A Born Leader
Oct. 30, 2008
By Larry Watts
If Caroline Blaum had a vote, there would be four more years. But even the daughter of Kevin Blaum, a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, has to admit all good things must come to an end.
Blaum, a fifth-year senior, is preparing to walk on the University of Iowa's Grant Field for the final time this Sunday when the Hawkeyes host Michigan in a critical field hockey match. At stake is the No. 2 seed for the Big Ten Tournament.
"It's a little overwhelming to think about so I'm trying to put it in the back of my mind," the Wilkes-Barre, Pa. native says. "This has probably been the best five years of my life. This place and these people have meant so much to me through the experiences I've had."
Maybe the most incredible thing about Blaum's ride is the fact she has served as the Hawkeyes' captain for the past four seasons. Winning elections seems to run in the family.
"She is so busy trying to take care of others; I think that comes from her father being a politician," says head coach Tracey Griesbaum. "She is such a great communicator."
Providing the big shoulder for her teammates is a trait Blaum attributes to her parents, Kevin and Beth.
"It just comes naturally to me," she says. "I take a lot of pride in the way I deal with people. You can't treat every teammate the same way. You have to tell them what they need to hear, even if it may be difficult, but there are different ways to do it."
Blaum admits to being "shocked" when she was first elected captain as a sophomore. She cites a strong turnout by the freshman precinct for her winning edge.
"We had a large freshman class that season," she says. "I formed a close bond with many of those girls when they arrived and I guess they trusted me. It was tough trying to lead and learn at the same time."
The next biggest surprise came the following season, when she suffered a season-ending ACL injury 10 minutes before an exhibition game. Knowing she would be sidelined for the season, the team still voted her captain.
"That shows you how much her teammates think of her," Griesbaum says. "She still came out to every practice and I think that season really helped her develop her mental toughness because she had such a passion to get out there. She used that same passion to attack her rehab and kept raising the bar for herself, sometimes a little too high. But she wanted to get back out there as quickly as possible to help her team."
"It (the injury) happened during warm-ups on a move I had made many times, but my hip went the other way when I planted my foot," she says. "It's true what people say, I heard a loud pop and immediately knew what had happened.
"That year was like no other. I could easily have said, 'Woe is me,' but everyone rallied around me and were so awesome. That was the only motivation I needed, plus the fact Tracey leaned over and told me, 'Looks like I've got you for another year."'
According to Griesbaum, that loyalty to teammates, which has become Blaum's trademark, can also be a hindrance.
"Because she has been so busy taking care of others, I sat her down before this season and told her it's time to think about herself a little more," the Iowa coach says. "Sometimes by putting yourself second, it doesn't always help the team. Instead of focusing on everyone else, take the responsibility to make sure you are ready."
In other words, Griesbaum wanted Blaum to become a little more selfish.
Blaum has responded with her best offensive season yet. Heading into Sunday's match with Michigan, she has collected 25 points (8 goals and 9 assists). The eight goals is also a career high.
"I'm taking more shots now and dribbling less," Blaum says. "So the next time I take a bad shot, I'll have to tell Tracey I'm just taking her advice and being a bit more selfish."
"Caroline has been more aggressive this year and pulling the trigger on her passes and shots a lot sooner," Griesbaum says. "She's become a true triple threat -- ballhandler, passer and shooter."
Blaum, who was the Big Ten Tournament most valuable player and a first team all-conference section last season, has started all 76 matches in her Iowa career.
"She was pretty raw and basically no one was recruiting her when I first came across her in high school," Griesbaum says. "But I could see she had a lot of natural talent and a real love for the game."
That love for the game is the driving force behind Blaum's desire to head into the coaching ranks after graduation. The English major has set a goal of coaching Division I field hockey, so don't put it past her to return to the Iowa sidelines.
"It's a running joke that I'm after Tracey's job, but there's no way I'm even close to being at her level," Blaum says. "I think I'm satisfied to stay in her shadow for now, but everything I have learned is a trickle--down effect from her teaching.
"The knowledge she (Griesbaum) has is unbelievable and she has really helped me grow as a person. Our best conversations have had nothing to do with field hockey. I have learned a lot of life lessons from her and I am able to see the whole picture thanks to her."
Blaum may not be after Griesbaum's job, but she sure knows how to campaign.