Zionsville grad Maddie Nolan and her Michigan Wolverine teammates were just hitting their stride in the middle of March.
The Wolverines had gone 5-2 in their last seven games, including a win over No. 11 Northwestern, and Nolan had earned herself a starting spot for for the final third of the season.
Most bracket projections had them firmly in the field for the NCAA Tournament, in the 8 or 9 seed range, but they had the belief that they could beat anyone in the bracket.
But they were never given the chance. Just days before the NCAA field was going to be selected, COVID-19 starting escalating around the world and the NCAA Tournament was cancelled.
Nolan, and the Wolverines’ season, was done.
Nolan said that while it was tough to have the season end as abruptly as it did, she was trying to look at the bright side of things.
“Obviously everyone wants to play in the NCAA Tournament, that’s what we worked all year for,” Nolan said. “But I’m just grateful that we got most of our season done, not every sport had that. The support when the news happened has been awesome, just everyone trying to keep their heads up.
“It was surprising when it happened, but you almost expected it when you saw the NBA got suspended and things like that. It’s tough because we felt like we were rolling and had a good chance in the tournament. It’s tough on our two seniors, but we will have a lot of girls back next year.”
It wasn’t quite the end of the season that Nolan had expected for her freshman season, but it didn’t take away from the overall experience she had in her first year as a Wolverine.
She averaged 3.5 points and 2.4 rebounds while appearing in 26 games for Michigan, helping the Wolverines to a 21-11 record.
“I am really grateful to be there, especially with everything that happened with my knee (her senior year of high school),” Nolan said. “I am getting the opportunity to play at a prestigious school in the Big Ten. There were definitely highs and lows to the season, but overall it was great.”
In a way, the season almost played out perfectly for Nolan and her development as a player.
In the first three months of the season, Nolan appeared in just 11 of 17 games, averaging just a little more than seven minutes a contest, and not scoring more than four points in any of them.
Nolan said that during that time she did everything she could to just soak up as much information as possible.
“Your freshman year, there is definitely a big learning curve,” Nolan said. “You always hear about how everyone is taller and quicker, but the mental aspect is a big adjustment too. You have to play real defense and every girl on the court is a threat. (Zionsville head coach Andy) Maguire and (former Zionsville assistant) Keith Hollins did a great job in having us play within the offense and it made the transition easier, but it was still an adjustment.”
When an opportunity for more playing time arose in the middle of January came when starter Kayla Robbins suffered a knee injury, Nolan was ready when her number was called.
She made the first start of her career in early February against Purdue, and then started the final 11 games of the season for the Wolverines.
Michigan won five of their last seven games of the season, advancing to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
In her 11 starts, Nolan averaged more than six points a game, including 10.2 and 5.0 rebounds in her last five.
In a win over No. 11 Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, Nolan scored a career high 13 points and grabbed a career-best eight rebounds.
“Confidence was the big thing for me at the end of the season,” Nolan said. “Coming off a couple of injuries last year, the first part of the season I came in and just didn’t want to mess up. As time went on, I knew I had to become more of an outside threat and attack the basket more. We have a great post in Naz Hillmon, so I knew if we could spread the court that would make us more dangerous.”
It is a little more than a year back for Nolan after she resumed basketball activity after suffering a microfracture before her senior year.
She said that she is really close to being back 100 percent and is excited for his upcoming off-season.
“At the end of the year my parents and people who had seen me play at Zionsville were telling me how much better I was looking on the court, and a lot more like myself,” Nolan said. “Really throughout the season I didn’t have any soreness. In the Big Ten Tournament when you are playing every day for 3-4 days in a row it’s going to be a little sore, but the people at Michigan have been great in helping me get ready.”
With a vast majority of the team coming back next season, Nolan said the entire team is eager to get back to work.
She said that she knows exactly what she needs to work on to improve in her game, and that she expects big things next year.
“We all enjoy playing with each other,” Nolan said. “Every girl on the team is going to work really hard in the off-season. I really want to get my three-point shooting more consistent and be able to spread out the defense.”