South Xtra: Mt. Lebanon grad earns honors at Westminster

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Rebecca Riemer could have played Division I college volleyball.

Following a career at Mt. Lebanon High School that saw her start for two WPIAL Class AAA championship teams -- the first coming in 2007, the second as a senior in 2009 -- Riemer was offered a scholarship to play at Jacksonville University, an NCAA Division I program and recent champion of the Atlantic Sun Conference.

She turned it down, instead choosing to study locally at Division III Westminster College in New Wilmington, Lawrence County.

"I just figured it was a better fit for me," she said. "I figured, being D-III, it'd give me more of an opportunity to focus on academics."

It should come as no surprise, then, that when Westminster awarded its Outstanding Female Senior Scholar-Athlete of the Year on May 19 it was Riemer who took the honors for having the highest cumulative grade point average among all female senior student-athletes at the school.

For Riemer, a Mt. Lebanon native, the award was the product of a long balancing act that she feels prepared her for life beyond volleyball.

"It was definitely a challenge balancing everything but it taught me a lot about time management," Riemer said. "I was always studying on bus trips and on the road but I thought that was good prep for med school -- volleyball has helped me in that way."

Riemer will begin medical school next fall at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, a goal that Westminster women's volleyball coach Tammy Swearingen remembers discussing with her all the way back in her freshman year.

At the time, Swearingen guessed Riemer would have gravitated toward a research field, away from patient interaction. She had a quiet, focused personality; displaying emotion was not yet her strong suit -- a hindrance in the game of volleyball.

"I kept telling her emotion and enthusiasm is part of the game by far," Swearingen said. "After her freshman year, when she learned it was OK to be aggressive and show some emotion, she became an even better player."

"I'm naturally kind of a reserved person -- that's just my personality -- but in volleyball you have to show emotion," Riemer said. "Once I became an upperclassman, I felt a lot more comfortable doing that."

That comfort showed in her performance. Riemer, a 6-foot middle blocker, was recognized by the Presidents' Athletic Conference as a sophomore and junior when she received second-team All-PAC honors before finally being named to the first team as a senior. She finished her career at Westminster ranking seventh in program history in career blocks with 327 and 11th in career kills with 965.

Swearingen wasn't the least bit surprised by her athletic success.

"I thought she was someone special when I was recruiting her, she was a little mechanical early on but you can't teach height, and she had that going for her, and she had that fire," Swearingen said.

Riemer still has options as to what field she wants to pursue in medical school, one of which is working as an orthopedic surgeon. Her time playing volleyball has steered her interest even moreso in that direction, having seen a number of teammates sustain knee injuries that require the type of surgeries she could one day perform.

"I had my knee replaced almost a year ago and she'd look around and say 'Next time you need it done, you can come to me and I'll do it,'" Swearingen said with a laugh.

While Riemer continues to love the game of volleyball -- she hopes to find an adult league to continue playing recreationally -- she feels ready to move on to the next phase in her life.

"I'm ready to do what I want to do in my life," Riemer said. "I want to be more in the field and I want to be in hospitals and I want to move on with my career."

Jourdon LaBarber: and Twitter @jourdonlabarber

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