Losing your senior leader in former WCC Player of the Year is not something you walk away unscathed from, but head coach Lisa Fortier secured a promising replacement and potentially a program elevating player in wing Bree Salenbien.
Salenbien is the highest-ranked recruit that the Zags have landed, sitting at 44th on ESPN’s board at the time of her commitment. She’s coming off three straight seasons as Michigan’s AP Player of the Year and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year last season.
To say that Salenbien can do it all is an understatement. The 6’3 wing averaged 20.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 3.3 blocks and 3 steals last season. She finished as the second-best recruit in Michigan and at one point ESPN had her as the fourth highest-ranked player at her position.
The challenge for Salenbien may not just be adjusting to the college game but also returning from injury. In her final game last season, she tore her ACL. Salenbien has been cleared to practice well into preseason workouts and looks to be ready to start her freshman year healthy.
It’s still unknown how Fortier and staff will use Salenbien. She is perfectly equipped to play a similar style as Jill Townshend but with more range. Salenbien is a crafty perimeter player with a nice-looking three-point shot and the ability to drive both in transition and in the half-court.
Salenbien gives the team a lot of interesting lineup options, as she is an incredibly capable ball-handler and passer for her height. Her shooting eases the pressure on senior sharpshooter Cierra Walker and will help both of them find more open looks from outside.
A core of Salenbien, senior Melody Kempton, and sophomore Yvonne Ejim could be a nightmare for opposing bigs. All three are incredibly capable rebounders, each excelling in their own style. Salenbien should be able to pick up guards on defense and she’s shown adeptness at stealing the ball and finding ways to disrupt her opponent.
With Ejim, Kempton, Anamaria Virjoghe and Elizabeth Hollingsworth all fighting for newly available minutes, it’s possible for there to be an early roadblock for Salenbien out of the gate. And the backcourt seems to be largely set with Kayleigh Truong and Walker practically written into the starting lineup with permanent marker.
But if the freshman shows the skill set she’s shown throughout her early basketball career, it’s hard not to see her carving meaningful minutes and playing time in a transition year for the Zags. Her versatility will be to not only the benefit of her development but also to the team’s fight to remain at the top of the WCC.