The UW-La Crosse women’s soccer team has used not being selected for last season’s NCAA Division III national championship tournament as motivation since the moment it learned its 2016 season was over.
On Monday, the Eagles earned some redemption.
After winning the conference championship tournament with a double-overtime, shootout victory over Whitewater on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex, the team didn’t leave its entry to the national tournament up to chance. UW-L’s dominance this season was rewarded even further as it will host the first two rounds of the 64-team national tournament this weekend, starting with Saturday’s 11 a.m. matchup against The College of St. Scholastica in the first round.
“It was a pretty good feeling going to bed Saturday night knowing your name was going to get called on Monday,” UW-L coach Jason Murphy said minutes after the Eagles learned their national tourney opponent. “Last year was tough for the players and the program, feeling like we could’ve been in there, should’ve been there. They really used it this year for every time we play.”
The Eagles marched through its regular season opponents and posted a 17-1-3 overall record and won the third regular-season WIAC championship in program history with a 7-0 record in conference play. Their WIAC tournament win was the second in school history.
Wartburg (Iowa) and St. Thomas (Minn.) will play the other first-round game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, with the winner playing the La Crosse-St. Scholastica winner at 1 p.m. Sunday.
While he and the visiting teams’ coaches will have to coordinate practice times later this week, Murphy said that playing at home is a big advantage for the Eagles.
“They get to sleep in their own beds, they get to play on our field. Their routine’s going to be the same,” he said. “We’re excited to be home.”
UW-L — which hasn’t lost since Sept. 23 and had a 12-match win streak going before tying Whitewater — hasn’t played St. Scholastica (13-6-3) this year, but beat the Saints 1-0 early last year. This season, the Eagles defeated Wartburg 2-0 on Sept. 20 and tied St. Thomas 2-2 on Sept. 3.
The quick turnaround between the first- and second-round games is something Murphy has had in mind throughout the season. He scheduled a pair of back-to-backs in the regular season to prepare his team for that challenge, and it responded with wins in all four of those matchups. Murphy said he and his staff will focus especially on nutrition and recovery throughout the week so the team is ready to potentially play two games.
“I’m pretty excited that we’ve got a little experience with it,” Murphy said. “We’ll do things this week, and before Saturday’s game to make sure we’re ready to play Sunday if we do.”
GREEN BAY (AP) — Matthew Stafford passed for 361 yards and two touchdowns to Marvin Jones, and the Detroit Lions snapped a three-game losing streak with a 30-17 win on Monday night over the offensively challenged Green Bay Packers.
Stafford was 26 of 33, including 12 of 14 in the first half with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jones. Ameer Abdullah added a 4-yard touchdown run for Detroit (4-4).
Green Bay (4-4) finally got in the end zone on Brett Hundley’s 1-yard quarterback sneak with 9:52 left.
The Lions answered with Stafford’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Jones with 8:06 remaining, putting the game out of reach with a 17-point lead. Jones had seven catches for 107 yards.
The Packers have lost three straight games. Their once-potent offense has struggled since star quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his right collarbone on Oct. 15 at Minnesota.
Brett Hundley finished 26 of 38 for 245 yards. Cornerback Darius Slay blanketed Jordy Nelson when the Packers did try to throw long while the game was still competitive.
Abdullah fumbled the ball away in the third quarter, but the Packers went three-and-out on the ensuing drive. Familiar problems in the red zone popped up for the Lions when they were stopped on three plays at the Packers 1, forced to settle for a field goal for a 17-point lead with 12:25 left.
But without Rodgers, the Packers couldn’t keep up with the accurate, rocket-armed Stafford.
CRITICAL PENALTY: The Lions’ opening score was set up by an unnecessary roughness penalty on Mike Daniels, after the defensive lineman appeared to head-butt Detroit center Travis Swanson. The flag negated an incompletion on third-and-15 that would have forced the Lions to punt from their own 25. Stafford connected with Jones for the touchdown pass five plays later.
MILESTONE: The first scoring strike to Jones was the 200th touchdown pass in 117 career games for Stafford, the sixth-quickest in NFL history to reach the milestone. Stafford, who turns 30 in February, is also fourth in NFL history for career touchdown passes before age 30 behind Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.
NOT SPECIAL: Special teams didn’t help the Packers.
Working in their third long snapper of the season because of injuries, Green Bay had a 38-yard field goal blocked in the first quarter on a play that started with a low snap. Trevor Davis didn’t get past the 22 on three kickoff returns in the first half.
STAT LINES: Lions WR Golden Tate joined Jones over the 100-yard mark with seven receptions for 113 yards. ... Abdullah had 21 carries for 48 yards.
The Packers’ playmaking receivers did have more opportunities, though most came on short passes. Randall Cobb finished with 58 yards on five receptions, including a catch-and-run for a 46-yard gain that set up Hundley’s TD run. Davante Adams had seven catches for 53 yards.
Coach Amber Dunn and the UW-La Crosse volleyball team have been in the same mode for about a week: hurry up and wait.
The Eagles were in that spot last week as they waited to see who they’d play in the WIAC semifinals — they won that tournament in decisive fashion on their home floor Saturday, sweeping Whitewater. They felt the same way this weekend, waiting to learn their NCAA Division III national championship tournament opponent.
