6A - Thursday, November 13, 2014
The Michigan Daily -- michigandaily.cam
The day 'fate stepped in
NICOLE ELMBLAD'S PATH TO BEING A CAPTAIN
By KELLY HALL her last season as a Wolverine,it's
Daily Sports Writer difficult to believe the legacy she
has created within the Michigan
t 48 hours before she got the women's basketball program - a
icole Elmblad was on top of legacy that includes being voted
rid. unanimously as a captain two
was Saturday, March 19, years in a row and coincides with
ind Elmblad was in the Bre- the program's return to promi-
enter leading LaSalle High nence - was almost never built.
1 to victory in Michigan's The whims of fate may have led
C title game. her to where she is today, but hard
ty-eight hours before the work has kept her there.
straight in the eye and told her
with conviction, "Mom, I'm five
now. I can play hockey."
Growingup, she was constantly
chasing after her two older
brothers, Kyle and Eric.
And if they were going to play
hockey, she would too.
The Elmblad siblings grew up
on Lake Huron with the Mackinac
Bridge in their backyard. St.
Ignace is a town of 2,500 people
that sits on the southernmost
tip of the Upper Peninsula. Like
most other kids from St. Ignace,
and everywhere else in northern
Michigan, Elmblad grewup on the
ice with her family.
Her competitiveness with her
brothers didn't stop at hockey,
though. She quickly took up bas-
ketball as well, but brought the
hockey mentality with her.
"She's the toughest kid we
have," said Michigan coach Kim
Barnes Arico. "She'll get hit in the
mouth, be bloody, have a broken
finger, have a broken nose, and
continue playing. She's as tough as
After years of playing hockey
and a multitude of other sports -
every sport she could, according
to her parents - Elmblad had to
make a decision. Would she con-
tinue to play hockey, as she always
had, or would she pursue basket-
Hockey was her first love, but it
was impossible to ignore the talent
she displayed while driving to the
So she chose basketball, and it's
hard to imagine where Michigan's
program would be had she not.
Recruiters from numerous
colleges called the Elmblad home
when Nicole was a junior, but only
one school made her reallylightup
- a university 300 miles south of
St. Ignace, in Ann Arbor.
"She always wh4td to go'to
,Michigan,"Aid Miark Elmbld,
Nicole's father. "There were a lot
of other schools that would call,
write letters and visit, but it just
wasn't the same."
The problem was, Michigan
never gave Elmblad a serious offer.
After countless long nights
made the deci-
sion to commit
ing a bond with
Lisa Stone. In
2010, she signed
Letter of Intent
to play for the
But then, two
days after she
celebrated at the
TESY ELMBLAD FAMILY Breslin Center,
she got the call.
call, she had plans to play college
ball in Madison for Wisconsin.
But shortly after her phone
rang, her plans were shrouded in
Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone
had been fired, and Elmblad was
devastated. She was no longer pre-
pared to stay in Madison and was
left without a plan.
As Elmblad prepares to start
Before Nicole Elmblad chose
between schools, she had to
choose between sports.
When Elmblad was five years
old, her mom took her to figure
skating lessons. After her very first
recital, Elmblad put her hands
on her hips, looked her mother
been fired, and Elmblad suddenly
felt uneasy about playing in
She now had another hard
decision to make. She wanted to
be more than just a space to fill on
the roster. She ultimately decided
Wisconsin was no longer the place
for her, regardless of the unknown
waiting beyond her release. The
NCAA granted her a complete
release within a few weeks of her
After letting Elmblad slip by in
2010, then-Michigan coach Kevin
Borseth saw his opportunity
to grab a player that would
per game in
year of high
Elmblad, in three years, Embii
er. "She got several calls when she
got her release. She hardly talked,
to the other coaches."
The only callithat mattered was
"I absolutely think it was
fate," Elmblad said. "I think
everything happens for a reason.
Wisconsin was one of the first
Big Ten schools to offer me, and
I was really excited to go there.
When Itook a visit, I didn't have
an offer from Michigan yet, and
I decided to go to Wisconsin. I
'-hisk fate stepped in, and I was
meant to be at Michigan."
Elmblad has always loved
Michigan. She learned to love the
school as early as she learned to
skate on ice.
"I grew up in a 'Michigan
family,' " Elmblad said. "We
bleed maize and blue. If you meet
my dad, he's probably one of the
biggest Michigan fans that you'll
ever meet. His whole wardrobe
is maize and blue. He loves
Michigan, and it just translated to
Kyle and Eric Elmblad both
graduated from the University in
April2011. Eric was also a student-
athlete, walking on to the hockey
team in 2006 and becoming a
Within a month of their
graduation, Elmblad committed
to Michigan to play basketball and
followed in her brothers' paths
Elmblad smiled as she recalled
one of her first bike rides with her
brothers. She was three years old,
had training wheels and was dead-
"My brothers went through
this little trail and onto the grass
and my mom goes, 'Nicole, you're
going to have to hold it back, your
training wheels aren't going to
be able to make it.' That's my first
memory of me trying to keep up
with them," Elmblad recalled.
