MNU's Top Scholar Athletes Make the Grade

By Carol (Knight '81, MA '08) Best

Kassidy Ritchel

baseball

English language arts major Kassidy Ritchel is MNU’s top academic competitor. Achieving high marks in the classroom and contributing points on the basketball court, the senior center carries a 3.99 GPA.

Always an achiever, Ritchel was ranked second academically in the class of 2010 at Truman High School in Independence, Mo. In competitive basketball since fifth grade, she played both basketball and volleyball for Truman.

“I think my academics parallel my athletics,” Ritchel says. “I’m competitive on the court and in my studies. If I’m not giving my all, I feel uneasy.”

Ritchel wasn’t even considering MNU when she met Pioneer women’s basketball head coach Jon Lewis through The Eclipse, an area basketball league he also coaches. Lewis finally convinced her to visit the campus and everything changed.

“It was the feeling on campus,” Ritchel remembers. “Something tugged at me.”

Her second day in British literature as a freshman, Ritchel wondered if she could handle the coursework. After admitting this to her professor, she got reassurance and the offer of help whenever needed.

Speaking about the genuine nature of the MNU community, Ritchel remembers thinking, “This can’t be how people and professors really are.” But she found they were.

“They look after you as an individual,” Ritchel says. “They look at each person. Even your peers are genuine. I feel like we’re all in it together.”

Ritchel says multiple field experiences, or practica, in her major make her feel ready for classroom teaching. Serving at Ozanam—a multi-service treatment center for adolescents—at Olathe East High School and at Spring Hill Middle School gave her a diversity of experiences that should help her succeed in student teaching.

“I feel really prepared,” she says. “I had to get out of my comfort zone and adjust to different teaching situations and types of students.”

Ritchel is gearing up to play basketball and fulfill her student teaching assignment in the spring. It wouldn’t be possible, she says, without the strong cooperation between athletics, the School of Education and the school district.

Strong academics, a genuine community and career preparation make Ritchel glad she chose MNU.

  • Hometown: Independence, Mo.
  • Height: 6-feet-2-inches
  • Sport: basketball
  • Position: center
  • Lesson learned at MNU: “Last year I got less play on the court than ever before. It took a lot of conversations with teammates and coaches to get through it. But I’m glad for the highs and lows. It molded my character. Basketball has more to offer than the game.” Coach Jon Lewis: “Kassidy is an invaluable member to our Pioneer family. She is not only a leader on the court, but also within the MNU community. Kassidy takes on enormous challenges in her athletic and academic endeavors and conquers these challenges with energy, precision and class. She truly defines what it means to be a Pioneer.“

Linjun Ji

baseball

Watching Linjun Ji on the volleyball court, it’s easy to see why she played on China's national team. The 6-foot Shanghai native is strong, focused and her serve lands where she intends. So how did MNU score a nationally recognized Chinese volleyball star? Connections.

During a trip to the U.S. with her Chinese team, Ji met coaches from California Baptist University. Desperately wanting to attend college—opportunities are limited in China—Ji let them know she was open to coming to the U.S. But would the Chinese let her leave their team? After several months she was finally allowed to enroll at CBU for English as a second language. Through networking she met MNU coaches and after one semester transferred to MNU three years ago.

Studying in her second language has been a challenge, but Ji keeps her grades high. Her advisor Lynne Erikson and other professors are helpful.

“All the professors have been good,” she says. “When I don’t understand something I have learned to say, ‘I’m struggling.’”

Reaching out for assistance is unusual in Ji’s culture. In China few people admit to needing help, she says.

“Sometimes professors would ask if I needed help,” she says. “I was surprised because I found out they really meant it.”

Majoring in accounting, Ji already has a U.S. job she plans to continue after graduation, working in product development for a Shanghai company.

  • Hometown: Shanghai, China
  • Height: 6-feet
  • Sport: volleyball
  • Position: outside hitter
  • Best thing about MNU: “You’ll know the professors. You can have close relationships here.” Coach Kristin Steele: “Ji is irreplaceable. She began her volleyball training at a very young age and played with and against some of the world’s best athletes. She is an incredible example of discipline and hard work. All of her education was with personal tutors, squeezed in between training sessions, travel and competition. This way of learning has helped Ji, who knew very little English when she came to the US.”

Blake Robberson

Robberson

Teammates call the right-handed relief pitcher Blake Robberson “Robo.” The sophomore biology major was second on the Pioneers’ baseball staff last season, and his 2.68 ERA in 43.2 innings led MNU. He also excels in the classroom. Voted biology student of the year in his freshman year, Robberson’s goal is to be a veterinarian.

It wasn’t always that way, though. Robberson had difficulty reading as a child, and he characterizes his years in middle school as unmotivated. However, once he had a goal, he realized how important good grades were and began to excel.

“I started seeing how others studied and I took it in,” he says. “I was shocked last year when I learned I got biology student of the year. I was just doing my best. I’m very grateful for the scholarship.”

Like many others, Robberson says the best thing about MNU is the people.

“Coming here it’s like you are working together with your professors,” he says. “It’s you and them versus the material. No matter how hard the material is and how you are doing, they work for you.”

He also brags on MNU’s high-tech labs, saying the equipment helps him learn science more effectively.

  • Hometown: Edmond, Okla.
  • Height: 6-feet-1-inch
  • Sport: baseball
  • Position: relief pitcher/infielder
  • Greatest inspiration at MNU: “Coach Thompson is phenomenal. Some people idolize their sport, but Coach T loves God in everything he does. He’s a great role model.” Coach Ryan Thompson: “Blake always brings a positive attitude to practice and he is a great competitor. He strives to improve on a daily basis and he consistently models character on and off the field.”