Beyond the Arc with Kate Harman Feature: Nicole Munger

CB West graduate Nicole Munger is the subject of Kate Harman's Beyond the Arc feature. (Photos provided courtesy of the University of Michigan women's basketball.)

Munger Making an Impact at Michigan

By: Kate Harman

The image became commonplace.

Nicole Munger in her yellow warmup shirt, all alone on a basketball court, surrounded by empty bleachers, taking shots.

The picture started to take shape two hours before a contest would begin – an hour before her Michigan Wolverines were set to be out on the floor. No one else was in the vicinity, but the Central Bucks West graduate was out there shooting anyway.

“Must be gameday,” the University of Michigan women’s basketball twitter account noted, matter of factly, attaching a picture of the scene.

The routine went something like this.

For twenty minutes, Munger stayed in the paint practicing high percentage shots. As the time drew to a close, she would make a right-handed layup, a left-handed layup, two free throws, and a three pointer.

“You know it’s gameday when” the tweets would declare, showing a photo of Munger.

Gameday, indeed.

“It was my thing,” Munger said.

It’s crazy to think about now, the junior guard added, but at the time she loved the habit.

Those who remember the Munger that wore No. 33 for the Bucks recall that “thing” well.

As do those who think back to the work ethic she demonstrated when C.B. West won its first District 1 title.

And those who saw the hustle and grit with which she helped her team to its first state championship game.

The hard work. The effort. The enthusiasm.

Characteristics that are still her thing, now, she just showcases them for the maize and blue.

Munger has started all 27 games for the No. 23 Wolverines, averaging 32.7 minutes a contest – second best on the squad. She nets 10 points and 4 rebounds a contest, knocking down 54 three-pointers, grabbing 31 steals, and dishing out 49 assists, too.

It’s a significant difference from her performance during her first two seasons with Michigan, as she has nearly doubled her statistics in almost every category.

“We always knew from the minute Nicole stepped on campus that she was an unbelievable shooter and every team needs a kid that is going to be able to knock down shots. The toughness with which she plays, and how hard she plays, she’s a coach’s dream,” Wolverines coach, Kim Barnes Arico, said. “I knew her role was going to significantly change after the graduation of a couple of our guards last year. I don’t know if she knew it was going to change as much. She continued to work, she continued to grind, and she continued to improve. In her junior season she is one of the best guards in our league, I believe, and she’s done a tremendous job for us this season – so much so, that people are now playing her in a triangle and two.”

Put more simply?

“She’s been great for us,” Barnes Arico added. “She’s been a difference maker for us, and she’s a significant impact player for us now.”

Fans of the Bucks and opposing coaches alike know the feeling.

“She was a huge part of our program when they were really successful,” C.B. West sophomore, Maddie Burke, who recently went with a few teammates to see Michigan take on Rutgers, said. “It’s good to see her, support her. She always comes back and supports us – we work out with her too. She’s great with us.

“It’s awesome,” the guard, who has several Division I programs looking at her, added. “Especially for the younger girls, they look up to her so much. They aspire to be her. Munger is such a good role model for everybody. To be from a small town in Pennsylvania and to be so successful is awesome.”

Success, however, wasn’t always something Munger thought would happen for her in college.

“When I first came to Michigan, it’s not that I thought I was the underdog,” Munger said. “But I didn’t think I was ever going to play. I looked around and knew that these kids around me were so good – I mean, it’s the Big 10 – I thought there was no way I was going to play.

“It’s a testament to hard work and my teammates, coaches were so supportive,” the 5-foot-11 Munger said. “It panned out.”

There’s that “thing” again – hard work.

It’s something she and her teammates hope will help get them to the NCAA tournament – an accomplishment that eluded them a year ago.

The Wolverines thought they were a shoo-in for March Madness, having felt like they built up a strong resume. The team held a watch party for the bracket reveal, complete with balloons and a camera crew.

As each region was uncovered, the feeling in the pit of their collective stomachs grew.

Until finally all 64 teams were on the board and they weren’t one of them.

“It was disappointing last season,” Munger said. “Me, personally, I thought about it every single day. When I was tired, didn’t want to work out, I thought about how I don’t want that again. We’ve talked about it, that it can’t happen again. We don’t want to settle for the WNIT [Women’s National Invitational Tournament].”

Michigan went on to win the WNIT in 2017, thanks in part to a clutch overtime performance from the Doylestown native, but it was a consolation prize nonetheless.

“Moving forward from our losses, we realize that every team is going to have slip ups,” Munger said, of the team’s recent struggles. “We need to stop the bleeding and figure a way out.

“For me, that means playing consistently well to help the team win, which is definitely a different role for me personally,” she added. “Game in and game out, I need to be consistent. I don’t think I was this week, but I’ll get back to it.”

Munger doesn’t start shootaround two hours before games anymore.

The new routine began because of a foot injury and was a decision reached between the athletic trainers, coaching staff, and the player. Instead, she spends the majority of the time she would have spent in the paint, mentally preparing to be out on the floor. She knows this serves her – and her teammates – better, even if it doesn’t provide the same fun photo opportunity.  

With 16.4 seconds left to play against the Scarlet Knights on Super Bowl Sunday – her team down nine points – Munger stole the ball and dished it off to a teammate, who missed the shot. Munger collected the follow up, putting it up and in. The very next play she caused a turnover on the press which led to another Wolverines bucket.

Michigan wasn’t going to win the contest. It was inevitable that the team was going to run out of clock before they could complete the comeback, but there Munger was diving on the court and chasing loose balls, anyway.

Must have been gameday.

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