Four-year captain Krista Clement stood in front of the Crisler Arena crowd for the last time Sunday, clutching a microphone and wiping away tears.
To Clement’s left, fellow seniors Janelle Cooper, Katie Dierdorf and Ta’Shia Walker joined her with tears also rolling down their cheeks.
“We pretty much made a vow that none of us were going to cry,” Clement said. “But I couldn’t hold it back. It was a pretty special time.”
Moments earlier, as part of Senior Day festivities, all of the seniors were individually recognized. But as they joined at center court, they took the spotlight off themselves to thank those who had helped them during their Michigan careers.
Clement, with microphone in hand, pulled out a list, to thank everyone from the band to the ushers to the members of Michigan coaching staff past and present.
The most emotional moment of the ceremony was when the microphone was passed to Walker, who was so choked up she had difficulty coming up with the words to thank her friends and family.
“Walker is the most gracious person there is,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said.
Walker and Dierdorf have seen limited playing time in their final season at Michigan.
Walker actually saw her most playing time during her freshman season, when she started in 17 games. But her minutes have dwindled since then.
Dierdorf suffered a right hip fracture during her sophomore season, from which she never fully rebounded. Dierdorf is usually the last one off the bench and has played just 21 minutes this season.
But on Sunday, for the first time this year, Dierdorf got the opportunity to start with the rest of the seniors.
Walker and Dierdorf played the first 2:42 of the game. Walker scored two points, and when they left, Michigan was up by two.
But when they returned to the court, Michigan trailed by 14.
With 1:21 left in the game, Borseth called a timeout for the sole purpose of subbing in Walker and Dierdorf to join Clement and Cooper, who were already on the floor.
“They have such a positive impact,” Borseth said of Walker and Dierdorf. “They don’t play very much, and for them to come in every day and carry themselves in the fashion they do, it’s hard. But you’d never know it.”
Unlike Walker and Dierdorf, Clement and Cooper have played consistently this season. The starting duo averages more than 30 minutes per game.
The increase in playing time has been a big boost for Clement, who averaged just eight minutes per game last season.
“Krista has got her chance to play this year,” Borseth said. “Every day she sinks her heart and soul into it.”
This season has been very rewarding for the seniors because it will be their first winning season at Michigan.
During their first three years, Michigan went 21-66, and at the end of last season, former coach Cheryl Burnett stepped down.
But despite all the losing, they never gave up.
“We tried to stay positive,” Cooper said. “Without the positive, you have nothing to fall back on. If you know that things are going to get better, then that makes you keep going.”
And things have gotten better. This is their first winning season in six years. The seniors won five more conference games this season than they had in the previous three seasons combined.
Sunday was bittersweet for the seniors. They lost to Minnesota, a team they have never defeated. But following the game, each senior was given a standing ovation.
“The way they carry themselves in practice and to see those four kids there, you appreciate how much effort they put in,” Borseth said. “They bleed the colors.”