Taylor Schmidt and Alex Richard can recall what they thought of each other when they first met in second grade.
Schmidt saw Richard as the tall girl from Kewaunee that nobody wanted to guard on her basketball team.
Richard viewed Schmidt as the little girl from Algoma that showed a lot of spunk as she darted up and down the court.
Fourteen years later, not much has changed.
The only difference is the pair of former rivals have been able to close out their basketball careers playing on the same team at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
“You think of Algoma and Kewaunee you don’t think friendships, you think rivalries,” Schmidt said about the Packerland Conference schools. “But we became pretty good friends, and I think it shows on the court, too.”
After combining to play in five WIAA state championship games in high school, Schmidt and Richard have continued to enjoy winning campaigns with the Titans.
The pair of seniors has helped UW-Oshkosh (22-2) secure the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season title for the first time in 18 years – Schmidt led the Titans with 15 points and Richard added 12 in the title-clinching 59-58 win over UW-Whitewater Wednesday night – and will be aiming to help the program win the conference tournament to qualify for the NCAA Division III tournament for a fourth straight time.
But before setting their sights on one final postseason run, Schmidt and Richard got a chance to reflect on how far they’ve come during halftime of their Feb. 4 game against UW-River Falls by watching fifth- and sixth-grade players from their hometowns compete in a mini “War on the Shore” game.
“I thought that was the perfect way for them as seniors to go out,” UW-Oshkosh women’s basketball coach Brad Fischer said about bringing the Algoma-Kewaunee rivalry game about 90 miles inland to his campus.
“To see how many people still pay attention to them and how many people they affect is amazing. There is just a consistency of support from those places.”
Schmidt and Richard have been nothing but consistent performers for UW-Oshkosh.
Schmidt has started 112 games in her college career and broke the Titans’ all-time record last week in a win at UW-La Crosse.
In that same game, Richard sustained a large gash in her tongue after taking an elbow to the face at the end of the first quarter. The 6-foot forward put some gauze in her mouth to stop the bleeding and finished the contest.
“That’s the epitome of who she is and what she brings to our team,” Fischer said of Richard.
Richard has received honorable mention all-WIAC accolades the past two years. She is averaging 7.4 points and leads UW-Oshkosh with 6.3 rebounds per game, totaling 778 points and 601 rebounds in her career.
Schmidt has earned first-team all-WIAC honors twice in addition to all-American recognition from D3hoops.com and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. The 5-foot-6 guard is averaging 11.1 points per game to lead the Titans and ranks eighth on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,210 career points.
“I definitely thought she was capable of being an all-American and one of the best players in our conference,” Fischer said of Schmidt. “I don’t think I knew fully how great of a competitor she is and how clutch she is.”
Schmidt ranks in the top 10 in the WIAC this season for 3-point shooting percentage (36.8), free-throw percentage (76.9) and steals (1.70 pg), while Richard is in the top 10 for rebounds (6.3 pg), field-goal percentage (50.0) and blocks (0.78 pg).
“What they’ve done together now says a lot about them and where they come from,” Fischer said.
“Those kids are seasoned. Everyone thinks you have to go to the big schools to find the talent. The reality is, a lot of times talent is born within a community and a youth program in places that really care about basketball. That’s what Kewaunee and Algoma have proven as they continue to send girls on to college.”
Schmidt and Richard entered UW-Oshkosh after leading their respective high school teams to WIAA state titles in back-to-back championship games in 2013, the first year the girls basketball tournament was held at the Resch Center.
Schmidt hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to hand Kewaunee its only loss of the season that year on the way to leading Algoma to the Division 4 state title.
Richard made the game-winning basket at the buzzer of the Division 3 state title game as Kewaunee rallied from 13-deficit to beat East Troy for its second straight state championship.
If they didn’t realize the impact they had on aspiring players in their communities then, Schmidt and Richard fully appreciated it earlier this month when the grade-school players came to their game.
“It meant a lot,” Richard said. “It was nice to see some familiar faces. It felt like an old Kewaunee-Algoma game where everyone in the stands you knew and it was loud. Those girls were little, but they were loud, and it helped a lot.”
Schmidt and Richard credit their families, teammates, coaches and small-town roots for the basketball careers they’ve enjoyed.
“We wouldn’t be here without them,” said Richard, who is working toward a career as a special education teacher.
“I think it’s just cool the relationship we’ve built,” said Schmidt, who studies organizational communication and is pursuing a career as an event planner.
“It’s hard for me to think about the end just because of the passion I have for basketball and the love that really comes with it. I feel like a lot of people play basketball and they’re happy with it, but I feel there are not a lot of people that absolutely love basketball and love everything about it. That’s where my passion is at.”