But Elmblad coming to
Michigan wasn't just her breaking
in her training wheels to catch her
brothers. It was her dream to play
at Michigan, and she put the work
in to get herself where she is today.
"When she talks about the
University of Michigan, she gets
super emotional," Barnes Arico
said. "She loves this place and
what our university stands for
and what our program stands for.
For her, it's about being a part of
something bigger than herself."
Barnes Arico understands
Elmblad's commitment more
than anyone else. When Borseth
resigned afterElmblad's freshman
season, she faced adversity once
more. It would have been easy -
almost expected - for her to be
upset. Instead, she embraced her
Elmblad isn't just a part of the
burgeoning Big Ten program
Barnes Arico is building at
But all of a sudden, through the
darkness, Barnes Aricoasaw alight.
"She's wearing this headband
- I think she made it herself. It's a
headband with a light attached to
it, and there's her head inside this
book, reading and studying for
class the next day," Barnes Arico
don't choose the captain; the
players do. And for the last two
seasons, Elmblad's teammates
have unanimously voted for her to
lead the team.
Elmblad isn't Michigan's lead-
ing scorer, nor does she always
stand out in the box score. On
Michigan; she's one of its pillars.
It's a fairytale even Elmblad
couldn't have written herself.
It was in the early hours of
Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, and the
Wolverines were headed back to
Ann Arbor after trouncing Xavier
in Barnes Arico's first away game.
The new coach hopped over long,
lanky and sprawled-out legs and
headed toward the bathroom at
the back of the team bus. Some
playerswere snoring, while others
ad has 604 points for Michigan, but her biggest contributions are
the college sophomore expecting
to get Elmblad's voicemail.
Instead, Elmblad picked up
the phone and "shh-ed" her new
coach. She was studying in the
Reading Room of Michigan's law
library and didn't dare make a
sound in the silent building with
stained-glass windows and cork
And soon enough, Barnes Arico
learned that Elmblad's diligence in
the Reading Room was matched
on the court.
Every year, the Wolverinesvote
for a team captain. The coaches
COURTESY ELMBLAD FAMILY
Elmblad committed to Wisconsin, but a twist of fate brought her to Michigan.
The Elmblad family, from left to right: Nicole, Eric, Hannah, Carol, Kyle and Mark
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Often, players will act different-
ly in real life than their game-time
personas. Elmblad doesn't.
On and off the court, she's a
hard worker. She can't turn off
her drive to succeed, much like
she can't shut off her love for
"Nicole is a perfectionist,"
Barnes Arico said. "She's a
perfectionist in the classroom,
and she's a perfectionist on the
basketball court. Sometimes I
have to tell her, 'It's OK. You don't
have to be perfect all of the time.'
But on the basketball court, it's a
game of mistakes alot of the time.
It's about being able to go on to the
next play and be OK with making
One of Elmblad's flaws is that
she can put too much pressure
on herself, even though her per-
sistence and commitment to bet-
tering her skills have led to her
athletic and academic success
Majoring in Biopsychology,
Cognition and Neuroscience, she
has above a 3.9 GPA and plans on
heading to medical school after
graduation. She's an Academic
All-American, an Academic
All-Big Ten and was even the
valedictorian of her high school.
"You would never know all of
the awards she receives," Barnes
Arico said. "You would never
know ifshe had agreat game. She's
all about the team first. She puts
the team first above her own indi-
vidual accolades all of the time."
Barnes Arico learned about
Elmblad's study habits the first
time she ever talked to her. It was
10 p.m. on a Saturday night, and
the newly appointed coach called
some teams, that's all a captain is.
But Elmblad is OK with not
having the most points on the team
every night. Instead, she wants to
get her teammates involved and
give someone else a shot. She'll
go out and defend the opposing
team's best player and get the most
rebounds and do allofthose things
that often go unnoticed.
"She's the most unselfish kid
in the program, and I think her
teammates truly value that,"
Barnes Arico said. "They value
how hard she works every day.
They value her commitment to the
success of our program, but also
her commitment to Michigan."
Roommate and teammate
Madison Ristovski met Elmblad
in high school when their teams
played against each other for the
state title. The junior guard has
known Elmblad for five years now
and has seen her lead by example
too many times to count.
And with that knowledge,
Ristovski says her vote came easy.
"It was kind of just the ultimate
decision," Ristovski said. "We
knew that she would be the one to
lead us, because she has the vision N
of where this team can go and the
success this program canhave."
Four years after winning the
state title,Elmblad is stillthe same
girl from St. Ignace. She's still
the tough basketball player with
a hockey mindset. She's still the
same person leading her team on
the court. And she's stillthe leader
in the classroom.
It's exactly what Michigan
needs as it aims to return to the
And the Wolverines have a
phone call in March 2011 to thank
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