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Hengstler-Ranweiler Awards: Kendra Schmidgall

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Ken Grunig has watched Kendra Schmidgall ply her considerable athletic skills on dusty ball diamonds and under the fluorescent lights of gymnasiums for years, four of them from the dugout as varsity coach of the Benson/Hancock Brave Owls softball team.

But his most lasting image of the Hancock senior might be the day she showed up at his doorstep, as a tall, lanky fifth-grader, looking not for instructions on how to improve her post moves or batting stroke, but for lessons on how to become a flute player.

And just eight years later, she's got all of that down, as well as a pretty good sense of where to spike a volleyball.

Schmidgall is one of the West Central Tribune's 2012 Hengstler-Ranweiler Awards winners, joining Lac qui Parle Valley all-star Sam Haas.

In addition to her athletic achievements, Schmidgall also was named Section 6A's Triple A Award winner, which recognizes a student-athlete's accomplishments in academics, athletics and the arts.

Grunig said Schmidgall epitomizes the best in all three areas.

"She's a flute player," Grunig said, "and she's played solos in contests every year and received superior ratings, which is the highest you can get. She can play Mozart on the flute like she can play ball."

And she can really play ball.

"I just like working hard," said Schmidgall. "We have a basket at my house and I always liked to be out there shooting hoops. I like the teamwork of playing sports."

In her two best sports, volleyball and basketball, there are few area athletes over the years who can match Schmidgall's body of work.

Schmidgall is one of only six area players who have amassed more than 1,000 kills in volleyball and 1,000 points in basketball. Two of those players also were Hengstler-Ranweiler Award winners (MACCRAY's Kristina Ervin in 1993 and New London-Spicer's Susan Semmler in 1994).

Schmidgall won five letters in both sports, and she ended her prep career with 1,502 points in basketball and 1,710 kills in volleyball. She also finished with 1,030 digs in volleyball. She was named to all-state and academic all-state teams in both sports.

In softball, Schmidgall started three seasons, earned three letters and wrapped up her career this spring hitting .405. In her career, she hit .386 with 49 runs batted in.

But her sparkling stats tell only part of her athletic story. Sportsmanship was always her primary virtue, Grunig said.

"She's the kind of kid that, win or lose, she would be the first one to go over and shake the other team's hand to congratulate them," Grunig said. "During the games, there was no (trash) talk, no language with the opponents. She a class player."

Schmidgall started with basketball -- she gravitated to volleyball and softball at an older age -- when she was in kindergarten. By third grade she was playing on Hancock's fifth-grade traveling team.

"We didn't have that many people," she said with a laugh.

By eighth grade she was on the varsity team. She served as a team manager during the Owls' run in the 2006 state tournament, holding up color cards to call out plays. She even got some TV time. But that was about all the time she would spend on the varsity bench from then on.

"She was always an excellent shooter, even when she was young," said former Owls coach Jodi Holleman, who coached Schmidgall since those youth years. "Even at 6-foot-1, she always would much rather play on the perimeter and she was a nice weapon to have because they'd have to follow her out there and play her in the post, too."

As good as she had become, Schmidgall always came into the next season with a new aspect to her game. In the Owls' state tournament games in 2011, Schmidgall was called on to dribble the ball upcourt.

"She was my second-best dribbler," Holleman said. "Teams didn't know what to do with a 6-1 player bringing the ball up. They didn't know how to defend her."

And while Schmidgall wasn't a demonstrative player, there was never any doubt who ran the team on the court, Holleman said.

"She was the kind of player, if the game was on the line, she was going to take over if the game was close," Holleman said. "If the game was not close, she was the one who made sure everyone got involved and got their chance."

A "quiet leader" is how Holleman described her star player. Grunig called Schmidgall a "once in a lifetime athlete."

Schmidgall would blush to hear those kinds of compliments.

"(Awards and honors) are great but they're more about my teammates helping me because I couldn't do it myself," she said. "I guess I put in the work and got the results."

College programs inquired about Schmidgall's post-secondary plans, but athletics didn't factor into her choice to enroll at Lake Area Tech, in Watertown, S.D., to pursue a career in physical therapy. The school doesn't field athletic teams. Despite her stellar prep career, Schmidgall is OK with it ending there.

"I know I'll miss it," she said. "But this (physical therapy assistant) is something I really want to do. When the seasons start I know I'll be thinking I should be playing, but it would be hard to focus on school and manage my time if I was playing sports. I decided that if I made a plan I should stick with it."

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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