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March 1, 2013

U-M's senior class leaves a mark on program

With less than a second remaining on the clock, and her last game in Crisler Center coming to a close, senior point guard Jenny Ryan stepped to the free throw line to ice a 55-50 victory over Northwestern on Senior Night.

She sunk the first, sealing the win. The second - her final shot in The House That Cazzie Built - swished through, and she slowly walked, almost as if in a daze, away from the charity stripe and the frantic, fleeting efforts of the Northwestern offense, toward first year coach Kim Barnes Arico.

As the final buzzer sounded, the two shared a long hug.

"Going into my last free throw, I knew that was going to be my last shot every on the Crisler Center floor," Ryan said. "At those moments, it kind of hits home that, 'This is it.' I looked at Coach, and it was a special moment, because I can't thank her enough for all she has done for us as a team and a program. It was sad that we only had a year together and that it went by so fast. But we also know we have more games to play and more goals to reach."

It was a special moment for both coach and player.

"Anyone who knows Jenny Ryan, you have to be proud of her," Barnes Arico said. "She is just such a tremendous kid. She's all about the team - a coach's dream. I told her I was proud of her and congratulations, because she deserved to finish on Crisler the way she did. I think they tried to keep their emotions in check, for the most part."

This program has come a long way since Ryan and the Wolverines' four other seniors, Rachel Sheffer, Kate Thompson, Nya Jordan and Sam Arnold, first arrived on campus.

And the win over Northwestern was perhaps the perfect way to celebrate the accomplishments of one of the most successful classes in program history.

For starters, the five seniors notched their 78th career victory, tying the program record for wins in a four-year span. It also gave them 20 wins on the year - the first time since 1999-2000 that the Wolverines reached that plateau during the regular season.

And on a night designated to honoring the senior class, the group could not have done more on the court.

Seniors accounted for Michigan's first 48 points - and 52 of the final 55 - including a game-high 17 from Sheffer.

"It's kind of a metaphor for how our class has always been," Ryan said. "We have been there for each other. We pick each other up. If someone doesn't have a good day, the next one is there for her. The scoring is just kind of symbolism for our group effort."

Barnes Arico's first year in Ann Arbor has been a pleasant surprise - and she is grateful for what the five seniors have meant to the program.

"I want to enjoy every single moment with them," the coach said. "I really mean that. A lot of times, people say, 'You've only had them for a year, and it has kind of been a transition' but they have been such a great group of kids that I feel like I've been coaching them forever. I really feel connected to them. They're a special group, and I'm grateful that they could go out the way they did tonight.

"I think they are going to have one of the best legacies ever. It's one of the best four-year periods in Michigan basketball history. This class has an opportunity to do something that has never been done before. That is incredible. I have had the opportunity to talk to Jenny a little bit about what it was like when she came in and what it's going to be when she leaves, and she said, 'Coach, we have created a culture around here and such high expectations. I never want this to change.' She wants us to continue, but this senior class really put Michigan on the map."

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