Northwestern, Yale, Chicago, Purdue. All prestigious academic institutions. They’re also universities that Radford’s own Sami Reitz was accepted into to pursue her PhD in chemistry.
It would be easy, upon reading that fact, to assume that Reitz was a bench warmer for Radford volleyball, studiously pursuing academic excellence while happening upon Division I-athlete status. But that’s not only a major oversimplification, it’s also far from the truth.
A four-year letter winner, Reitz has ranked in the top five on the team in blocks and kills for three consecutive seasons, even leading the Highlanders outright in kills during her junior season. Though to stop at her athletic achievements would be selling her short, too, as her post-graduate pursuits prove. So, how did Sami Reitz end up at Radford, and what did she do while here that led her to such great heights in academia?
It began with an ill-fated, literally, visit to Radford as a high school junior. “I was actually really sick, I had tonsilitis,” said Reitz. “On my visit [head volleyball coach] Marci [Byers] let me sleep on a couch in her office. You would think you would hate the school you were dealing tonsilitis in, but I actually just loved it.I only remember loving Radford and feeling like I was home here. It was an automatic connection.”
Normally, a visit under those circumstances would doom a recruitment, but for Reitz, the love she felt for Radford and the hospitality she received from Byers only drew her in and made her want to be a Highlander.
It would be Byers, too, who pushed Reitz towards academic excellence. Of course, she was always predisposed to want academic success, but her coach made her reach for more. It was her support system that realized, though a 70 may be the highest in the class, Reitz could still strive for greater heights.
That encouragement allowed Reitz to see what she was capable of and gave her the confidence to take on greater responsibilities and seek more opportunities. Once she did that, that Reitz got into those great academic institutions was no surprise.
While at Radford, Reitz did not stop at being a full-time student and a successful student-athlete. She still managed to find time for extracurricular activities. Starting her freshman year, Reitz was a part of REALISE, a club that aims to grow inclusion in science. According to the club’s webpage, “REALISE aims to change faculty and student mindset through developing and implementing engaging and inclusive pedagogies.”
Reitz was also a member of the physics club during her time at Radford, serving as the club’s vice president her junior year. From her sophomore year on, Reitz was a teacher’s assistant for physics and chemistry classes.
For her crammed schedule, Reitz credits not only her coaches but her advisor, Dr. Rhett Herman, who not only allowed, but encouraged her to take on a more challenging course load.
Reitz concedes that the course load was a lot, but that the process of being a division one athlete served as a sort of outlet for her. “I think being a D-1 athlete provided an external punching bag, if that makes sense,” she said. “I was able to get out a lot of frustration and work out my body and let my brain take a break to be on the court and focus for those hours. It was a different type of brain work.”
Now, Reitz is wrapping up her undergraduate career. She is no longer a division one athlete, though she will always be a Highlander. After four years in Radford, Reitz gets to pursue what’s next. She has been accepted to Yale, but she hasn’t committed anywhere just yet.
A native of St. Louis, Reitz would like to return closer to home. She says that outside of the Ivy League, that desire helped fuel where she applied for her PhD pursuits.
— Cole Barnhill, Radford Athletics Communications