OSCEOLA — Clarke senior Libby Bemis helped return the Lady Indian softball team to glory over the past couple of years, culminating in a Class 3A state championship in July — the second in school history.
In the process, she pitched just the 13th perfect game in state tournament history, etching her name in the record books.
And to top it all off, she was named the captain of the Class 3A All-Tournament Team at the state tournament.
Those accomplishments, combined with her record-breaking success on the basketball and tennis courts, earned Bemis the title of 2014 South Central Iowa Female Athlete of the Year, as presented by the Creston News Advertiser and the Osceola Sentinel-Tribune.
“It’s a great feeling to be recognized not only for the sports people think about, but all of them,” Bemis said. “And to just be recognized around, not just in Osceola, but in other places, as well.”
It was on the softball field where Bemis made the biggest name for herself, and also where she will continue her athletic career at the collegiate level.
The 2013 Class 3A Pitcher of the Year followed that campaign with an even better season in 2014.
“She’s just a competitor,” Clarke head softball coach Lindsay Diehl said. “She’s very intelligent. She has a high IQ as an athlete. You can have a kid that’s athletic, but might not have a strategy. She is extremely intelligent. I think that’s what separates her from the crowd is her IQ as an athlete.”
It’s that competitive spirit and intelligence that will translate well to the collegiate level, where Bemis will pitch for Division II Minnesota State University.
Diehl, a former college coach herself, said Bemis’ work ethic will also carry her a long way at the collegiate level.
“I think with her work ethic that she has and her desire, she’ll be a top performer as an athlete,” Diehl said. “She’s proven that in everything she’s been a part of. I’m really excited for her to go to that level.”
Bemis began pitching as an 8-year-old thanks to her grandfather and hasn’t stopped since.
“We went and watched some of the T-ball games and when girls could actually pitch,” Bemis said. “He knew with my ability and my big hands, he always says, that I would always be a ballplayer. He called Kelly (Schade) Fry and I was her very first student when I was 8. That’s how it all started.”
Fry, who won a state championship as Clarke’s pitcher in 1995, began giving Bemis pitching lessons. Ten years later, those initial pitching lessons paid off as Bemis completed the circle and won a state championship of her own.
Bemis said taking lessons from Fry was not only an important part of her success, but also provided her with a role model.
“She has all the records at our high school. No one can beat those!” Bemis said. “It was great going in knowing that she won the state championship in 1995 and her knowing that was one of my goals. She helped me get better in everything. With me being her first student, we had a connection.”
Now, it’s Bemis who young girls in Osceola will be looking up to.
“I just went on vacation with my family and my niece stayed over at the place I was at,” Diehl said. “We were laying in bed talking about her playing softball. After the past couple of seasons, she wants to play softball now. We were talking about what number she wants to be and she said 8, because she wants to be the next Libby Bemis. I don’t think Kelly Fry is going to have any trouble filling her schedule with pitching lessons.”
It’s a role Bemis, who one day hopes to be a first grade teacher, embraces.
“I had a couple of girls come up to me at the state tournament and they told me they wanted to be just like me,” she said. “I just mentor a lot of little girls. I know they look up to all of us and I want them to know what you have to do to get up to our level.”
Thought she did not break Fry’s pitching records at Clarke, Bemis did break records in her other sports.
Bemis put up all-state caliber numbers in basketball as a senior, averaging 16.0 points per game and pulling down a school-record 8.2 rebounds per game.
“Not bad coming from our point guard,” Clarke head basketball coach Eric Zoske said. “Libby was our point guard, she was our forward and sometimes she was our center. She was a female Royce White. She kind of did everything for us. I was joking with her that the only thing she’ll be remembered for at Clarke was breaking the school’s rebounding record.”
Zoske points to Bemis’ mental strength as the reason for her success in all of her sports.
“She helped me stay calm, because she was never afraid of any moment,” he said. “She was never afraid to take the last shot. Every play I drew up was for either Libby to shoot it or for her to distribute the ball. Definitely her mental strength was a big positive for her.”
Zoske also praised her work ethic, noting the improvements she made in her game from the time she was a middle school athlete to her senior year.
“She’s a great story, because when she was younger, she had told me she was an average player, an average athlete,” Zoske said. “She grew up and blossomed into a girl that has to be one of the two best athletes in our entire conference. She’s a great story for younger girls that maybe athletics, right now maybe you love the sports but you’re behind talent wise, but just stick with it. What Libby did was kind of amazing.”
On the tennis court, Bemis broke Clarke’s school record for career wins, besting the mark of her former doubles partner Kylar McCann.
Bemis said she enjoyed playing tennis, a sport in which she said most people write off as an “easy” sport.
“Most people don’t expect tennis to be a big thing,” she said. “It’s cool playing a sport that people think isn’t a big deal and then people find out you play tennis and they’re like tennis isn’t that easy.”
Bemis was a part of four straight South Central Conference championship teams in tennis, one of which posted a perfect score at the conference tournament.
Combining conference team championships across her three sports, Bemis won a total of 10 South Central Conference team championships — four in tennis and three each in basketball and softball.
“It’s weird, because basketball it’s never happened in school history, a three-peat,” she said. “And then we never had a conference championship in softball and it was a three-peat. People remember that stuff, and hopefully they remember the teams that did it and the girls that helped take them to the three-peat in both of them. It’s unbelievable it’s going to go down in school history.
“Tennis, you can win a conference championship by yourself, but as a team, you have to all win and put points together,” she continued. “Us working our way and having four is great. Being a part of that is great.”
Bemis, the daughter of David and Tracy Bemis, excelled in more than just athletics during her time at Clarke.
She also finished her high school career with a GPA of better than 4.0. Bemis also participated in band and in color guard, as well as being involved in National Honor Society and volunteering her time to different organizations. She also worked at a daycare in Osceola.
“She was active in a lot of things,” Diehl said. “Being able to find the time to be in band, she did flags, being a part of some other organizations — she wanted to be a part of those. Nobody was forcing her to be a part of those. When you want something bad enough, it doesn’t seem like work. I think that’s kind of the approach she had. There wasn’t going to be anything to get in her way to be active in all sorts of things.”
Zoske said being a well-rounded individual is part of what made Bemis a joy to work with.
“I loved having girls like her on my basketball team, because they’re such good kids and they’re also outstanding students,” Zoske said. “She’s top five academically in her class. She’s such an easy kid to coach. She also gets really good grades. She was a joy to have. Wish I had her for more years, but definitely going to cherish those two years I had with Libby Bemis.”