A rare pair
As one chapter nears a close, a new one is just beginning.
After being teammates since the sixth grade, New Life Academy senior superstars Rebekah Schmidt and Cara Lutes are enjoying their final season together on the basketball court.
"I just want to make the most of it," Lutes said. "We have a really great team right now and we're having a lot of fun. We've come a long way and we are improving so much. I just want to capitalize on that and finish as strong as we can."
The two friends won't be apart for long, though, as they will both attend Drake University in Iowa next fall. However, at the Div. I Drake, Lutes will play basketball and Schmidt will play softball.
"It's just sad, because I've been playing with Cara forever," Schmidt said. "It's been a long time. I really like basketball, but I just can't play in college. I just want to enjoy it while I can. I just wish we could go to state for basketball one more time. I don't want to look ahead to softball. I know it's going to come soon enough. I just want to finish out this season the best that I can."
Lutes and Schmidt first played basketball together on the Woodbury sixth-grade traveling team. The two girls then each joined the New Life Academy varsity team as eighth graders.
Their careers have included a Class A third-place finish at state in 2008 and Section 4A titles in 2008 and 2009. Schmidt has also helped lead the New Life softball team to three-straight Class A state championships.
New Life Academy head football and girls basketball coach Paul Mork said Schmidt and Lutes epitomize the student-athlete.
"In my 52 years of career coaching and teaching, Cara Lutes and Rebekah Schmidt stand out among the very best student-citizen-athletes I've ever had the privilege to coach," Mork said. "Both have had targets on their backs for the past two years, regardless of the sports and yet have performed admirably throughout. They are ultimate competitors. They perpetually have been a credit to New Life, their families, their teammates and their coaches."
A long list of accomplishments
Lutes and Schmidt were All-Conference performers on the hardwood last season and Lutes also earned an All-State honorable mention award last year.
Additionally, Lutes surpassed former teammate Jenny Ramey as the New Life Academy girls basketball team's all-time leading scorer last year. Lutes broke Ramey's record of 1,518 points -- a record she set in 2008. In that game, Schmidt also scored her 1,000th career point, allowing the two girls to celebrate their milestones together.
On the softball field, Schmidt has somehow managed to even overshadow her achievements on the basketball court.
As a pitcher for the Eagles softball team, Schmidt has earned All-State honors the past two years and almost single-handedly helped NLA win the Class A state title last year by tying a state tournament record with three consecutive shutouts.
Schmidt brought a 0.60 earned run average into the state tournament, but managed to shrink that number by the end of state.
"What I like about both of them most is their competitiveness," Mork said. "They bust their fannies to compete and that just rubs off on everybody, if your two leaders are that combative."
Although Lutes had made a verbal commitment to Drake a year earlier, Lutes and Schmidt signed their National Letters of Intent to attend Drake together this past fall.
"Since fifth grade I've wanted to go Div. I," Lutes said. "Playing AAU in the summer and getting showcased there created a lot of opportunities for me, too. I'm so excited I'm going to Drake."
Schmidt said the fact her friend was attending Drake made the school a more enticing destination.
"People always tell me that even if I didn't play sports, I'd still want to go to that school," Schmidt said. "Your going to school for your four-year degree, so that was very important. But, Cara is how I got interested in the school. Then, I went to their softball clinic and they came to watch me this last summer at a couple of different tournaments and they made an offer to me in the middle of the summer."
Mork said the players' accomplishments had little to do with the fact they attend a small, Class A school.
"Drake University didn't make any mistakes," Mork said. "They know that these people are extremely athletic and that they're very good people. I spent a lot of my life coaching in White Bear, which is a large school. These people are going to play wherever they are at."
New Life Academy has an enrollment of 207 in ninth grade through 12th grade. But, the private school also houses elementary and middle school students -- something that, according to Mork, makes Lutes and Schmidt even bigger superstars.
"In the cafeteria or in the halls, you see the little girls and boys say hi to them and want to high-five them," Mork said. "If you're a little shaver, how can you do better? These people are scholars, they do service projects, they are leaders on their teams -- both with their playing ability and the way they portray themselves to their teammates and to the other teams."
Both the girls said they like the small-school atmosphere.
"Having the elementary kids here is so fun, just waving to them in the hallways," Lutes said. "It's cool that we can have that relationship with them.
"I know people ask why I go to New Life when I could go to Tartan or Woodbury or something, but I am so thankful about the people I got to share this with. I have such good friends and the coaches and teachers are such great examples."
Schmidt said she "really likes the school, besides just the sports,"
"We're like one big family and everyone knows each other," she said. "Sometimes that's not the best thing all the time, because everybody knows everything, but I love that and I am going to miss that."
One last trip to state?
Schmidt and Lutes are currently 1-2 in scoring in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association. Schmidt, a 5-11 guard, is averaging 19.1 points and Lutes, 6-1 forward, has a 15.5 points per game scoring average.
With Lutes able to dominate in the post, Schmidt spends more time outside where she can shoot or drive. However, each player has an all-around game. At times, Lutes will bring the ball up the court as a point guard and Schmidt can rebound and mix it up inside, as well.
"Both of them have had to play outside and inside for us this particular year, because the nature of our team," Mork said. "They've totally accepted that and taken on new responsibilities."
New Life Academy is currently 11-6 overall and 4-1 in the MCAA.
On the top of both Lutes and Schmidt's favorite memories on the hardwood came this season when the Eagles handed then-undefeated and No. 4-ranked Class AA St. Croix Lutheran its first loss of the 2010-11 season with a 70-67 win back on Friday, Jan. 7, in Woodbury. Not surprisingly, Schmidt and Lutes led the way for the Eagles in the win. Schmidt had a team-high 27 points and Lutes had 23 points.
"We beat them without one of our starters, Mikayla Diers, they were undefeated and a great AA team and we stopped them," Lutes said. "We really played our game and our tempo."
Both Lutes and Schmidt said they want little more than to play in the state tournament together again -- one last time. To get to the state tournament, MCAA foes Maranatha Christian and West Lutheran are expected to be the teams the Eagles will need to beat out of Section 4A.
"If we can get first in the section tournament and get to state that is our goal right now -- and it's attainable," Lutes said. "That's the exciting thing."