College Spotlight: UMD's Schmoll is a real steal

Hannah Schmoll's mother, Sheri, used to cringe watching her daughter run down to first base in Little League, trying to grow into her big feet and lanky limbs.

Bob King / Hannah Schmoll, a junior from Grand Rapids, is already Minnesota Duluth's all-time leader in stolen bases. She and the team practiced recently at the Ward Wells Fieldhouse on the UMD campus.
Bob King / Hannah Schmoll, a junior from Grand Rapids, is already Minnesota Duluth's all-time leader in stolen bases. She and the team practiced recently at the Ward Wells Fieldhouse on the UMD campus.

Hannah Schmoll's mother, Sheri, used to cringe watching her daughter run down to first base in Little League, trying to grow into her big feet and lanky limbs.

"Mom felt terrible, because I was painfully slow," Hannah Schmoll recalled recently.

It didn't last long.

Schmoll grew into her body, and the result has been the most accomplished base stealer in Minnesota Duluth softball history. The junior outfielder from Grand Rapids leads the fourth-seeded Bulldogs (34-18) against fifth-seeded St. Cloud State (31-21) in their NSIC tournament opener Thursday in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The Bulldogs want to win the conference tournament and earn the NSIC's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division II tournament but still could qualify with an at-large berth.


"Don't bank on it," Schmoll said. "It's always better to make it happen yourself."

Schmoll has 35 stolen bases this season after setting a single-season school record with 40 last spring. She has 102 career steals, topping the previous program mark of 92 set by Michaela Goris (2010-13).

"That was a goal of mine coming in," Schmoll said. "It's a huge honor, especially accomplishing it as a junior. I'm still not done. I want to set the bar as high as I can."

Schmoll played soccer, hockey and softball in high school, but being from Grand Rapids - no surprise here - her first love was hockey. She remains a big fan of both soccer and hockey.

Schmoll flew under the recruiting radar, which she attributes to being up north and playing hockey in the summer. She narrowed her choices to UMD and St. Scholastica, while current UMD coach Jen Walter was still there. Schmoll laughs and said she got the best of both worlds with Walter now at UMD, while Walter said it has been a thrill to coach her.

"You don't realize what kind of athlete she is until you get to work with her every day," Walter said. "She has that 'it' factor. It's not just about her physical skills. She has great hands, good hand-eye coordination and she's fast. But she has that extra something that allows her to compete at this level, where when she needs to make a play, she's able to do it."

Schmoll was an infielder in high school, playing mostly at third base, but the Bulldogs were set at that position when she arrived.

"I was fast, so they kind of just stuck me out there," Schmoll said of the outfield. "I love it out there."


With her speed, Schmoll could have been a good track athlete, but she never understood the concept of running just to run. With no 100-meter dash time to go by, she was asked what kind of speed she has.

"I've run 60 feet in under 3 seconds, so that's good enough for me," she said.

In fact, Schmoll has run under 2.9 seconds for 60 feet, the distance between the softball basepaths. But as fast as she is, her knack for avoiding tags might be more impressive. Walter, a former catcher, has called her a "magician" for having this quality.

"There are times where I think she got beat, and somehow she gets around a tag. That's an art," Walter said. "The way she approaches the bag is as important as her speed. She has done that better than anyone I've had. I've had some pretty good base stealers, but they are base stealers simply because of their speed. Hannah is like stealth."

Schmoll said her trick is to see what the fielder is going to do and simply do the opposite.

Most opponents are aware of her reputation on the basepaths but still can't stop her.

UMD set a record with 112 stolen bases last season in Walter's first year.

"Hannah essentially has the green light, but like I always tell all the runners. You can go anytime you want. You just better not get thrown out," Walter said, laughing. "Hannah is our leader. She is smart about it and does her homework. She knows what the catcher's numbers are going in."


Schmoll has been caught only 12 times in 114 stolen-base attempts. She is excellent in the field, with a .988 fielding percentage. She covers a lot of ground with her speed and makes highlight-reel catches, and has a good arm for throwing out baserunners. She hits leadoff and is batting .331 with a team-high 44 runs.

Is there anything she can't do?

"No, she pretty much does it all," Walter said. "She's a special kid."


College status: Minnesota Duluth junior

Age: 21

Hometown: Grand Rapids

Major: Psychology


GPA: 3.5

Sport: Softball

Family: Father, Tom; mother, Sheri; brothers Thomas, 15, and Noah, 14

Post-graduation plans: Undecided, but could take a year off or look into grad school


Professional athlete: Soccer player Tobin Heath

Professional team: Minnesota Wild

TV show: Anything with Shonda Rhimes - "How to Get Away with Murder", "Scandal" or "Grey's Anatomy"


Singer: Kenny Chesney

Movie: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (but liked the book more)


Why I chose UMD: I just loved the atmosphere; it's close to (Grand Rapids) but it's far enough away
Most memorable sports moment: Winning the 2012 Section 7AA girls hockey final in quadruple overtime over Elk River

Pregame ritual: I always have to be on the end when we're stretching, and I go last when we're taking pop flies

Pastimes: Fishing

Prized possession: GoPro

My first job: Personal care attendant when I was 16, which I'm still doing today


What most people don't know about me: I'm really fast on the field, but I'm really poky everywhere else. I'm a lollygagger.

Best athlete I've competed against: Minnesota-State Mankato pitcher Coley Ries

Sport I'd like to get better at: Golf

Best thing about college softball: Teammates and coaching staff; just getting to know people from all over the place

Influences on my athletic career: My dad (Tom); he's coached me pretty much all the way through. (Tom, a Nashwauk-Keewatin graduate, played college baseball at St. John's)

Advice to aspiring young athletes: Work hard every day and never take anything for granted because it's over way faster than you think

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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