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Same ol' Beks: Former NLA star Rebekah Schmidt flourishes in first year of college ball

Though making a big leap from Class A high school softball, New Life 2011 graduate Rebekah Schmidt also found success in her first year of college for the Division I Drake Bulldogs.1 / 2
In her first year with Drake, Schmidt (first row, second from left) had a 9-8 record with a 2.88 ERA in 145.2 innings pitched and struck out 154 batters.2 / 2

Rebekah Schmidt was a star on the softball diamond for New Life Academy.

In her five years with the Eagles, she was awarded All-Conference four times and All-State twice while helping New Life Academy win four consecutive state championships.

Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Though making a big leap from Class A high school softball, Schmidt -- a 2011 NLA graduate -- also found success in her first year of college for the Division I Drake Bulldogs.

Dominant is the word that best described her performances as a pitcher for the Eagles. After taking over the starting role from her older sister Danielle as a junior, Schmidt tied a state record with three consecutive shutouts in three state tournament wins and had 49 strikeouts. Then as a senior she was 3-0 with a 0.37 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 19 innings.

In her first year with Drake, Schmidt compiled a 9-8 record with a 2.88 ERA in 145.2 innings pitched and struck out 154 batters.

Schmidt said the jump from small school high school ball to Div. I softball was "definitely a learning process."

"Every conference game I was finding out what each team was all about and what each hitter was like," she said. "It's not like the Big 10, but they're definitely good hitters. I was really impressed with hitting and the offensive side. I wouldn't say any pitcher overpowered us, though. But, with hitting, everyone can hit. Even the nine hitters. It was very much a challenge getting through the lineup."

Used mostly in the second-half of games -- in relief of sophomore starter Jordan Gronewold -- Schmidt recorded 10 saves in 2012, which led the Missouri Valley Conference and ranked second in the entire country.

Drake head coach Rich Calvert, now in his ninth season, said Schmidt and Gronewold have almost polar opposite styles and he used both pitchers in succession to force opposing batters to adjust during games. Schmidt throws a lot of off-speed pitches and spins the ball, while Gronewold is more of a power pitcher.

"When you put together a pitching staff you try to have pitchers that complement each other," Calvert said. "What we were able to do this year was have two pitchers that were very different in their styles. When we used Rebekah when we did it was a major adjustment for anybody hitting against her. It was nice to combine those two."

Calvert said it's good to know he has two more years with both pitchers together.

"While each of them will hopefully continue to get better, it's nice that they'll continue to be able to complement each other," he said. "You win and lose as a staff and win and lose as a team. What's nice with both of them is that they both enjoyed their roles and helped each other out for the betterment of the team."

Schmidt said she liked coming out of the bullpen.

"I thought it worked for the most part," she said. "It gave the other team a different look and kept them on their toes. It was definitely a different role, coming in relief, but I really enjoyed it. I liked coming in those late innings, because a lot of the time they were the most important innings and there was a lot of pressure. It was fun."

Schmidt ranked tied for second in appearances in the MVC, first in games finished, third in opponent batting average (.209), seventh in strikeouts and ninth in ERA. She and Gronewold were the only Bulldogs to pitch in 2012. As a hitter, Schmidt hit .244 with two homeruns and seven RBI in 41 at-bats.

"She has great ball movement on her pitches," Calvert said. "Where she needs to develop a little bit more is the mental game. That's a process and she got better at it as the year went on. There's a huge upside for her down the road. We're looking forward at what she has yet to bring. As far as the first season goes, I was very pleased with what she was able to do. She did some nice things for us."

Calvert said Schmidt met his expectations of her in year No. 1.

"I thought she got about as far as she could in her first year," he said. "You really never know what you're going to get from a player until you're actually able to work with them and see how much desire they have, how much heart they have, what their work ethic is and how they pick up things. I thought Rebekah progressed very nicely for the first year. There's a huge upside. She has some intangibles that, as a coach, you can't teach."

Drake went 29-28 this season. The year came to an end last Friday as the Bulldogs dropped its semifinal game to Illinois State (34-21), 3-0, in the 2012 State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Softball Tournament.

"We were a very young team," Schmidt said. "We lost four seniors from last year. It was a rebuilding process. The beginning was a little rough, because we were trying to figure out where everybody fit in. But, as the season went on we definitely got a lot better and made a really good run at the end of the season. It definitely gave me a vision. Anyone can beat anyone. It's definitely a goal to win the conference at least once."

At New Life Academy Schmidt earned 14 varsity letters, and was one of the greatest athletes in school history. In addition to her softball exploits, she owns four letters for volleyball, where she was twice All-Conference and five letters in basketball, where she was a two-time All-State honorable mention and All-Conference performer, going over 1,000 career points as a junior. Off the field Schmidt, who won the New Life Academy's Athena Award, was a St. Paul Lion's Club finalist, and was on National Honor Society and the Dean's List at NLA, is business marketing major at Drake.

"I really like Drake. It's a great school," Schmidt said. "I'm learning a lot. It was a good year. But, this summer I definitely have a lot to work on -- pitching, getting stronger and in better condition to be ready for the fall."

Now that the first year of school is over, Schmidt said she's looking forward to cheering on her former team, New Life Academy. She was on the sideline at the Eagles' playoff game Friday, May 18, as they earned a 5-0 win over Mounds Park Academy to be among the final four remaining teams in Section 4A.

"It was definitely weird going to the field and just watching as a fan," Schmidt said. "But, I was impressed how well they are doing with how young they are. People are stepping up and filling roles. I'm really proud of them."