Calvin's Elise Biesboer - a Student-Athlete on the Move

Calvin's Elise Biesboer - a Student-Athlete on the Move

By Jeff Febus

From her position in the in the back row as Calvin's libero this fall, senior Elise Biesboer would constantly dart, dive and dig. In short, the 5-5 whippet was constantly on the move.

Biesboer's play on the volleyball court has also mimicked her life as she has constantly been moving, evolving and growing as a person.

As a girl growing up in suburban Chicago, Biesboer was involved in a number of sports, notably basketball and soccer. Although she competed in volleyball it was not a sport at the top of her list. Her mother Peggy - a former collegiate player at nearby Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights - urged her to give volleyball a closer look and that urging proved to be pivotal.

As a middle school and high school student, Biesboer decided to focus on volleyball, playing at the club level and later at Timothy Christian High School.

"My mother had played volleyball in college and my grandma had coached volleyball at the high school level but I never took the sport too seriously until about the seventh grade," said Biesboer. "At the suggestion of my mother, I decided to try club (volleyball) and I found that I liked it and in high school it became my primary sport. I liked the fact that it was fast-moving but that it wasn't a contact sport like basketball or soccer."

Despite her size, Biesboer spent some time as an outside hitter as a high school player but began to move to the back row during her junior and senior years.

When it came time to look for a college to attend, Biesboer had one thing set in her mind. "I was not going to Calvin," she said with a laugh. "It was not a consideration for me. A lot of people from my high school had gone to Calvin and I didn't want to be part of what everyone else was doing. I wanted to do my own thing. I was looking for a school that would prepare me academically for medical school but I also wanted to play volleyball."

Biesboer visited several schools - some big, some small but one school kept in contact - Calvin College. "I knew that Calvin Coach (Amber) Warners was interested in me and my high school coach kept urging me to talk to her and give Calvin a chance," said Biesboer. "I still wasn't interested but my high school coach kept on me so I decided to talk to Coach Warners and I'm glad I did. She made it quite clear that Calvin wanted me and convinced me to come for a campus visit."

On her visit, Biesboer was wowed by Calvin's science facilities and its faculty. "I really liked the professors and I realized that Calvin had the same type of science facilities that the big schools have," she said. "I was convinced that I could get the kind of education at Calvin that I was looking for."

Shortly after, she made the decision to come to Calvin and did so after its volleyball team had won its first national championship. Biesboer recalls the fall of her freshman year in 2011 as a time where she was pulled out of her comfort zone.

"I remember the preseason retreat our team took and we all got together and were encouraged to open up and talk about ourselves honestly," she said. "I wasn't used to that. I was more accustomed to staying to myself and keeping things inside. That was a real eye-opener for me."
Playing as a freshman for the defending national champions was also not an easy transition at first.
"As a freshman, I was really scared to play on that (Calvin) team," said Biesboer. "Just about everyone was back from the 2010 national championship team and I was scared. I got plenty of chances to contribute but I didn't have the confidence to step up at that time."

That began to change prior to her sophomore and junior campaigns when upperclassmen and recent graduates from the volleyball program wrote her personal letters of encouragement. "I received letters and cards from my current and former teammates that  told me that I was the best one for the job," said Biesboer. "That was a huge confidence boost that I needed."

Biesboer moved into a regular role in the back row in 2012 as Calvin advanced all the way to the national finals.

One year later, the Knights again reached the national championship match and this time made good on the opportunity, defeating Cal Lutheran in a five-set thriller after dropping the first two sets of the match. Biesboer tallied 12 digs and one service ace in the championship final and remembers the adrenaline that flowed through her body after the Knights had won the fifth set 20-18 to claim their second national championship in the last four years.

"I don't consider myself an emotional person but I was just shaking when that match ended," said Biesboer. "I was so emotionally involved and in awe of the moment when we won."
Learning how to trust in her teammates proved to be a key said Biesboer. "I realized how far you can go when you trust your teammates," said Biesboer. "Doubt will break you down and doubt is something I had struggled with. Once I learned how to trust in my teammates, it made a world of difference."
Trusting in her teammates has also helped Biesboer grow as a person said Calvin head volleyball coach Amber Warners. "I think coming in to Calvin she didn't know who she was and was searching to find just who she was," said Warners.  "She is dearly loved by her coaches and teammates and I think they helped Elise be comfortable with who she is because they accepted her and loved her.  Elise bought in to our philosophy and program from the very beginning even when she wasn't getting playing time."

This summer, Biesboer served as a counselor at Calvin's popular summer volleyball camps and thrived in front of large crowds of campers said Warners. "You assume she is a pretty quiet person and then she surprises all of us," said Warners.  "This summer she went out and gave presentations and instruction to hundreds of campers with no problem.  

As a senior this fall, Biesboer stepped into the starting libero position and produced a sterling campaign, helping Calvin gain a share of the MIAA regular season title and then an MIAA Tournament crown for a fourth consecutive year. The Knights later advanced all the way to the NCAA III Semifinals before bowing to eventual national champion Hope.
Biesboer's most shining moment during the season came in a four-set regular season win over Hope at Calvin's Van Noord Arena as she amassed a career-high 31 digs, many of them in acrobatic fashion.

She later received a spot on the All-MIAA second team and was named AVCA Division III Great Lakes All-Region honorable mention.
Biesboer also continued to sparkle in the classroom. A Dean's list student with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry, Biesboer was named to the Capital One Academic All-America third team. Her teammate, junior Maggie Kamp, was also named a Capital One Academic All-American and according to Kamp, the two helped push each other in the classroom.
"Elise was always checking in with me, making sure we were both keeping up with our studies," chuckled Kamp. "She's a pretty driven person. There's no doubt in my mind that she is going places after she graduates."
One place that Biesboer recently traveled to was Africa as she spent Calvin's January Interim term in Malawi with Dr. Glenn Geelhoed and a team of nine students as part of a course entitled: A Mission to Heal. While there, Biesboer and her fellow students served as surgical assistants.

Elise Biesboer in Malawi with a newborn

"The trip to Malawi was an incredible experience," said Biesboer of the trip to Africa. "I had the opportunity to assist with delivering babies, work alongside physicians working in surgery and help with general wound care.  It was something I will never forget."
The trip is also part of Biesboer's career journey moving forward.

"I want to be a clinical physician in some shape or form," she said. "I've thought about being a trauma surgeon or maybe working in a clinic that treats tropical diseases."
Calvin's science faculty have been a big part of helping her along the way. "I can't say enough about my professors," said Biesboer. "They have come up to me throughout my college career telling me that they want to help me get to where I want to go with my medical career. They also have shown up at my volleyball matches to root for me and for our team. It has been amazing."
Biesboer is in the midst of setting up interviews with medical schools with hopes of attending a school near her hometown of Chicago or perhaps in a southern state.
Wherever she ends, Warners is confident that Biesboer will make an impact. "Elise is very gifted at many things and  she has an incredible work ethic in and off the court," said Warners.  "She is a very disciplined student and I have no doubt will be an incredible doctor.  It is easy to hear her passion about medicine.  I hope by playing in our program she will be able to take her experiences and it will help her become a better doctor."
No doubt it will.