Saunders brings leadership to diving team
Entering her senior year, Rutgers diver Erin Saunders already has a legacy that will be tough to duplicate.
She holds every diving record on the women's side for the school and is a top five competitor in the Big East with the goal of reaching the NCAA Championships.
But she is not the only diver returning to the team for the 2009-2010 season. Along with Saunders is junior Jen Betz, who has two more years of eligibility due to a medical redshirt her freshman year.
Joining the two veterans are freshmen Kate Kearney and Kelsey Tennett.
"We have a strong one-two punch with Erin [Saunders] and Jen [Betz]," said diving coach Fred Woodruff. "I'm depending on the upperclassmen to do much of the scoring and the younger divers to learn. [Kearney and Tennett] have a lot of potential but also a lot of learning to do. This is the year to develop."
Both freshmen are going to have the privilege to learn from two divers, Saunders and Betz, whose diving styles both contrast and complement one another.
"Jen [Betz] has all the straight lines and clean entries where I'm able to do more technical stuff in the air," Saunders said. "We feed off of each other. We have known each other since high school and we get along so well."
Saunders is both the diving captain and a captain of the entire swimming and diving team. She leads by example by helping not only the divers, but also the younger swimmers too, Woodruff said.
The synergy between divers and swimmers is something that is rare around the country but strong at RU, he said.
"I have been coaching here since the fall of 1993. I think one of the best things about this team is the fact that we are not divers and swimmers, we are one team. And believe me, that is not the norm around the country," Woodruff said.
Head coach Chuck Warner also realizes the importance of both groups coming together as one team.
"Both sports train separately in the pool so you can see how the divers would feel apart from the swimmers," Warner said. "But we have a very close team and everyone interacts with one another."
For Saunders, it is the element of respect that makes both groups come together to understand and help one another.
"We both respect each as two different sports but we are one team," Saunders said. "They know they can come to one of us about anything. I may know nothing about swimming but it still gets me excited when they do something good."
Saunders believes that the new divers will be able to carry the team once she is gone.
"They are very responsible girls, which is great," she said. "A lot of times you bring in freshman that just don't care and they do what they want, but that is not the case. I think when Jen and I graduate they will be able to pass [the responsibilities] on from class to class."
When Saunders graduates, RU not only loses a record holder, but also a prominent leader for the entire team.
Those are going to be some tough shoes to fill.
"Erin is by far the best woman diver we have ever had," Woodruff said. "To replace Erin is going to be hard to do."