As Wisconsin-Superior women’s basketball players arrived for practice Friday afternoon at Mertz Mortorelli Gymnasium in Superior, the mood was light as players goofed around, with a couple even trying behind-the-back half-court heaves.
Eventually it was time to get down to business as the coaches showed up and put the players through their paces. But there was one player noticeably absent: star forward Eva Reinertsen.
Reinertsen, a senior from Duluth, has been arriving late this semester due to a social work internship at Duluth Denfeld, and let’s be honest, by this time, she knows the drill.
“Basketball, I love to death, but I have to get ready for my career,” Reinertsen said, laughing. “Coach understands and the team understands. They’re awesome about that.”
Reinertsen will lead second-seeded UWS (18-8) against top-seeded Bethany Lutheran (22-3) in the UMAC tournament title game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Mankato, Minn. At stake is the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Division III tournament.
This will be the Yellowjackets’ seventh straight conference title game appearance going back to their days in the WIAC, with NCAA tournament appearances in 2016, ’17 and ’18. It’s win or season over. Or, in the case of Reinertsen and the rest of UWS' four seniors, career over.
“Leave it all out there,” said Reinertsen, who averages a team-leading 18 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. “Play every game and practice like it could the last one, in the best way. It just puts a whole different perspective on it.”
Senior guard Mackenzie Kmecik of Superior has averaged 1.9 points per game for her career but had a career-high 23 points to lead UWS to a 90-83 victory over Northwestern Wednesday in the UMAC semifinals. Kmecik’s previous career high was 10 points, but she scored a school-record 39 points in high school; quite the record considering Superior has produced the likes of Jessica Lindstrom and Hailey Kontny.
“We always knew Mackenzie had it in her,” Reinertsen said. “We have to go into this next game with that same mentality, that it could be anybody’s night. We have to get the ball to the hot hand and play as a team.”
And that’s usually Reinertsen.
Reinertsen is the oldest of eight siblings. The one boy in that group, Josh Reinertsen, will play basketball at UWS starting next season.
Her father, Erik Reinertsen, is a pastor at Water’s Edge Community Church in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Erik was on Duluth Central’s 1992 and 1993 state-tournament teams and was basketball teammates with former Duluth mayor Don Ness.
“Eva is the girl you want as your daughter, and she is the girl you want your son to marry,” UWS coach Zach Otto-Fisher said. “She is such a phenomenal young lady. A 4.0 student and two-year captain, and just the biggest heart ever.”
Eva Reinertsen, who was homeschooled, won her share of games while playing for Denfeld in high school. But she never won a playoff game, so her experience at UWS, playing for a championship every year, has been rewarding.
Reinertsen said former UWS coach Don Mulhern “recruited the heck” out of her, and after touring the school and meeting the players, the Yellowjackets won her over.
“Don made me feel like a Division I player,” Reinertsen said. “The character they build in this program, they laid that all out beforehand, the kind of people they try to bring in. They’ve proven true to that. Those values meant a lot to me.”
Reinertsen played her school-record 109th game on Wednesday. She ranks third at UWS with 1,314 career points, 45 behind Hannah Norlin for second. She has 565 career rebounds, ranking 10th. She is one of four players in UWS history to rank in the top five in scoring and top 10 in rebounds, and she is seven field goals away from tying the record for most in a season with 190.
“I know I ended up where I was supposed to be and I wouldn’t change it if I could go back,” she said. “I learned what it means to be part of a championship team, to be a winner on and off the court. They’ve developed me as a person if not more so as a player. I definitely feel like I’ve grown a lot here.”
The 5-foot-11 Reinertsen was initially known as a 3-point specialist at UWS but has developed quite the all-around game. UWS has needed her even more inside this year as the Yellowjackets, who were already thin with Norlin’s graduation, lost a pair of post players due to injury before the New Year.
“I’ve developed a lot with the needs of the team,” Reinertsen said. “I’ve stepped more into that role of posting up inside and being a bigger body.”
Norlin was big and strong, a true post player, where as Reinertsen is more finesse, an inside-outside dynamo. That can create mismatches but also tests her toughness playing inside.
“For sure. You’ve got to be more creative,” Reinertsen said. “I certainly have more of an appreciation for post players.”
And UWS certainly has an appreciation for her selflessness and what she has meant in four years in the program.
Reinertsen will graduate with degrees in psychology and social work in May, and then she will pursue her masters in social work at St. Scholastica.
Reinertsen became engaged to former Superior and CSS basketball player Connor Gray in November — with Gray proposing right in front of the team at the Duluth airport after the Yellowjackets’ got back from their basketball trip to New York. The couple, who met playing basketball (shocker!), will be married Sept. 12.
Needless to say, Reinertsen’s four years at UWS have been a whirlwind. And a life changer.
“It’s gone by so fast, it’s been unbelievable,” Reinertsen said. “I’m just so thankful to my coaches, my teammates, everyone, the Superior community as I call it. I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s just been an awesome experience for me.”