May 14, 2015 12:00 pm • By Brent Wasenius / Fremont Tribune
FREMONT — Kayla Ritzdorf's college softball career came perilously close to just amounting to intramurals at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
A decision late in her senior year at Columbus High School, however, altered her path to Midland University. Midland coach Keith Kramme is grateful for that change of heart as the four-year starting shortstop finished her career as one of the most decorated players in program history.
"She is someone who just went about her business," Kramme said of the 2015 Great Plains Athletic Conference Player of the Year. "She never made excuses or missed practice. She was as consistent and steady as any kid we've ever had here."
Ritzdorf finished second on the Midland all-time hits chart with 223. She is also third in school history in batting average (.350) and stolen bases (54). She is tied for third in doubles with 37 and fourth in runs scored with 139.
Although she earned All-GPAC honors as a junior (first team) and sophomore (second team), Ritzdorf wasn't aware of her chart-climbing status until Midland Sports Information Director Dave Albrecht tweeted something during the season.
"All of it means a lot because I put my heart and soul into softball and worked really hard," she said. "But whether my name was in the record books or not, I had a great experience here. I've made a lot of great friendships and Kramme was a very good coach to play for. Being in the record books was just icing on the cake."
Ritzdorf's career at Midland almost didn't happen. Four years ago she was considering going to UNK and not participating in softball.
"At first I didn't know if I wanted to continue playing," she said. "I was a little tired from high school ball and summer ball. I was just going to go to UNK, but my (twin) sister (Lindsey) had talked to Kramme and wanted to play here. I decided my passion is with softball and I really enjoy it. I thought it would be fun to play with my sister again so we both decided to come here."
Ritzdorf became the starter at shortstop right away, although she wasn't expecting it.
"I came in with a good attitude, but I knew this was a higher level," she said about her freshman season. "I thought if I was a starter, then I was the starter. If not, I wanted to maybe run the bases or be the designated hitter or something like that. I didn't think I would be the starter, but I was hoping for it."
Like Jessie Smith, who started at shortstop from 2007-10, Kramme found a dependable fixture for his infield.
"She was pretty well schooled on the position technique-wise when she got here," he said. "She settled in to that spot pretty quickly. She played a bunch of summer and high school ball and she understands the game so well. I grew to appreciate that pretty quickly about her. There are kids that can do things instinctively and she definitely had that."
Ritzdorf hit .337 as a freshman, .338 as a sophomore and .333 as a junior. Part of a solid class that also included outfielders Jennie Sayker and Nicole Andrews, infielders Liz Spooner and Jami Redel and pitcher Samantha Hislop, Ritzdorf wanted to make her final season memorable.
The exercise science major knew what she needed to do during the offseason.
"I moved back home and decided that weightlifting was probably the thing I needed to do to get better," she said. "I did that through the summer and then came back here. Kramme kind of put me in a position to be a leader in the weightroom. He knew I wanted to get better and wanted my teammates to get better."
The additional strength paid off as the shortstop posted career bests for batting average (.387), slugging (.607), OBP (.475), hits (65), home runs (four), runs (45), RBI (36), total bases (102), walks (28) and stolen bases (23). She led the Lady Warriors in all but two of those categories.
After recording a combined 18 doubles in her first three seasons, Ritzdorf set a school record with 19 in her final year.
"She got stronger this year and hit more line drives," Kramme said. "She was also a tremendous base runner. She could stretch a single into a double. As a left-handed hitter, she would hit that opposite-field gap, but she could also pull the ball. She went with pitches as well as anybody."
The additional strength also helped keep Ritzdorf on the field. Although she was bothered by minor leg injuries her first three seasons, she played every inning of the Lady Warriors' 27-23 2015 season.
While many of her teammates were more vocal on the field, Kramme said Ritzdorf just quietly went about her preparations.
"Her work ethic, the way she approached the game and the way she played it were leadership qualities that were very important to this team," he said. "There is zero question in my mind that she earned the respect of her teammates. It takes all types of leaders within a program. She didn't need to be a vocal leader, her leadership skills came from the way she played the game. She had pretty good talents to back it up."
Ritzdorf, who also excelled in the classroom (3.7 GPA), graduates on Saturday. She has accepted a job to be a personal trainer for Prairie Life Fitness in Lincoln. Her coach doesn't have any doubt she will be a success in the next chapter of her life.
"That same work ethic from softball and the classroom will carry over to her personal training," Kramme said. "She'll expect the same kind of hard work out of her clients that she'd expect from herself."