VIRGINIA – About a year ago, Virginia senior Rian Aune made a verbal commitment to Southwest Minnesota State University to play basketball.
Wednesday, she made that decision official as she signed her National Letter of Intent to become a Mustang beginning next season. Putting pen to paper, the guard was surrounded by friends, family and her father Spencer Aune, who also happens to be her coach.
Taking a trip to the Division II campus in Marshall last fall, Aune said she immediately fell in love with SMSU and had made up her mind pretty early in the decision process.
“They started talking to me that June and I took a visit in September last year,” Aune said. “I just fell in love with it right away and knew I wanted to commit there.”
“I love the gym. I love the town. I think the people there seem really nice. I met a bunch of the girls on the team and I really like the coaches. It just feels like a good place for me to play.”
SMSU also holds a special connection for Rian with father Spencer playing for the Mustangs and graduating from SMSU in the ‘90s. On his daughter’s decision to commit there, Spencer said it was a proud moment.
“It’s kind of surreal to see because I remember walking into her first game as a fourth grader and just watching the joy in her face and how she just loved to play,” Spencer said. “I’ve known since then how much she loves playing basketball so to see her get an opportunity to continue is great.
“It was always up to her to decide where she wanted to go and I’m proud she’s wanting to go there. I’m really happy for her and I know she’s happy with her decision.”
On her relationship with her dad, having a parent and a coach combined into one presents it’s own challenges, but Rian believes it’s only helped her game and made her closer to her father.
“It’s been hard sometimes. We get in arguments that most coaches and athletes don’t get in but it’s really nice because I think we’ve gotten so much closer throughout the years because of basketball. It’s really a great opportunity to have as a kid and it’s something I don’t want to end.”
Rian, who is not set on a major but is leaning towards something business related, said getting recruited by the Division II school was initially a shock for her.
“It was really an eye opener for me. I just felt a level of confidence in myself after that and I knew I could do it. It made me proud and I knew it was the level I wanted to be at. Signing there actually takes a lot of pressure off of me and now I just get to play.
“She just loves to compete,” her father said. “She’s obviously a really good shooter and just a good, smart kid. She’s a great teammate and gets good grades and I think all of that goes into recruiting. Coaches at that level want to see people compete and when she’s on the court, she competes the best she can. And it definitely helps if you can put the ball in the hoop.”
Aune says she’s most excited about the people she’ll meet and the higher level of play that comes with college basketball.
“It’s going to be fun but different playing with all these other girls. Getting to see really great players from around Minnesota and other states is just a really cool opportunity. Getting to meet everyone and play basketball at that level with them is something I’m really excited about.”
As Rian prepares for her last year as a Blue Devil, her dad says there’s still plenty of work to do on the court.
“She knows she still has more developing to do,” Spencer said. “This isn’t the end of anything, it’s the beginning. She wants to continue to become a better leader and work on all aspects of her game. The jump from high school to Division II is a big one so she needs to keep working and she knows that.
“But she’s excited for the chance this year to play the game she loves and compete with her teammates and friends. I know she’s going to enjoy that. These kids love each other and you can see it with how many people came out to support her today.”
Rian says being a senior on the last Blue Devils basketball team is bittersweet, but she’s anxious to get to work.
“For me, I wish I could go to Rock Ridge and experience all that but it’s also really cool knowing we’re the last Blue Devil team. We can show everyone what Blue Devil basketball is and I’m really excited about that.”
Snapping photos with friends and family after the signing, Rian reflected on how far she’s come with her friends and family by her side.
“They’ve all done so much. My mom especially is always helping me in every way she can. My parents are my two biggest supporters. They’re just great, loving parents. My brothers too have helped me get better. We fight at times but we love playing sports together and it’s only helped my game.
“My teammates and friends, they’ve just done so much. They’re my best friends and we’ve become a family. It’s been so fun to play with them and grow with them and I’m excited to see where this season takes us.”