This week we’re highlighting a notable defender in Bethel women’s basketball history: senior forward Kaitlin Elsasser. She recently entered the 500-rebound club during a game against Indiana Wesleyan, only the 20th Bethel Lady Pilot to do so. She currently ranks 19th all-time at Bethel in career rebounds with 510 and 4th all-time at Bethel in career blocks with 75.
The Mishawaka native reminisced on her entire career as a basketball player, starting in elementary until now as a Bethel senior. She noted the unexpected challenges that came with the coaching changes and losing records the team has struggled through for the past couple of seasons, but through it all she gleamed a sense of hope and perseverance.
Q: How has coach Eric Gingerich helped your game, if at all?A: One of the biggest things is (he’s helped) me find a sense of patience on the court and it’ll transcend into life, especially this year, since I’m going into grad school starting in May. I think defensively, he’s definitely helped that as well. I wasn’t too big of a defensive person my freshman and sophomore year. Then, he came into my junior year, so he’s helped on that side of the game. Q: What has made this season of basketball different from previous seasons? A: My past four years of basketball has been an experience that coming in as a freshman I did not expect. There has been a lot of change over the years after being recruited by a coach who left the summer before my freshman year and then going through another coaching change after my sophomore year. It’s been difficult over the years to find a sense of consistency, and along with that it has also been difficult to build an authentic team atmosphere that feels like a family. However, this year we have finally laid that foundation, a foundation built on a family atmosphere. My team this year enjoys being together, we accept each other for who we are, the good and the bad and the goofy. This season has also allowed me the opportunity to influence my team from a senior leader platform. I get to positively impact the girls by teaching them through my good times and hard times over the years. I also get to exemplify to them how to stay positive, although I’m not perfect at this, through difficult things such as being 1-8 in conference play. Q: Who has been your toughest competition this season? A: Honestly, I think our biggest competition is ourselves most days. We’re 1-8 in conference play. It’s tough, especially at this point in the season, to wake up every day and say, ‘I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got,’ because if you’re 1-8 it’s easy to throw in the towel early and say, ‘Well, we’re not going to win too many more games. We might as well just wait until next year.’ My team has done such a phenomenal job coming everyday ready to practice, (giving) everything they have and (competing) against themselves in order to get better. One day, one that I won’t have the opportunity to be wearing the Bethel jersey on, we will be 8-1 instead of 1-8. Q: When did you start playing basketball? A: I started playing basketball in 5th grade. I was probably the most unathletic kid on the court and I honestly never saw myself playing much further than middle school. But entering into 7th grade, my high school coach, Kevin Gradeless, had a group of seven girls from the local elementary schools get together, who were entering into middle school, every summer from 7th grade to senior year together playing basketball and going to tournaments. I transformed from that unathletic middle school kid to a college athlete because of the time he decided to put in with us. Q: Why have you stuck with basketball after all these years? A: It’s much bigger than the sport. It gives you a platform to reach so many other people rather than just the teammates you play with. Basketball has taught me foundational life values and lessons. I have put years into the sport, years full of lots of sweat, tears and memories I’ll forever hold in my heart. Basketball has taught me that anything in life that’s worth something is not going to be easy. It has taught me that you may pour everything you have into something and still fail, but you shouldn’t hold anything back because of this fact. Failure is a part of life, and it’s what fuels successful people to continue to get back up after falling short time and time again. Q: What are some of your basketball philosophies? A: It’s ‘control what you can control.’ Sometimes you’re going to have bad refs and you can’t control that. You can control your effort and your attitude. It’s the same in life. You can’t control everything that happens to you. Another one is, ‘So much bigger.’ If I mess up on the court, miss a layup (or) miss a box out assignment, instead of getting stuck on that, I just remind myself that it’s so much bigger. … you’re playing basketball (and) you’re working hard, but the reality it’s so much bigger than what you’re doing. You are reflecting Christ, you’re getting to play for Him, and off the court, you get to use basketball to connect to the people. (Photo courtesy of Bethel College Athletics)