As a true freshman, Moira Joiner is a rare competitor — physically and mentally.
Hailing from Saginaw's Heritage High, the guard has made a splash in her first year and coach Suzy Merchant has taken notice.
“She competes, she’s (denying pass lanes), she gets on loose balls, she boxes her guy out, she knows the scouting report inside and out, she can be a one-two-three,” Merchant said.
Focusing in on her recent string of games, Joiner has shown the type and caliber of a player she is and can be.
“When you look at Mo, she’s an ultimate competitor, too. She hates to lose,” Merchant said after the Nebraska game on New Years Eve. “This last game really kind of got to her and she was not gonna have that happen today.”
Merchant said she can always count on Joiner to play her heart out.
“We need that,” she said. “We need kids that are willing to lay it on the line like that, and it was great to see her also be able to be productive while she was doing it.”
In her performance that day, Joiner dropped a career-high in both points and rebounds, scoring 13 points and adding six boards.
Going into the Spartans’ matchup with Nebraska (11-2), they were on a three-game losing skid. Through the early minutes, Joiner seemed to be the only guard who wanted to show up offensively. The starting backcourt of senior Taryn McCutcheon and sophomore Nia Clouden combined for just one make from the field at the half.
She was able to provide an outlet to score, while the All-American backcourt of McCutcheon and Clouden got a chance to heat up.
During her breakout performance, she showed an affinity from beyond the three-point line, shooting 3-for-4.
Through 16 games and 12 starts, Joiner has already earned the respect of her peers. Even the players around her already trust her to take the big shots.
“She can definitely knock down those shots,” sophomore forward Tory Ozment said. “So when I saw those going up, I knew those shots were going in.”
With 1:27 left in the first half, Joiner drilled a three. The shot brought the Spartans back within reach and the stagnant Breslin Center to their feet for the first time that night.
She didn’t stop there. The Spartans held a one-point lead with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Joiner drilled another three.
The three would start the run that propelled the Spartans to an eight-point lead.
Being a competitor means being a team player, and Joiner plays to win.
“(It felt) good, I’m just glad things went our way today,” Joiner said. “I mean we played together. … You just have to be tough in the Big Ten, that’s the name of the game.”
She created a team-high and personal-best five assists at archrival Michigan in the next game, making things happen in enemy territory — even when the basket eluded her.
“Mo does a lot of things for us,” Ozment said. “She’s one of the players (who) is the hardest, she does the little things.”
Since jumping onto the college scene against Nebraska, Joiner has impacted the game consistently.
Against Penn State, Joiner set a new career-high with a 15-point outing.
In the Spartans’ win against Wisconsin, Joiner hit two threes — one to give the Spartans the lead going into the half, and one as time expired in the third period.
Joiner has set herself up for a large role moving forward. Merchant likes what the freshman has produced on court and Joiner has brought things to this Spartan team that can’t be coached.
“Every kid is a little different,” Merchant said. “Mo Joiner has sort of earned a little more opportunity to mess up out there, because she competes so hard. She works so hard and she does it every day in practice. She’s the same every game.”
When Merchant recruited the versatile five foot, 10 inch guard, she signed herself onto a four-year starter. Merchant found the needle in the haystack with Joiner, and the freshman has produced ever since.
“She’s just been a kid I think you don’t usually find in a true freshman,” Merchant said. “And she plays because of that.”