By JERAMY STOVER, SPORTS EDITOR
At the end of the season, your record determines what adjective best describes the year. And this holds true for the University of Michigan-Dearborn women’s basketball team.
Finishing with a 2-27 (2-20 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference) record, the correct adjective to describe the Wolverines’ season is rough.
But if you look behind the record – which only matters as much as you want it to – you can find a brighter light.
After going winless in their first 17 games of the season, a coaching change was made. Dymetrius Ware was benched, and checking in came a guy with no collegiate head coaching experience — Jordan Sweeney.
As I walked into the gym just after halftime at Madonna on Jan. 13 – Sweeney’s first game with the ladies – I looked up at the scoreboard and saw what I normally saw. UM-Dearborn trailing by more than 20 points.
But once I sat down and watched the rest of the game, it was clear that this team wasn’t the same team that it was just days ago. And while the differences were subtle, they were still improvements.
It didn’t take long for those improvement to turn into results. In just their fourth game under Sweeney, the Wolverines defeated Marygrove on its own court.
Then after another string of losses – some close and some not so close – UM-Dearborn would end its season with a 73-52 thrashing of Aquinas.
The win would jump the Wolverines out of last place in the conference. Oddly enough, with as many losses as UM-Dearborn had, both of its wins were by more than 20 points.
It was a season you want to forget, but had an ending you will certainly remember.
Let’s hand out some awards.
Team MVP: Megan Swick
This was a tough decision. There was a couple serious contenders for the team’s most valuable player. But I decided to go with the sophomore captain because her performance had a big impact on the result of the game. There was no hiding when Swick played better, her team looked better.
Swick led the team in points, averaging 10.2 per game. She didn’t hit a great number of her shots but made some of the most memorable ones of the season. On Jan. 20 at the Fieldhouse, the Wolverines had the ball down three to Northwestern Ohio. With 18 seconds left, Swick nailed a triple to send the game into overtime. The home crowd was electrified and it put the conference on notice that this team was no longer going to be pushed around.
Marisa Sauve certainly deserves to be a part of this conversation as well. It can be argued she was the most consistent player on the team and had a bigger weight to lift when fellow forward Emily Heinrich missed part of the season due to an injury.
Sweeney should get some votes for this award as well. A coach being named team MVP does come off as odd, I agree, but you cannot deny the numbers that back the argument. Essentially all important team statistics were improved once Sweeney took over.
Rookie of the Year: Kendall Rose
Rose started the most games and played the most minutes of any girl on the team. And she took advantage of the time on the floor. She finished second on the team in points (8.4) and rebounds (5.2) per game all while leading the team in blocks.
Rose was useful both near the basket and on the perimeter. Both of her field goal and three-point field goal percentages were above 30 the only player to achieve that who played more than 13 games.
With three more years left in her career, there is plenty of time for Rose to grow. With a good offseason and an improved sophomore campaign, she can blossom into one of the better players in the conference.
Hustler of the Year: Marisa Sauve/Lauron Sanders
I think it’s necessary to give this award to two players. Sauve is the bulldog of the team. Like the classic 90’s song Tubthumping says, she got knocked down but then got up again. She led the team in double-doubles, highlighted by a 16 point and 17 rebound game against Marygrove. With not being the tallest nor the most athletic girl on the team, Sauve took on the job of guarding the opponent’s biggest player. And somehow, she usually found a way to hold her own.
Sanders deserves recognition as well. Her numbers never stand out on the box score but her scrappiness on the court stood out on its own. Listed as the shortest member on the team, she still found ways to haul down rebounds against some of the biggest players on the other team. And if there was a loose ball near her, you knew Sanders was going to dive and fight for the ball.
To be quite frank, this team needs to get better – a lot better. Even with an encouraging end to the season, they still only won two games all year. Now the positive side of things is the entire roster was sophomores and freshmen. So the Wolverines aren’t losing anyone of importance.
But the team needs improvement in many areas especially shooting. UM-Dearborn finished 11th in the conference in both field goal and three-point field goal percentage. It also found itself last in points per game, five points behind the team in front of it.
A great offseason can help this team but I think recruiting will be mightily important. The Wolverines need to add a point guard who can run the floor and a couple shooters who can knock down some shots. Too many times the Wolverines struggled to shoot at a respectable rate, and once they got down by 10-or-more points, it was extremely difficult for them to climb back into games.
Whoever is the next head coach will play a big role as well. With Ware being officially removed from the position the door is now open for someone to replace him. Sweeney is the obvious choice, if he wants to come back. Not only did he improve the team, but the girls embraced him and a bond was definitely formed.
If Sweeney comes back I think the Wolverines will have a better shot at being in the middle of the pack in the conference next season. If it’s a new coach, we will have to wait and see. But no matter who is running this team there is nowhere for them to go but up.