The beginning of the end is here for the two graduating seniors
on the Michigan women’s gymnastics team. This Friday’s
meet against No. 2 Alabama at Crisler Arena will be
Michigan’s last regular season meet.

Beth Dykstra
Senior Calli Ryals will take one step closer to ending her decorated career at Michigan on Friday, as the Wolverines host No. 2 Alabama in their final home meet. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily)

“I don’t think it will hit me until I’m
actually done competing (that night),” senior Calli Ryals
said.

Senior Christine Mantilia agreed that senior night would be
poignant.

“It will probably be emotional, since this is the last
time we’ll all be together,” Mantilia said. “It
will be a different feeling.”

Mantilia returned strong this season after sitting out her
entire junior year while she recovered from an ACL tear she
suffered right before the 2002-2003 winter break.

“All the work done during the first semester was kind of
blown away,” Mantilia said of her injury. “It was very
hard.”

The New Canaan, Conn., native has had a breakout season. She
competed for just the second time in her career on the floor
exercise and vault earlier this season. Then she set career-high
marks on those events twice — first at the State of Michigan
Classic and again two weeks ago against West Virginia.

But as usual with this close-knit team, Mantilia didn’t do
it alone. The year before Mantilia tore her ACL, Lauren Mirkovich
went through the same recuperation process after she injured her
knee. Mirkovich knew exactly how to help her teammate enjoy a
successful recovery.

Ryals, who avoided any serious injuries throughout most of her
career, saw Mantilia’s side of things when she injured her
ankle during warm-ups at West Virginia and had to sit out of the
vault competition. It was the first time in two years that Ryals
had not competed in the all-around competition. Last week against
UCLA, Ryals competed in just two events in an effort to keep her
injury from getting worse.

“I think especially that first meet that I was out, it may
have been a little bit of a shock to the other girls,” Ryals
said. “I’m there for every meet and they count on me to
hit. I think it threw them off a little bit, but they’re
strong girls. They got back on track.”

The Wolverines have had some recent miscues on the mats —
they have lost three straight meets, putting up three of their
lowest overall scores since the end of January. Mantilia shared her
thoughts on how the team can improve.

“Our problem is we’ve been training really well, but
once we get to the meet, we’re not exactly where we were in
training,” Mantilia said. “We need to put it together
in the meet just like we’ve been putting it together in the
gym.”

But both seniors agreed on their favorite memory at
Michigan.

“One of my best memories is Big Tens last year,”
Ryals said. “We struggled all year with injuries and we had
one of our best meets ever, and it felt so good.”

Before the month is out, these seniors might be able to make
another one of those Big Ten memories. But for now Ryals said they
are ready to take on Alabama.

“It’s gotten to the point where it’s like,
‘What do we have to lose?’ ” Ryals said.
“You can see it in their eyes. Everyone’s real
aggressive and just going after it (in practice). I think
it’s a good thing.”

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