Mechelle Voepel


by Mechelle Voepel January 17, 2009 in Women's Basketball


There’s a difference between just being a senior and actually acting like one. Part of the role of a truly successful senior is understanding that things you do can impact your program even after you’re gone.

That’s a less talked about but important element of leadership – what you do today may affect someone tomorrow.  A good example is 2007 Senior CLASS Award finalist Katie Gearlds of Purdue’s women’s basketball program. In her final season with the Boilermakers, Gearlds had the standard concerns of seniors: How successful would her team be in her last year, how well would she perform individually, plus how best to prepare for the next step after college. But she had another big challenge: Adjusting to a new head coach and staff. Adding to that, Gearlds had been very close to Kristi Curry, who had recruited her and coached her for three seasons at Purdue, plus Curry’s husband and assistant, Kelly, and their two daughters. Gearlds had to deal with an emotional loss that impacted not just her time on the basketball court but her time away from it as well.

Leadership requires adjusting to such challenges. Gearlds helping the Boilermakers to the Big Ten tournament title and the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, then being picked in the first round of the 2007 WNBA draft would suggest she showed tremendous leadership. Yet there’s something else that proves it even more. In Gearlds’ senior season, she consistently made a point to encourage and praise one of her younger teammates, Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. Purdue coach Sharon Versyp reflected back on that this season, when it’s Wisdom-Hylton who is leading the team. “She’s grown with her confidence,” Versyp said. “Katie did a good job two years of empowering her.”

Similarly, a look back at the previous winners of the Senior CLASS Award for women’s basketball shows individual accomplishment paired with a lasting mark left on their programs.  Sue Bird helped lead Connecticut to two NCAA titles after overcoming a season-ending knee injury as a freshman. LaToya Thomas helped Mississippi State get to three of the four NCAA Tournament appearances in her program’s history. Alana Beard led Duke to consecutive Final Four appearances and firmly established her program among the nation’s elite. Kendra Wecker became Kansas State’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, and the Wildcats developed into one of the top-drawing women’s teams in the country during her time in Manhattan, Kan.
Seimone Augustus stayed home in Baton Rouge, La., to play for LSU, and took the Tigers to their first Final Four, in 2004. She subsequently was part of two more Final Four teams. Alison Bales improved dramatically from a freshman season in which she was overmatched to being an All-American as a senior, helping Duke to the national championship game in her career. Candice Wiggins saved her best for last at Stanford, leading the Cardinal back to the Final Four after an 11-year absence. Wiggins also continued her passion for community service when she went to the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx.

All of these players made the most of their status as seniors to show younger teammates the right way to do things. 
In their senior years, student-athletes see the end of a collegiate career, but also how their influence can remain beyond their actual presence. Four years go by quickly, but the legacy a student-athlete can leave lasts forever.