As a leader and captain, Schmidt is a natural

When the Minnesota volleyball team plays its first home match of the season this weekend, fans will no doubt notice senior middle blocker Kelly Schmidt. They will see her start each game, and will undoubtedly be drawn to her calm demeanor and contagious smile. But her presence will be felt far beyond the fansâÄô appreciation. The Gophers will look to the first-year starter for the form of leadership that is playing a huge role in returning Minnesota to a possible contender following a disastrous year. âÄúAfter last year, we were in search of leadership,âÄù coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúAnd when it came right down to it, Kelly was right in front of us, and the obvious choice to be our captain.âÄù Of the players returning for Minnesota this year, the senior played in the least games last season by far, at 38 âÄî 29 less than the next lowest total, with the rest of the team recording at least 100 games. But maybe thatâÄôs not the only way to gain experience, as Schmidt has logged more than three years of practice playing opposite some of the best middle blockers to come through the program in Jessy Jones and Meredith Nelson. Maybe itâÄôs the hard-nosed work ethic she kept for those three years, pressing forward despite seeing essentially no gains in terms of playing time âÄî something that would frustrate most. âÄúI knew it was going to be more of a developmental position, coming in behind Meredith and Jessy, who have both obviously impacted this program,âÄù Schmidt said. âÄúI knew I was going to be learning from them, and then I also learned a lot from not playing. After practicing hard all week and not playing on the weekends, itâÄôs made me really appreciate an opportunity when you are in.âÄù Or maybe the qualifications stem from somewhere else. Maybe leadership is genetic. SchmidtâÄôs father, Rick Schmidt, played basketball for Illinois in the âÄô70s, and was an offensive leader on the court, currently ranking 37th on the IlliniâÄôs all-time scoring list. Or maybe it comes from the fact that she factored into regrouping last yearâÄôs largely separated team. In 2007, the Gophers struggled to fit together, leaving the freshmen feeling, as Hebert called it, abandoned. âÄúI think there was some resentment over that,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúTwo things have happened to correct that: This yearâÄôs sophomores have worked hard to make the new people feel welcome, but Kelly has really been the overseer of that entire project.âÄù If that isnâÄôt enough, then maybe sheâÄôs qualified to lead due to her willingness to let people know when something isnâÄôt being done the way it should be. âÄúIâÄôm pretty honest,âÄù she said. âÄúIâÄôm not going to beat around the bush; IâÄôm going to tell you what I think you need to work on, and IâÄôm not afraid to hold people accountable.âÄù But at the same time, Schmidt stays approachable. âÄúI can always ask her, âÄòWhat am I doing wrong?âÄô and she can tell me, âÄòOh, try this,âÄô âÄù Lauren Gibbemeyer said. âÄúSheâÄôs definitely a big help at my position.âÄù There are a lot of maybes involved, but one thing, Hebert said and Gibbemeyer agreed, is a sure thing. Kelly Schmidt is a leader. âÄúIt isnâÄôt just about paying your dues, or one other thing,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúYou have to have some innate qualities. Kelly has always been a level-headed person. SheâÄôs not prone to drama, and sheâÄôs a great diplomat. âÄúCouple all the things she brings to the table with the experience sheâÄôs been through, and presto,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúOut comes a very gifted leader.âÄù