UW-L (21-6) learned Monday it will be traveling to University of Northwestern-St. Paul to play in the eight-team St. Paul, Minnesota regional. The Eagles, the No. 4 seed in the bracket, take on fifth-seeded College of Saint Benedict (19-8) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
“I don’t know if it’s easier an automatic bid or a team who’s waiting,” Dunn said of the tension she felt as the Eagles went 48 hours before finding out their tournament foe. “It’s nice to know who we compete against, it’s nice to know where we’re going, and now we can start the planning process for what’s next.”
The eight-team regional includes host Northwestern-St. Paul, Cornell, St. Thomas (Minn.), Wartburg, Gustavus Adolphus, and Aurora (Ill.). First-round winners will play Friday night and then Friday’s winners will play on Saturday for the regional championship. The eight regional champions will then play next weekend at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
This is UW-L’s 15th appearance in the national championship tournament in school history, and its third straight. Should the Eagles win in the first round, they’ll play the winner of No. 1 seed Northwestern-St. Paul and eight-seed Cornell.
After getting key players back from injury and getting a stronger grasp on what Dunn wanted the team to do in her first season as coach, the Eagles have found a groove and are riding a wave of momentum into the national tourney. Winners of seven straight and nine of their past 10, the Eagles are peaking at the perfect time.
“The cool part is that I’m confident in our abilities right now. I’m happy and confident in the way we’ve been playing,” Dunn said. “For us, not a lot is going to change. We’re going to keep practices consistent, not going to add or subtract anything we haven’t been doing.”
For some of the team’s key players — such as seniors Stephanie Henk, Jessica Jablonski, Madison Entinger, and junior Marisa Johnson — this is the third trip to the NCAA tournament. For others, like freshman Laine Hoeffel, it’ll be the first time on the national stage.
“We want to make this experience as special and as exciting for them as possible,” Dunn said. “We talk a lot about appreciating the moment and appreciating what we have because for any coach or player, it could be the last time.”
MADISON — Joe LaBuda will be at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoon, watching two ranked teams and wishing being a fan was a little less complicated.
LaBuda, the longtime coach at Menomonie High School, will be cheering for the University of Wisconsin football team. He’ll also be cheering for one of his former players, Iowa sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley.
“It’s going to be weird,” LaBuda said of watching the No. 6 Badgers (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) play the No. 25 Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3). “I’ll probably be hoping for Nate to do well but hoping for the Badgers to win. It’s a hard thing.”
It’d be so much easier for his former coach if Stanley were playing for his homestate team, which leads to a question LaBuda has heard over and over the past two seasons: Why is Stanley at Iowa and not Wisconsin?
The answer is rather simple, according to LaBuda.
“The only reason he’s not a Badger,” LaBuda said, “is Gary Andersen.”
LaBuda said he did everything he could to try to get Andersen and his staff interested in Stanley. But Andersen, Wisconsin’s coach during the 2013 and ’14 seasons, wanted a dual-threat quarterback who could run a spread attack out of the shotgun formation.
According to LaBuda, Stanley felt ignored when he attended a Badgers summer camp.
“He felt like when he was at Wisconsin, he was just kind of thrown in with 400 kids and nobody paid attention to him hardly,” LaBuda said. “It was very obvious that there wasn’t much interest.”
One coach who was very interested in Stanley was Paul Chryst. In fact, Stanley’s first scholarship offer came from Chryst, who was at Pittsburgh at the time.
Chryst liked what he saw on film and offered Stanley following his sophomore season at Menomonie. At 6-foot-5 with great arm strength, Stanley was a perfect fit for the pro-style system Chryst runs.
Michigan State and Stanford also showed interest in Stanley, a three-sport star at Menomonie. But Stanley was eager to end the recruiting process quickly and orally committed to Iowa in November of 2014, shortly after his junior season ended.
Less than a month later, Andersen left for Oregon State and Wisconsin hired Chryst to replace him. Chryst tried making another run at Stanley, but Stanley remain committed to the Hawkeyes.
“Paul worked hard on him,” said LaBuda, who has led Menomonie to five WIAA state titles. “But Paul also understood that he had given a commitment to Iowa and I think he respected Nate for that. He did everything he possibly could, it was a timing thing.”
Stanley, in his first season as a starter after being the primary backup to C.J. Beathard as a true freshman in 2016, has thrown for 1,929 yards with 22 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s coming off a five-touchdown performance during a 55-24 victory over Ohio State.
“I think he’s done a nice job of continuing to grow and develop,” Chryst said of Stanley, who also had five touchdown passes in an overtime win at Iowa State earlier this season. “It looks to me like he’s playing with confidence. He’s tough, he’s a really good quarterback.”
LaBuda has known that for years. Stanley grew up around the Menomonie program because his father, Jay, is on LaBuda’s staff. Stanley was one of the team’s ball boys as a kid with a group of friends that included Wisconsin redshirt freshman linebacker Mason Stokke.
Stanley went on to become a three-sport star at Menomonie. He was a four-year starter in basketball and is the program’s all-time leading scorer. In baseball, he was a pitcher with a fastball that sometimes touched 90 miles per hour.
“He could have been a Division I athlete in any one of the three sports he played,” LaBuda said.
And, yes, Stanley could have been a Badger.
“But that’s water under the dam,” LaBuda said. “He’s having a great experience at Iowa.”