Despite the ending, Michigan’s seniors show just how far he’s come

BATON ROUGE, La. – When Emily Kiser, Leigha Brown and Maddie Nolan joined the Michigan women’s basketball program, it wasn’t about the program advancing to the NCAA Tournament or competing in the Big Ten tournament.

But when Kiser, Brown and Nolan hit No. 3 LSU from the sixth-ranked Wolverines’ final game to cheers from the Michigan fan section and hugs and high fives from their teammates, each of them made their mark on the program. with testimonials to prove it.

“I think it’s been a special team,” Arico Michigan coach Kim Barnes said. “And I’m fortunate to coach some really great kids at this great university.”

The seniors — Brown and Kiser using their fifth year of eligibility granted due to the NCAA’s COVID-19 policies — advanced the farthest of any class in program history in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2021 and the Elite Eight in 2022. .

After the game, Kiser and Brown both walked to the podium with tears in their eyes, clearly showing the raw emotion of the loss. Two years ago, the class did what no Michigan team had, winning in the semifinals of 32. The hope this season was a Sweet Sixteen and the goal was the Final Four. That made the season and career-ending loss all the more heartbreaking.

“At 23 you think about five years, that’s a lot of your life,” Kiser said. “I’m so grateful to coach (Barnes Arico) and the University of Michigan that I’ve been able to live this dream. I think it’s crazy to think that I was questioning coming back for a fifth year now.”

Kiser did not start his first three seasons with the team. After Senior Night, his most recent win at Crisler Center, he joked that if you had told him three years ago that he and then-freshman Nolan — a pair who couldn’t get near the end of the bench — probably wouldn’t make it. on the court this season, he wouldn’t really believe it.

Kiser is a first-team All-Big Ten starter who has played the most minutes for the Wolverines this season. His influence is so great that Barnes Arico is “very nervous” to get off the court, he said on February 23rd. His resilience and leadership have set a strong example for his teammates, especially when it comes to sacrificing his body. of the team, taking positions and diving for loose balls.

In the Wolverines’ 2021 victory to advance to the program’s first Sweet Sixteen, Kiser and Nolan didn’t play a big role. In the 2021-22 season, Kiser and Nolan earned starting roles, but they were pieces of a team centered around star Naz Hillmon. This season, however, was a different story.

Both were crucial in leading Michigan to the NCAA Tournament, although against LSU, their efforts were not enough in a 66-42 loss. When the trio found success — both scored 18 points in a win against UNLV — the team found success. When they fought back — by a combined six points against LSU — the team lost. As they developed from benchwarmers to rookies, Michigan became a consistent contender.

“Their dedication to this program and the way they’ve shown it is also very inspiring,” sophomore guard Greta Kampschroeder said. “I don’t think people realize the work and commitment they put into this team, this program, and that’s why they managed to take this program to where it is.”

The importance of that trio was on display during the Wolverines’ short March Madness run, especially Brown. Despite not being 100% healthy for the NCAA Tournament, Barnes battled until Arico took him down one last time in the final minutes.

“He’s such a competitor that even if he has a sprained ankle, he’s going to go out there and give you everything he’s got,” Michigan Arico coach Kim Barnes said. “The one who made this whole tournament.”

Brown has put the team on his back all season long, wanting to win and leaving it all on the floor in losses. He set and reset career highs in the Wolverines’ biggest games of the year, against Indiana and Ohio State, respectively. Although he didn’t start his career as a Wolverine, the program wouldn’t be where it is without Brown’s three seasons.

“It’s three years I’ll never forget, the best three years of my life so far,” Brown said. “People who have already graduated or who are still here. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We have literally put blood, sweat and tears into it together. And, unfortunately, tonight didn’t go as we wanted. Reflecting on the last three years and this season as well, I wouldn’t change anything.”

Finishing the season as a consensus All-Big Ten player and an honorable mention All-American, Brown led the Wolverines in scoring, assists and free throws. But his real leadership didn’t show up in the box score. Brown took the younger guards, specifically sophomore guard Laila Phelia, under his wing and helped them adjust to being guards at the college level.

Brown always led with fiery passion. Nolan was a vocal leader in his own right, directing his teammates from both ends and providing a constant stream of encouragement. Nolan was just what the team needed, going from seventh-ranked 3-point specialist in program history to guarding the opposition’s best player despite not being known as a defensive specialist before college and overcoming a knee injury in high school that could have ended him. the career

Had Nolan or Barnes Arico been aware of these influences earlier in their careers, they might have been surprised. But it shows that Nolan’s work ethic and dedication to serving his team has rubbed off on everyone around him.

Kiser, Brown and Nolan contributed to the Wolverines’ big wins in an up-and-down season riddled with injuries and heavy absences. They set the bar high in almost every category and his leadership set an important example for the younger teammates.

When the final game checked out, the seniors left a legacy of hard work and resilience. What their teammates do with that legacy remains to be seen.

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