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Former bench warmer Maddy Watters shines in role as starter for Chippewas

Sophomore guard Maddy Watters moves from sideline seat to on-court threat

Sophomore guard Maddy Watters poses for a portrait on Nov. 1 at McGuirk Arena.

A year ago, Maddy Watters began each game in the same spot.

The then-freshman guard sat the bench in the seat next to the scorers table, waiting for her name to be called.

Watters eyeballed guards Presley Hudson, Micaela Kelly and Cassie Breen as they put the Chippewas ahead by a multitude points on most nights in the 2017-18 season, and then she finally took the court.

Today, Watters finds herself as a starter for the Central Michigan women’s basketball team as a sophomore. 

Her journey began as a freshman in a closed scrimmage against the University of Michigan at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.

The 5-foot-9 guard from Rockford High School burst onto the scene just weeks after taking her first collegiate classes in the fall semester of 2017. Prior to each open exhibition game, Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara takes her team to Michigan for a closed pre-exhibition match.

If stats would have been taken, those on the team presume Watters easily had 10 or more assists in a battle-tested event with the Wolverines.

“I was ready because it was something new,” Watters said. “It was the next level, which I’d been looking forward to since forever. I played loose and was trying to pass to my teammates – they gave me open looks. I was so excited that I played my best.”

Watters remembers three future Chippewas – center Jahari Smith, forward Sam Robinson and guard Anika Weekes – sitting on the sideline at Crisler Center. All were seniors in high school. They are now with the program as freshmen for the 2018-19 campaign. 

Guevara convinced Watters to approach them after the game and say, "Make sure your hands are up for next year." She was talking about the no-look passes put on display in the closed exhibition.

Despite the courageous performance against one of the top Big Ten Conference schools in the nation, Watters sat the bench throughout CMU’s 30-5 season. She played in 11.4 minutes per game as the only freshman to average double-digit minutes.

Watters earned the Dee Pommerenk Award for a positive attitude, teamwork and a willingness to contribute maximum effort. The guard ranked fifth on the team with 40 assists while usually entering in the late stages of a blowout.

Guard Maddy Watters passes the ball against Bowling Green on Jan. 10 in Mcguirk Arena

Viewing the overall status of her team preceding a run to the 2018 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen, Guevara needed Watters to emanate from her shell.

“Her ability to attack for herself (is important) because sometimes she will pass up a two-foot shot for someone else to get a two-foot shot and it’s a turnover,” Guevara added.

“Just playing and getting after it. I was looking for the dog, fight in her.”

With the departure of Breen to graduation, the assumed 2018-19 lineup would contain Hudson, Kelly and Watters at the three guard positions.

Instead, Guevara rolled out her starting lineup for CMU’s season opener against Oakland University on Nov. 8 at McGuirk Arena. Starting at the third guard spot was junior Gabrielle Bird.

Sitting in the closest seat to the scorers table was Watters, as she did in 2017-18.

Bird did not score in the 104-61 blowout, but Watters had eight points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from 3-point range. She added four assists.

Those assists were key in Guevara starting Watters in the next game against South Dakota State. Guevara elucidated her sophomore guard detected the court too well at times and developing chemistry on no-look passes was imperative.

“It has to be more of a chemistry thing where the receiver has to know it’s coming,” Guevara said. “She’s got the no-look. She sees it, but I always tell her to think about who she’s passing it to. They better be ready for the ball and she better be calling her name.”

When Watters originally jumped into the starting role, she let Hudson and Kelly run the show. She was 1-of-7 from the field amidst a nail-biting loss to South Dakota State in her first start since high school.

Losing is a rarity for the Chippewas. Guevara was not satisfied.

“When you are in with Pres and Twin (Kelly), I need you to be just as aggressive,” Guevara recalls telling Watters. “You know what you’re doing. I don’t want you stepping on people’s toes. I want you stomping on their toes.”

Just one game later, Watters poured in 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from 3-point range in a 108-90 victory against Western Kentucky, an NCAA Tournament team last season. The difference makers were confidence and newfound lack of hesitation. 

“With more playing time (than last year), I can produce more,” she said. “My teammates kept telling me to shoot more, so I was just trying to find the open spots.”

Watters has now taken the court to start in 11-straight games, averaging 7.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 29.7 minutes per contest. She’s comfortable and continuously motivated toward success.

It all started by tossing dimes at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.

“I put the work in. I know how to play basketball," Watters exclaimed. "I just needed to get in the mindset that it’s my game and time to shine.”