HERMANTOWN — Hermantown’s Blake Schmitz knows exactly what he’s listening for from the bench.
At some point in every game, coach Andy Fenske drops to one knee, cups his hands and calls, “Chaos, chaos, chaos!”
Schmitz and his Hawk teammates snap into action. “Chaos” and “Mayhem” are Hermantown’s two press defenses they run. The two are simple 1-2-2 and 2-2-1 presses, but Scmitz is a “difference-maker” in all three zones.
“Blake’s a kid we can put in any one of those three zones and he’s probably going to be one of the best, if not the best in that spot,” Fenske said. “We’ve got fantastic guys around him and it allows Blake to take some chances and go after something and he’s a smart enough kid to pick his battles.”
Schmitz is in the midst of his second straight 100-steal season and “thrived” in the Hawks presses the past two seasons.
“He creates chaos for other teams when he’s out there,” Fenske said. “If he’s up on the ball, pressing them hard, they struggle getting down the floor. We can put him back in zone three and he’s flying around like a free safety picking off long passes … He’s leading us in blocks this season, so he’s getting it done at the rim. He’s our second-best rebounder, he just does it all on the defensive side for us.”
Hermantown (20-6) advanced to the state tournament last season and is the favorite to return to Minneapolis heading into the Section 7AAA tournament beginning Wednesday. Schmitz, a New Tribune All-Area first team selection in 2022, has been a huge part of the Hawks’ success the past two seasons, but it’s not just on the defensive end.
“I try to get into passing lanes, deflect balls, get steals and blocks,” Schmitz said. “I just try to be everywhere at once and make the offensive people stressed and get them to make bad decisions.”
Quiet and soft-spoken off the court, Schmitz is a someone that typically “leads by example,” according to senior Keaton Christianson.
“He goes out and plays hard defense and gets everyone else to step up their game,” Christianson said. “If we’re playing good teams, he’ll get us up to that level and he helps us stay at our high level of play, not taking our foot off the gas.”
It’s not just defensively where Schmitz makes his presence known. Hermantown topped Duluth East — a contender to advance to the state tournament from Section 7AAAA — 68-67 Thursday (March 2), and Schmitz was key to the win.
“Blake has the ability, along with Abe (Soumis) and a couple other guys, to take it over at any moment,” Fenske said. “There was a stretch last night against East where we were in a rut and I think he just decided he was going to get it down there and he got us the spark to get us going. Then they really took all their focus and put it on him, that’s when the next guy steps up because he commands that much respect out there.”
Averaging 18.9 points per game this season with a shooting percentage better than 50%, Schmitz presents a problem for opposing coaches, especially with all the other shooters Hermantown can surround him with.
“He is so physical and he scores at all levels,” Superior coach Kory Deadrick said following the Spartans’ 73-63 loss Feb. 23. “He can shoot from deep, he can finish around the rim and he’s got a pull-up game that’s pretty good — I really like him as a player. He’s very difficult to match up with, a lot of times you’ve got to commit two guys to him and then there’s enough capable players on their team and they’re getting good looks they can hit.”
Junior Nathan Hill said he knows Schmitz can seem quiet around people he “definitely doesn’t play quiet.”
“I just want to play with him, he works hard getting in the passing lanes — he creates chaos on defense with rebounds and those lengthy arms,” Hill said. “It’s really fun to play with, it makes it a lot easier for everyone else playing defense. Defense is not just one guy, it’s five guys for us with everyone doing their role and he plays such a big role, it works really well.”
After knocking off
in the Section 7AAA final last year, Hill acknowledged the Hawks are no longer the underdog.
“We are expected to win and we know we can win it,” Hill said. “Now we’ve just got to play how we know we can play. There’s nothing new that we’re too worried about, but we obviously have to show up and play our best game.”
Pushing his teammates to be better with Schmitz is a two-way street, according to Fenske.
“Blake is probably the best player in the section this year, just in terms of what he can do on both ends of the court,” Fenske said. “He’s a competitor, he’s going to grind it out and find ways to get it done. When he starts to slip, the other guys let him know and he’s not going to be the one to let them down. He just kicks it into that next gear and gets going again.”
That competitive fire is what drives Schmitz in every game.
“I just hate losing and try to do everything I can to win,” Schmitz said. “Whether that’s on the defensive end, scoring or setting my teammates up for wide-open shots, I just try to do whatever it takes to win.”
Hermantown will face the winner of Grand Rapids and Cloquet in the Section 7AAA semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday.