24: Blaum dreams of a big senior season

Aug. 14, 2008

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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 7, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2008-09 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Caroline Blaum is the ultimate team player. At the end of last season she was named University of Iowa field hockey captain for the fourth time in a five-year career that was extended because of a 2006 knee injury.

“It’s never happened in the history of our program to my knowledge,” said UI head coach Tracey Griesbaum. “It says everything because the bottom line is the players vote. They know she exudes everything about what Iowa field hockey stands for on the field and off the field.”

Blaum, a forward/midfielder from Wilkes Barre, Pa., embraces the leadership role.

“I’m so honored to be in that position,” she said. “The team needs something that comes from leadership and brings it together at times when we need a boost.”

Griesbaum said that during the recruiting of Blaum, it was easy to recognize her outgoing personality and a team-first mentality. Ironically, the UI coaching staff wants to see more of a Blaum-first approach during her senior season.

“Caroline’s the epitome of a team player, sometimes to a fault,” Griesbaum said. “She will put the team first almost all the time. Her everyday presence leads the team. I’ve been encouraging her to take on ownership of herself. I think what the team needs most from her this year is for her to be the best player she can be.”

Blaum and teammate Lauren Pfeiffer spent a portion of the month of June representing the Midwest in the Women’s National Championships in Virginia Beach. The Midwest squad went 3-2-1, falling 3-0 in the finals to a New England team it defeated three days earlier.

“It was awesome,” Blaum said. “We were there to get better for Iowa and to get better for ourselves, but we also knew there were a lot of athletes that were looking to complete their Olympic dream and we needed to play for them, too. It was an awe-inspiring mood.”

Both Blaum and Pfeiffer scored a goal during a 4-3 victory against Maryland and during a 4-4 draw against California/Pennsylvania. Blaum and Pfeiffer are among an eight-person senior class for the Hawkeyes in 2008 that also includes Lindsey Duffy, Roz Ellis, Melissa Helsel, Caitlin McCurdy, Lissa Munley and Katie Naughton.

“There is some sadness knowing that this is my last season, but I’m excited at the same time,” Blaum said. “It’s an honor to be back for a fifth year. The joke on the team is that I always wanted to stay at Iowa longer than four years, but I didn’t necessarily mean this way. The team is great. It’s an awesome group of people, but there is that sense of sadness. The past five years have had a huge impact on my life.”

Blaum vividly remembers the day in 2006 when, during warm-ups, she tore the ACL in her knee. That unfortunate event actually led to somewhat of an epiphany for Blaum.

“The injury actually meant a lot to me,” Blaum said. “It proved why I came to Iowa in the first place. I discovered that even if I wasn’t able to play field hockey, I would still want to be here. The day the injury happened it was clear that I was their first priority and that meant a lot to me. The coaches were literally by my side. The first thing Tracey said was, `I guess you’re here for another year.’ That was the only thing I needed to hear at that point.”

“One of the biggest reasons I came to Iowa in the first place was the overall tradition and camaraderie of not only the team but the fans of Iowa athletics overall. It was something that lured me here and every time I step on the field is the same if not better.”
UI senior Caroline Blaum

In 2004 and 2005 — Blaum’s first two seasons with the Hawkeyes — Iowa combined to go 23-16 with a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2004. Last season Iowa compiled a record of 17-4, captured its second consecutive Big Ten Tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons. During the season Blaum registered six goals with a team-high 11 assists. She had two game-winning goals and was second on the team with 23 points.

The days of the Hawkeyes sneaking up on field hockey opponents have long passed. Traditionally the Griesbaum camp shies away from mentioning the `tournament month’ of November.

“We know what we want,” Griesbaum said. “We’ve been building for this for a really, really long time. Every single day we want to get better at something individually and collectively. We’re trying to get better and that snowballs and prepares us for what we all know we want. It’s a motivation tool for the present.”

“We always dream big, but we also like to think day-to-day and not get too far ahead of ourselves,” Blaum added. “There’s an unspoken goal we have to be in the Final Four. This year we’re not afraid to say it. That’s what we want and we have the tools to get there. It’s entirely up to us.”

Blaum can’t help but seem giddy for the 2008 season, with a schedule that includes eight home matches. Her last performance on Grant Field will be Nov. 2 against Big Ten rival Michigan. Last season Iowa and the Wolverines shared victories, with Michigan winning in Ann Arbor, 3-2 in double overtime, and Iowa winning, 4-1, in the finals of the conference tournament. Blaum is looking forward to giving the home crowd another successful year.

“One of the biggest reasons I came to Iowa in the first place was the overall tradition and camaraderie of not only the team but the fans of Iowa athletics overall,” Blaum said. “It was something that lured me here and every time I step on the field is the same if not better.”

An English and journalism major, Blaum would like to bypass those areas of study and remain in the field hockey ranks after college.

“Coaching field hockey at the collegiate level has always been my top priority,” she said. “I have a huge respect for athletes who understand the time commitment that it takes to be a successful student-athlete.”

Blaum recalls that it took less than a half hour in Iowa City to convince a Pennsylvania native that this was the ideal spot for her to receive an education.

“I was flying over Iowa and I looked at my mom and said, `What am I doing out here?'” Blaum said. “But I was here for about 20 minutes and I loved it. The people here initially sold me and it didn’t take long for the facilities, especially the field hockey facilities, to seal the deal. It’s like one family out here. I was going from one family to another.”

The postseason awards have verified Blaum’s successful junior campaign. She was named first team all-West Region by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association, first team all-Big Ten and national player of the week on Nov. 5 by Women’sFieldHockey.com. One of her most memorable honors was when she was named most valuable player of the 2007 Big Ten Tournament, a year removed from season-ending knee surgery.

“The only thing that went through my head was the entire year leading up to that,” Blaum said. “Myself, my trainers, my teammates — we worked really hard to get ourselves there. It was an awesome culmination to the hard work that I put in, that I drained out of my coaches and trainers especially. It was a low to a high for me personally, but it was an awesome high to a high for the team overall.”

Spoken like a true leader. And an ultimate team player.