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup. Coach Arcio is confident that this experience will allow her to contribute right away for the Wolverines. When asked about her initial comparison of the international game and the collegiate game, Brown noted the differences in physicality and floor spacing but that the intensity is as high if not higher at Michigan. She believes that she is ready to step in and contribute immediately, as she can knock down open shots or drive past defenders that play her tight. This versatility will help give more freedom and space to post players such as Thome because defenses will have to respect her as an offensive threat. With only 11 players on the roster, expect contributions from the freshman class.
The Wolverines also had a unique experience over the summer, spending 10 days in Italy and Greece before coming to campus for classes. Trammel discussed how the trip helped build chemistry for the team both on and off the court. Among all the unique cultural experiences on the trip, the visit to Pompeii stood out to her. Hailey Brown believed the trip was extremely valuable for team bonding. She had been playing with Team Canada over the summer so this trip gave her the opportunity to get on the court with her new teammates for the first time against professional players with years of experience. The team’s ability to do everything together for 10 days has helped them get ahead in terms of unity and chemistry and they will look to translate these lessons from their foreign trip to the court this season.
The positivity and optimism surrounding the program stood out among the players and coaches. Newly hired assistant coach Wesley Brooks said their goal is to be “The Hardest Working Team in America”. The Wolverines will hustle every play, pay attention to the little things, and play together. This is going to be a fast-paced offense with the ability to score points from anywhere on the floor and a defense that will use its length to make things difficult offensively. The Wolverines look to carry the momentum from the WNIT Championship into this season and prove themselves on the national stage.