She was one of the greatest players the Anamosa softball program has ever produced as a multiple All-State standout not only leading the Raiders back to the state tournament last summer, but over Grace Lubben’s phenomenal five-year varsity high school career cemented Anamosa as one of the top teams in all of Iowa.
But could Lubben, who with her combination of speed and power made the former Raider a highly sought-after recruit, make the adjustment to the junior college level with the powerful Kirkwood program this spring?
I think the Eagle freshman has more than answered that question making a quick transition to the collegiate level and helping Kirkwood remain as one of the top junior college programs in the entire country.
“Honestly, I’m a little surprised by how quickly my success has come in college,” said Lubben, who coming into the Eagles’ pair of double-headers hosting Iowa Central this past weekend, was not only leading all Kirkwood hitters with her .438 batting average, but her .551 on-base and .830 slugging percentages along with her 14 doubles were also team-best numbers.
“I changed my swing a little bit from what it was in high school and while it wasn’t a big change, I think it has helped me with the kind of pitchers we face at this level. It also helped that my teammates have been so great and made the transition that much easier for all of us freshmen. It’s been great being a part of this team. We’re all so close and realty support each other. It makes coming to practice and games that much more enjoyable. Kirkwood has been everything I hoped it would be.”
At the start of the season however, Lubben wasn’t sure exactly what her role with the team would be. But after an injury to her roommate (Neveah Hildebrandt, sister of Midland boys track coach Ben Hildebrandt) Lubben got her shot.
“It’s not exactly the ideal way you want to get your chance to play by having a friend and roommate go down with an injury, but I got the chance to show what I could do and I was able to take advantage of it,” said Lubben, who didn’t see too much playing time early in the spring, but once on the field she made sure to make it tough on her Kirkwood coaches to take her hot bat out of the line-up.
She’s been the Eagles’ hottest hitter since entering the line-up in early March, and has just continued to hit. And hit. And hit.
Lubben has launched two grand slams this season, the second coming in an amazing 33-3 rout over North Iowa Area Community College Saturday, April 16, as the former Raider went 3-for-4 with seven runs batted in and scored five times in the five-inning contest that saw the Eagle offense come to the plate in a mere four times.
“I think we all felt that was going to be a great opportunity to hit against NIACC and everyone came ready to play,” Lubben said. “They were struggling finding pitchers and with the kind of offensive team we have here at Kirkwood, we knew this could be one of those game where everyone could post big numbers.”
In conference play, Lubben leads the team hitting at a sizzling .500 clip, and in the first game of the twin bill with Iowa Central Sunday, April 24, Lubben blasted a two-run home run keying a 9-2 Kirkwood victory.
“Offensively, I think I’ve exceeded all the expectations I had coming in as a freshman,” she said. “I didn’t have that much confidence coming in that I could make an impact with a program like Kirkwood. There are so many great players here and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to play right away, but I think I’ve found my role and things have worked out really well.”
Lubben, a centerfielder by trade back in high school, plays right field for the Eagles and is making the adjustment to her new spot in the outfield.
“Obviously the ball comes off the bat differently playing right field compared to center, and with us barely being able to practice outside this spring because of all the weather issues, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to get used to it, but honestly not too many balls have been hit my way this season.
“When we went down south to play, not a single fly ball came my way.”
With her massive success coming so quickly, could Lubben continue to play softball after her two-year stint with the Eagles?
“It’s a possibility, but it’s not anything I’m really thinking too seriously about right now,” she said. “Iowa State is where I’m most likely headed after Kirkwood, but if there are other options out there to play softball and still get my degree in my field of study, I’ll take a look at that then. If I get the opportunity to play softball at Iowa State, that would be great and would be my dream scenario. Right now though, I’m focused on what we’re doing here at Kirkwood, and it’s sure been a lot of fun.”
The Eagles sport a 32-14 overall record and 18-6 mark in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference, good enough for second in the D-II division.
As Lubben’s softball trajectory continues to soar, she knows she wouldn’t have been able to reach this elite level without the help of so many people during her brilliant career.
“Going back to Skeeter (King) my eighth grade year, there are so many who helped me become the player that I am today,” Lubben said. “I wanted so much to be like Sophie Wilt, Jessie Frasher and Ellie Tallman, they were teammates and role models for me early in high school. I learned so much from them. Maddie Hansen and Brad Holub were great coaches in high school and even Matt McQuillen was always there helping and pushing me to be better.
“I’ve got great coaches here at Kirkwood too, who are so easy to talk to and constantly helping me get better. It’s been a great ride to this point, hopefully it will only keep getting better. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication to the game to make that happen. I’m more than ready to do whatever it takes for this team to be successful.”