WOMEN'S SWIMMING AND DIVING: Seniors give leadership and support for team

Five seniors set example in and out of the classroom

They're a part of every conversation, the seniors. Anyone who spends time talking to Ball State women's swimming and diving coach Laura Seibold-Caudill will realize how much respect she has for them.

Alanna Bader, Katie Bylsma, Maria Gramelspacher, Catherine Ingram and Jessica Elzinga make up the group that Seibold-Caudill holds in such high regard.

"This is the best group of seniors I've ever had," she said. "They're so dedicated and the team means so much to them. ... They're proud to swim for Ball State University."

Though they swim different events — Bylsma is a sprinter and freestyle specialist, Bader and Gramelspacher swim the butterfly, Ingram swims the breaststroke and individual medley and Elzinga is a diver — they lead as a group.

"Maria, Katie and Catherine are probably the most vocal, but they all motivate each other and their teammates by hard work alone," Seibold-Caudill said.

Chemistry and personalities are crucial to team-building, and that's an area where this group excels.

"We're different in terms of personality but we mesh together really well," Gramelspacher said. "Katie is real laid back and funny ... but we're all really encouraging."

Bylsma said she tries to keep the atmosphere light for the team, finding ways to make jokes and accentuating the positives.

"I don't make light of things necessarily, but I would rather see people laughing than upset," she said.

The seniors' success this year can be attributed to their four years in the Cardinals program.

"It helps before races, during meets, throughout the changes in the last few years. ... We're all just very supportive of each other," Gramelspacher said.

All five swimmers take their roles as students seriously and their academic accolades are impressive.

Gramelspacher and Ingram were named academic all-conference last season; Bylsma was the 2009-2010 recipient of the Cathy Somenzi Memorial Scholarship; and Elzinga and Bader are getting their degrees in criminal justice and dietetics, respectively.

"Their performance as athletes gives them a blueprint [for] their careers," Seibold-Caudill said. "Their work ethic, dedication, self-discipline and self-motivation will make them very successful in the future."

Coming off a narrow loss against Miami, the class of the Mid-American Conference, the Cardinals proved they could compete with any team. The Cardinals have the senior leadership, experience and depth thanks to a talented freshman class to make a serious run at a MAC championship.