Kara Erdmann wanted to go to state in softball this year.
But she also wanted to go through Pearl City to get there after giving up two runs in the final inning of a 3-2 regional finals loss as a junior, despite striking out 15.
“She went into her senior year with a little chip on her shoulder, saying ‘We need to get back to facing Pearl City.’ She wanted to prove,” Forreston coach Kim Snider said, “that our team could get the job done.”
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This time she was locked in an even better pitcher’s duel with Pearl City star Cheyenne Handsaker, but outlasted her 2-1 in 12 innings in a battle of first-team all-staters in the sectional semifinals. That was the first of three straight one-run victories as Forreston went on to finish third in the state in Class 1A for its first-ever state softball trophy.
“She definitely had a smile on her fact after that one,” Snider said, “Kara loves big games. You’ve got to beat the best to be the best. She knows that. Any time we needed a spark on the mound, the girls all looked to Kara for confidence.”
Kara Erdmann was the best in northwest Illinois in 2021-22. She is the Rockford Register Star’s choice for female athlete of the year over fellow finalists Tessa Janecke of Orangeville and Renee Rittmeyer of Winnebago.
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Janecke was an all-state softball player who led Orangeville to a third-place finish in state as a junior and was one of the key players on the Team USA 18-U women’s hockey team that finished second in the world. Rittmeyer led Winnebago in assists, was second in rebounds and third in scoring for a girls basketball team that finished third in the state. She also ran on Winnebago’s state runner-up cross country team and ran on ‘Bago’s thir-place 1,600 relay team and took seventh in the 300 hurdles at state.
Erdmann was up for any challenge at Forreston. Including finding a new college home at the last minute.
Erdmann was a rare Big Ten recruit out of the small-school NUIC, having signed to play for Michigan State as a Libero in volleyball. But when Michigan State changed coaches this winter, Erdmann decided she needed to sell herself to a new program. She quickly — very quickly — signed on with UW-Milwaukee.
“I had the mindset: ‘If you want to play Division I volleyball, you have to get on this right away,” Erdmann said. “It took them longer than I thought to get a new head coach. Once I found out about the new coaching staff, I learned they are all great people but it wasn’t the best fit for me any more.
“It was already March and most everyone already has all of their recruits, but it worked out. I have a teammate on my club team from UW-Milwaukee who told me they were looking for a Libero. I reached out to their coaches and they reached back. After I decided to switch, I received a call within minutes and it was done that day.
“It’s tough to go out of the Big Ten, but I am very excited for this new change.”
Erdmann comes from a volleyball family. Her sister, Katie, started out at Southern Mississippi and now has two years left at Division II Florida Tech. But Katie is a 5-10 1/2 outside hitter. Kara is 5-5, which makes her one of the shorter elite volleyball prospects to come out of Rockford.
“My sister and brother (ninth grader Kendall) got the tall gene, but I did not,” Erdmann said.
Still, she knows how to put a ball away. Forreston volleyball coach Shannon Williams even put Erdmann on the front line for a while this year.
“I was looking for someone consistent who can put the ball away.” Williams said. “In practice, she would go up against the middles and block them and frustrate them.”
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But in the end, Williams decided Erdmann was more valuable at Libero, where she specialized in frustrating other team’s biggest hitters and setting up Forreston’s front line.
“It is great to make a huge dig off someone who thought they put the ball away and frustrate them time and time again,” Williams said. “She just has that mental toughness that is hard to find. The softball team wanted the ball in her hands. The same thing in volleyball. We wanted them to serve at her. We wanted her to touch the ball every time. When it did, good things happened. She kept us alive in a ton of games.”
“I love to dig out the balls by amazing kills by other people,” Erdmann said. “That’s my favorite part, to play good defense and set up our attack to get a kill.”
Erdmann said she felt some pressure to give up softball her senior year with a Division I volleyball scholarship in hand. But she stayed with the team — and got to end her Forreston career on the mound at state after the Cardinals advanced with three consecutive walk-off wins.
“It was an amazing way to finish out a career,” Erdmann said. “The walk-off hits. The walk-off home runs. Miracles kept happening. But after the first one, they weren’t miracles any more. I could depend on one teammate after another to get the job done.”
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And they could always depend on her. Whether it was digging the ball out and passing it around in volleyball. Or hitting a team-high .535 in softball or making sure the opposing team couldn’t get a hit, either as a pitcher or as a part-time center fielder.
“I love playing centerfield and making a diving catch or throwing someone out,” Erdmann said. “It’s a great rush. Pitching is also great because you can control the tempo of the game. I like the action. Wherever there is action, that’s where you will see me.”
Matt Trowbridge is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @MattTrowbridge. Sign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com. Matt has covered sports for the Register Star for more than 30 years after previously working for papers in North Dakota, Delaware, Vermont and Iowa City. He grew up on a farm in northwest Minnesota with six brothers and a sister. His four daughters all graduated from Rockford Public Schools.
Female athlete of the year
1975 — Debbie Patterson, West
1976 — Glenda Kemp, West
1977 — Deb Scott, Freeport
1978 — Pat Reck, East
1979 — Pat Reck, East
1980 — Sheryl Clark, Harlem
1981 — Jenny Spangler, Guilford
1982 — Shawna Mitchell, Harlem
1983 — Shari Wolfram, Harlem
1984 — Terry Roemer, Freeport
1985 — Michelle Johnson, Belvidere
1986 — Becky Balisteriere, East
1987 — Michelle Coole, Boylan
1988 — Tonya Bogdonas, Guilford
1989 — Kori Schauer, Belvidere
1990 — Heather Nelson, Belvidere
1991 — Heather Nelson, Belvidere and Donna Cargill, East
1992 — Donna Cargill, East
1993 — Lisa Coole, Guilford
1994 — Suzanne Putnam, Boylan
1995— Jennifer Crouse, Freeport
1996 — Andrea Raleigh, Belvidere
1997 — Amanda Levens, Belvidere
1998 — Julie Sorrentino, Harlem
1999 — Emily Pisula, Freeport
2000 — Aminata Yanni, Harlem
2001 — Tara Hurless, Boylan
2003 — Brittani Christensen, Belvidere
2002 — Rachel Cooper, Hononegah
2003 — Brittani Christensen, Belvidere
2004 — Erin Seago, Guilford
2005 — Deidre DeWall, Freeport
2006 — Sophia Ponce, Hononegah
2007 — Elle Ohlander, Hononegah
2008 Courtney Shelton, Hononegah
2009 — Kelsey Hoefer, Freeport
2010 — Jenna Combs, Harlem
2011 — Brea Edwards, Hononegah
2012 — Courtney Clayton, Hononegah
2013 — Courtney Clayton, Hononegah
2014 — Bryanna Weiskircher, Boylan
2015 — Jenna Lutzow, Belvidere North
2016 — McKaela Schmelzer, Harlem
2017 — Courtney Sockwell, Rockford Lutheran
2018 — Emily Offenheiser, Stockton
2019 — Jordan King, Hononegah
2020 — Belen Nevenhoven, Auburn
2021 — Belen Nevenhoven, Auburn
2022 — Kara Edrmann, Forreston
This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Kara Erdmann of Forreston high is Rockford female athlete of the year
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