The Wolverine

February 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2021 THE WOLVERINE 59 BY JOHN BORTON I t's no short journey from Doylestown, Pa., to Ann Ar- bor, to The Bronx in New York City. Nicole Munger navigated that path with the heart and grit she always brought to the basketball court. Now the coordinator of re- cruiting and player develop- ment for Fordham University's women's basketball team, Munger turns lessons learned into guidance for the next wave. "You don't realize how much goes into running a basketball program, until you're doing it," Munger marveled. "You don't see anything happening. It just happens, seamlessly." She now knows many work to make it happen. It's not au- tomatic, and neither was her transition from overwhelmed f re s h m a n a t M i c h i g a n t o 1,000-point scorer for the Wol- verines (2015-19). That's where her personal growth went into overdrive, she noted. The Bucks Central West grad knew Michigan was the place from her first glimpse. "I knew it was a special place immediately," Munger assured. "There's no question about that. Ann Arbor 's absolutely beautiful, and then you mix the town with the aca- demic side and the sports side, it's all wrapped up in one. It's the top level of all three." Grasping the plans and passion of Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico didn't hurt, either. Munger saw in the U-M mentor someone who could take individuals, and a pro- gram, to greater heights. "She was always talking about the future and what her plan was, and getting to where the kids are now — being nationally recognized," Munger recalled. "That's what we were talking about then. "I really believed in her vision, and in her as a person and a coach. She has that passion. She has that fire in her voice and in her eyes. I believed in that completely." None of that can do much to ease the prep-to-college transition. Munger arrived in awe of the talent that surrounded her. Fellow fresh- man Hallie Thome earned three first- team All-Big Ten designations in her four years, and sophomore Katelynn Flaherty became Michigan's all-time leading scorer with 2,776 points. "Oh, it was hard," Munger said. "From a basketball standpoint, it was different. It was a completely differ- ent game. It was faster, everyone was stronger, everyone was better than me. I had to figure out ways to get on the court. "Off the court, I was a really na- ïve kid coming into college. I felt younger than everyone else. I was by age, but also by maturity. It was tough being away from home. I'd never been away from home for that long. "The adjustment was tough. And being at a top academic school like Michigan, there's no comparison. You're living pretty easily, and then you have everything turned up 110 percent. It definitely got me, at least for the first year." Munger pushed back, learning time management and organization, while gaining a basketball master 's degree by guarding Flaherty in practice every day. Munger contributed on the court her first two seasons by serving as a bulldog in the front of Michi- gan's press. She did average 4.7 points per game, with breakthrough efforts against Miami (19 points) and UCLA (15). She upped her scoring average to 5.7 the following season, with a strong outing against Michigan State (12 points, five rebounds, one block and one steal). Still, she describes herself as a "deer in the headlights" in some areas of the game those first two seasons. She also went through foot injuries that threatened to end her season early as a sophomore, but sol- diered on through tournament time. All of the Wolverines pushed themselves to the WNIT title, following a snub for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. "We thought we were going to make the [NCAA] Tournament," Munger noted. "We were really ex- cited. It was going to be the first time for me. It didn't work out. "That was tough. We had a watch party, and it was awkward when we didn't get in." The six-game run to the WNIT championship — capped by a tri- ple-overtime, 89-79 win over Geor- gia Tech in the title game — laid the foundation for Munger 's final two seasons. "We just came together," she re- called. "At the end of the [regular season], we were on a losing streak, and we lost some games where we knew we weren't playing to our po- tential. Things weren't flowing right. We all felt it, and we kept pushing to try to work through it. It wasn't clicking. "Once we got to the WNIT, we started playing really loose. We knew we could do it, and every- thing started clicking. It was a lot of fun to go to practice every day and get better, but it was a really fun atmosphere. "We always thought we belonged Munger was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection as a senior, when she became the 28th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 career points. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Nicole Munger Transitions Into Coaching

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