Franklin High School swimmer Ella Pheifer began the 2016-17 season not knowing what her leadership role would be.

A state finalist in three events a year ago, Pheifer knew she would be one of coach Zach DeWitt’s more experienced competitors. Being a junior, however, she wasn’t sure how much her voice should be heard during practices and meets.

“It was kind of rough for me, but as the season progressed I began to figure it out more,” Pheifer said. “I had to become more of a mentor, and took hold of that role. I finally started to figure out how to lead these girls, which has definitely made me a better swimmer and a better person.”

Noticing his sprint freestyler’s need to step up as a team leader during the Mid-State Conference Meet at Decatur Central in early January, DeWitt gave Pheifer a book, “The Energy Bus”, to read whenever her busy schedule permitted.

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She had gone cover to cover by the following Monday.

The book is about how a positive frame of mind betters all aspects of daily life and made an immediate impact on Pheifer.

“You have to take control of your past,” said Pheifer, who credits the book for making her a happier person. “Your attitude affects those around you.”

Pheifer has a 4.0 grade-point average and is thinking of one day making a living in the food science industry. This weekend, she will be competing at the State Finals at the IUPUI Natatorium.

Individually, Pheifer is seeded 20th in the 50-yard freestyle with her sectional time of 24.05 seconds. In the 100 free, she brings the 14th-fastest time (51.95). She’s also taking part in the 200 medley relay (Franklin is seeded 13th) and 200 freestyle relay (16th).

Both of Pheifer’s individual sectional times are significant improvements over times swam last season at the same venue.

As a sophomore she placed second in both, clocking a 24.24 in the 50 free and a 52.91 in the 100 freestyle. On Saturday, Pheifer picked up blue ribbons in both as the Grizzly Cubs dominated at their own sectional.

“The Energy Bus” teaches the importance of controlling situations be they athletic, academic or social, DeWitt said.

Now a calmer, more confident teammate, Pheifer has grown into the type of leader her coach had previously envisioned.

“Coming into the season we weren’t certain who our leaders were going to be. But we knew if we were going to be successful as a team, Ella was going to have to be one of those people,” said DeWitt, whose core of team leaders also includes senior Gabby Hoffman and junior Anna McCahill.

“It’s kind of wild to think a book could do that, but Ella is relentlessly positive and a far better leader.”

Individual and team seeds entering State Finals competition are often deceptive due to the varying strengths of the state’s 20 sectionals.

DeWitt is confident Pheifer has what it takes to make the awards podium (top-nine finish) in both the 50 and 100 freestyle.

And now more than ever, Pheifer has confidence in herself.

“I really want to drop more time in my 100 free and be under 24 seconds in the 50,” she said. “It might be a bit ambitious, but I really think I can make it to the finals.”

The Pheifer file

Name: Ella Pheifer

Age: 16

Born: Greenwood

Family: Parents James and Kristi; brothers Ethan, 14, and Carter, 11

Favorite class: Spanish IV

Favorite food: Desserts

Favorite movie: Any “Harry Potter” movie

Favorite team: Indianapolis Colts

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at