Katelyn and Jim Kemmetmueller stand in their dairy barn May 14 near Rogers, Minnesota. Kemmetmueller is a senior for the Gopher Softball Team. The season was shortened because of COVID-19. 
PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE
Katelyn and Jim Kemmetmueller stand in their dairy barn May 14 near Rogers, Minnesota. Kemmetmueller is a senior for the Gopher Softball Team. The season was shortened because of COVID-19. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE
    ROGERS, Minn. – In early March, Katelyn Kemmetmueller’s life was nearly perfect for a college senior.
    She was the starting third basemen for the University of Minnesota’s softball team at a tournament in Hawaii.
    The venue was lush and serene, the weather was warm, and she was enjoying the camaraderie of her coaches and teammates in what she thought would be her final year of college.
    On March 12, her world flipped upside down.
    The tournament and the rest of the season was canceled because of COVID-19.  
    “We were eating breakfast, and to hear the words that your season is canceled and we’re all going to be going home and we won’t play today, that was hard and it was shocking,” said Kemmetmueller, the daughter of dairy farmers, Jim and Karen Kemmetmueller, who milk 55 cows near Rogers.  “Your season comes to an end inevitably, and as a senior you’re looking at how many days you have left as an athlete. To have that taken away, it wasn’t at all how any of us had planned.”
    So Kemmetmueller, who is almost as fond of cows and animals as softball, made the decision to head home and work on her parents’ dairy farm while completing her spring courses online.
    “I wanted to go home and help my dad,” Kemmetmueller said. “He was sad our season was over, but I knew he’d be grateful for my help.”
    With no practices and games for the first time in many years, her spring schedule was awkwardly open.
    “I never imagined when I left my freshman year that I’d miss getting up at 5 a.m. to milk cows, but I did. Once I got to live in off-campus housing and had a car, I’d always come home. I like spending time with my family. I like the farm,” said Kemmetmueller, who has two brothers and sisters.
    Her timing was nearly perfect.
    With the early spring, there was plenty of work to do. Normal days would have Kemmetmueller joining her dad in the barn at 5 a.m. for milking and morning chores. Between milkings, Kemmetmueller would help with a variety of chores from grinding feed, cleaning the dairy barn or cleaning out the pig barn. She was also a part of the rock-picking force.
    “I think what is so special is that a lot of people tell me I have a lot of work ethic. Any type of success I have, whether it’s in softball or in school, I think it all goes back to farming. I learned at a very young age that you had to work hard for the things you wanted,” Kemmetmueller said. “I remember as soon as I could walk, I was out doing farm work and getting up at 5 a.m. to milk cows, and racing home to shower before school. That was normal. I’m super grateful for the experience I’ve had.”
    Kemmetmueller, who is a two-year starter for the Gophers, has teammates from all over the country and enjoys learning about their background. She is equally proud of telling her story of being from a dairy farm.
    For the past couple years, many teammates have come out for supper, and then Kemmetmueller proudly displays her dairy heritage.
    “It’s nice to hear their stories, but it’s really cool to share mine,” Kemmetmueller said. “And, getting to have the team come out and see a day in the life of Katie was kind of fun.”
    Kemmetmueller’s fondness for dairy has filtered through to her from her dad, whom she looks up to for many reasons.
    “I admire his work ethic and how much he supports us. It hasn’t been easy for him the last few years. It’s hard for him to get away from the farm when the cows need to be milked at 5 and 5, but he loves supporting my softball,” Kemmetmueller said. “He’s already looking at what trip he can go on next year for softball. He’s excited and supportive. I’ve spent a lot of early mornings and late nights with him.”
    Once fieldwork was done this spring, Kemmetmueller took an off-farm job as a nanny in the Twin Cities area where she works 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then she is back in the barn at night for milking.
    “Throughout these last four years, one of the big deciding factors of going to school was that I wanted to go close because I wanted to be able to help (my dad),” Kemmetmueller said. “I’ve been able to come home on weekends. Especially in the fall, I’d come home throughout the week and randomly pop in and help. I enjoy being around the animals.”
    Since the spring sports season was abruptly canceled, the Division I council has approved student athletes an additional year of eligibility.  
    Kemmetmueller plans to take advantage of the option to study human resource and management in a grad school minor. This will be in addition to her nursing degree she completed this spring.
    She also wants one more year on the diamond.
    “We have a lot of unfinished business next year. I wasn’t quite ready to give up being a student athlete. I think we’re going to be pretty good,” Kemmetmueller said. “This whole COVID-19 thing has helped me re-evaluate why I started this. I think you start to lose sight of it when it comes to competing and championships and the stress of Division I athletics. The last few months I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on why I want to play and why I love softball so much. I like the sport. I like that it’s a team sport.”