As "Sweet Home Alabama" begins to play through the speakers, senior outfielder Rebecca Blitz steps up to the plate. Just like she has for most of the past four seasons, she’s the leadoff.
Blitz stands in the bottom-right corner of the batter’s box, her feet barely staying on the white chalk lines, just far enough back to give her a running start. The pitcher doesn’t know what she’s about to do — slap hit or lay down a bunt.
On the first pitch, she shows bunt but backs off as it’s a little too high. She gets back into her stance. This time, she sees something she likes, runs right up to the ball and slaps it right over the head of the third baseman.
Blitz’s speed, much like her name suggests, makes it an easy single, and the Hoosiers have their leadoff hitter on. But that’s how Blitz has been doing it for a while now. Whether you go back to her days growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, when she was playing high school softball in seventh grade or her role at IU since freshman year, no matter what she was doing, Blitz has always been on top.
One of the biggest honors athletes can receive is the opportunity to wear the USA across their chest. For Blitz, that dream became a reality in the summer of 2017 when she was asked by one of her former IU coaches to try out for team USA in Chicago for a spot to participate in the Maccabiah Games, the third-largest international athletic competition in the world.
Growing up as a Jewish athlete, her religion has always been important to her and her family. The decision to represent her country in a tournament dedicated to competing against the best Jewish athletes was an easy one for her.
“I didn’t really know everyone ahead of time, but once I met everyone, I felt the instant bond of being one of the few Jewish athletes that plays softball,” Blitz said.
Just like she’s always done, Blitz batted leadoff and played center field. She made an instant difference on the team as she went 3-4 with an in-the-park home run in a loss to Canada in pool play. But, heading into the elimination round, she got her chance at revenge.
After making their way to the gold medal game, the rematch with Canada was the only thing standing in the way of victory. Things went differently this time as team USA took a 6-1 lead when Blitz came up to bat for the final time. Despite primarily being used as a slap hitter, she decided to change things up this time around.
Blitz swung away on the ball to the right-center gap and made her way all the way to third base, driving in two runs as she capped off the 8-1 victory for team USA.
“I didn’t even realize how I got to third base, but that was the game,” Blitz said. “It was really cool and special to be a part of something that big.”
Capping off the summer with a gold medal was the perfect way to transition into her final season as a Hoosier.
But there was still a major question to answer heading into her senior season. After a 23-31 and 9-14 Big Ten finish in 2017, head coach Michelle Gardner stepped down from the program.
It was a move that left Blitz and the seniors wondering who would lead their team in the final season of their career. But, Blitz used that opportunity to the best of her advantage. She was asked by Senior Associate Athletic Director Scott Joraanstad if she wanted to be a part of the hiring committee. Blitz didn’t hesitate and served on the board that was responsible for interviewing and hiring her next head coach.
“My goal since I’ve been here at IU has been to make a difference in the program,” she said. "Finding a new coach and being a part of the committee means I can make an impact well beyond my four years here.”
After going through the process for about a week and interviewing multiple candidates, her and the board’s decision in the long term was easy.
Shonda Stanton was officially named the ninth coach in program history after spending 18 seasons at Marshall, where she won 560 games. But when they first met, Stanton knew that she wanted to coach Blitz.
“I was so impressed with the senior staff coming in, especially with Rebecca, because I get to coach someone like this who’s driven and who’s going to be coachable and who’s passionate about what she does,” Stanton said.
Lead by Blitz, Stanton has seen success in her inaugural season as the IU coach. After struggling in non-conference play, the Hoosiers have a 15-2 Big Ten record and sit in perfect position to capture a Top-4 seed in the conference tournament. Blitz has been nothing short of impressive this season as she’s riding a 22-game hit streak that leads the Big Ten and has registered at least one in every Big Ten game.
One of the primary reasons why Blitz has been so successful this season is because of the person who shares the outfield with her, who always bats ahead or behind her and pushes her to be a better player — sophomore Gabbi Jenkins.
Being from Floyds Knobs, Indiana, Jenkins idolized Blitz in high school before she got to IU. She remembered telling her dad, “Oh my god, I want to be like Rebecca Blitz,” because of how hard she had seen her work. The two were eventually brought together last season as Jenkins quickly became an intricate part of the team. The duo did most things on their own, but this season that’s changed.
Before each game, Blitz and Jenkins talk to each other about what they want to exploit in the other team’s pitching, how easy the game is and how they believe that they can get whatever they want. When Blitz begins to approach the plate, Jenkins makes sure to give her some extra words of encouragement, and they do the same handshake that’s ritual for them.
What one does, the other follows, especially because they’re both slap-hitting speedsters. They’re a unit, but one of them is the senior leader.
When asked about Blitz’s legacy as a Hoosier, Jenkins quickly gathered herself from tearing up because she didn’t want to think about losing her best friend.
“She has a way that she carries herself,” Jenkins said. “People will just know Rebecca Blitz as the girl that broke some records, she had more than 200 hits, she’s leading the way especially for slappers, and I’m just excited to be a part of what she’s doing and being her friend because that’s the best part of it.”
Blitz is on pace to finish her career as IU’s all-time leader in almost every offensive category including hits, runs and stolen bases. But thanks to the turnaround in Big Ten play, she has a chance to put IU in position for its first Big Ten regular season title since 1994 and that’s what matters most to her.
In the final home series of her career, Blitz and IU welcome in No. 14 Michigan. If the Hoosiers can take the series, then they’ll be in sole possession of first place in the conference and will give Blitz the chance to do something that she’s always done — come out on top.
“It’s really exciting,” Blitz said. “It’s nothing I would’ve expected three years ago, but it’s a really exciting time to be a Hoosier. It’s really cool being able to control our own destiny.”
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