Historic March: Austin grad has played a crucial role for Blue Devils

Published 6:10 pm Thursday, March 9, 2023

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Despite having a gigantic impact on her team’s success over the years, Austin grad Reana Schmitt has always found a way to slip into the background.

That wasn’t the case recently, however, when Schmitt was thrust into the spotlight after being named the NJCAA Region XIII Tournament MVP as she led the Blue Devils to their first NJCAA Division III National Tournament ever. Schmitt averaged 17 points and 17 rebounds per game in the Region XIII tournament as the Blue Devils beat previously unbeaten Rochester and Community and Technical College in the title game to make school history.

“It’s been super humbling and it’s been really fun. We’ve had great coaches, fans and teammates,” Schmitt said. “I couldn’t be more honored to be part of the first team to go to nationals. We’ve worked hard for it.”

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Schmitt is second in the nation with a field goal percentage of 57.3 percent and she averages 13.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 3.0 steals and 2.7 blocks per game this season. 

Schmitt played in two state tournaments for the Packers girls basketball team and she took her winning attitude with her to Riverland, where the Blue Devils have molded together. Her willingness to set screens, pass the ball and play defense made Schmitt an easy fit for any team and she was glad to have the opportunity to stay home and play for the Blue Devils.

“I wasn’t done playing basketball after losing to Becker (at state last year) and coming here was free (through the Austin Assurance Scholarship program), so it was an easy decision,” Schmitt said. “The Big Nine is super competitive and the teams going to nationals are similar to the kind of teams we played in high school.”

RCC head coach Andrew Kaiser is also an Austin grad and he is a former Blue Devil himself. He understands the magnitude of RCC’s success better than anyone as he inherited a program that was on the brink of dying when he took over four years ago.

“My first year, we won like three games and I had six players on campus. It had me questioning every decision I made to come here and coach, and now we’re in the national tournament. It seems pretty surreal,” Kaiser said. “When the men went to nationals last year, it was the first time they’d ever gone. To do that two years in a row is quite an accomplishment, especially because I went to school here and played here for a couple of years. Having that sense or pride goes a long way.”

Kaiser said he has learned that recruiting is the key to success at the college level and this year’s RCC team has players from Arizona and Spain on the roster. But having a local player with a will to win is a huge bonus.

“When Reana misses a lay-up in practice, she gets upset. She’s always competitive and that’s helped us a lot,” Kaiser said. “Any Big Nine player that comes into the MCAC really translates into our conference. You can see that with Reana.”

The Blue Devils (21-5 overall) have the No. 7 seed and they will open tournament play against No. 10 Dallas College Mountain View at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Rochester. DCMV (12-7 overall) beat Dallas College Cedar Valley 67-57 to get to the national tournament.

There are 12 total teams in the tournament and RCC has already played three of them – Anoka-Ramsey, Rochester Community and Technical College and Minnesota West. 

“We had to go through the gauntlet this year with seven games against teams that are in the national tournament,” Kaiser said. “It’s been a really long break and we’re used to playing every two days. To wait 17 days to play has been a pretty big break. We’ve had some of the guys come in and scrimmage us to stay ready.”

The Blue Devils have thrived this season with their balance. The team has seven players averaging at least 7.0 points per game and it is led by Savannah Longhoma, who averaged 15 points per game, with Cayli Miles averaging 12.4 points per game.

Camryn McQuery, a sophomore from Waseca, averages 11.4 points and 11.0 rebounds for the Blue Devils, who had a lot of size on the team this season.

McQuery originally came to RCC to play volleyball, but Kaiser convinced her to play basketball. It’s a decision that she does not regret.

“I wasn’t trying to go to a school that had a lot of history. I wanted to be a part of building that history,” McQuery said. “I thought Riverland was a really good choice for me.”