STEVENS POINT, Wis. — Zach Schradle stood on the football field with his arm draped around his mother, Diane.
The UW-La Crosse football team has just put the finishing touches on a statement victory over Stevens Point, but that, for the moment, was secondary. The smiles on Zach and Diane’s faces accented by the mist in their eyes. Just a year ago, the mother and son — and the whole Schradle family — didn’t know how many moments such as this one they had left to share.
About a year ago, Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer, and times like Saturday night at Goerke Park are a far cry from the difficult days and nights the past year has brought for the Schradles. But there they stood as both teams gathered near the Pointers’ sideline after the game — Stevens Point’s annual Pink Game for breast cancer research.
Stevens Point and the foundation that puts on the event donated more than $55,000 to breast cancer research. They also made another $1,000 donation in honor of Diane, a UW-L graduate, by recognizing her with a check presentation at the postgame ceremony.
“I got a little emotional,” Diane said. “What a neat, neat atmosphere. This is what it’s all about, people battling together.”
Zach, a 6-foot-5 tight end for the Eagles, is in his first season with the football program after playing basketball for UW-L last year. He transferred to UW-L after beginning his college career at UW-Superior. It wasn’t long after Zach arrived in La Crosse that Diane was diagnosed.
The news rocked him. His mind was on being a contributor on a new basketball team, learning about his new teammates and school, and then in an instant his focus was on his mother.
“It was my senior year, so I wanted it to be big, and when she was diagnosed, it hit hard,” Zach said.
He said he had trouble adjusting to the news, unsure on what he should do. Diane fixed that.
“She actually called me and said, ‘I want you to stay down there and focus on what you need,’” Schradle said. “So that’s what I did.
“I love her for that,”
Zach went on to lead the Eagles in rebounding and was their second leading scorer, earning All-WIAC First Team honors. As he was excelling on the court, Zach kept Diane in his mind, calling her nearly every day.
“She’s always been a great supporter for me throughout my life, and I supported her through her fight,” he said.
Sports are a constant in the Schradle family. Diane was the varsity volleyball coach at Clayton High School for more than a decade before Zach’s sister Sadie took over the program in 2015. Diane’s husband, Mike, is the athletic director at the school as well.
Perhaps that’s why, when facing something as daunting as breast cancer, Diane encouraged Zach to stay locked into basketball and school. She knows firsthand the power sports bring a person, and the support system a team provides.
The perspective Diane keeps when discussing her battle is downright astounding.
“I think it’s having a lot of faith, knowing that everything’s going to be fine,” Diane said. “It’s one of those bumps in the road in life, and we’ll battle through it. And we have.”
Part of having a loved one fighting cancer is fear — fear that things can turn bad, fear that the person may be gone. Zach said as much as he fought it, that fear was present for him over the past year.
“I tried not to think about the negatives too much, but I can’t lie, it was in the back of my mind quite a bit,” Schradle said. “She made it to every game she could still, which was awesome. And even though she was fighting, she still supported me through everything.”
Diane probably knew Zach was scared — moms always do — and she took a moment to think when asked about how Zach has supported her.
“He’s a strong kid,” she said quietly, fighting back tears as her family talked behind her. Clayton is about three hours from Stevens Point, but Zach had about a half-dozen family members waiting for him after the game.
Diane is nearing the end of her treatment, with one surgery remaining. That she is winning her fight with cancer is almost to be expected; the Schradles are winners. Diane and Sadie have built Clayton into a volleyball power, making a combined five WIAA state tournaments under their direction.
Zach said the past year has made him more aware of the blessings in his life, and more dedicated to make each day count.
“It shouldn’t take something like that, but it made me realize how good I had it. I started realizing you can’t take days for granted,” he said. “I really live through that right now, even with football, you never take a practice for granted, you never take a day for granted.”
Diane wears a bracelet with an inscription of, “You never fight alone.” That’s how she’s approached her battle — buoyed by her family, whose bond is as strong as ever.
“We really have always said things happen for a reason, always. It’s funny because both of my children said that when this came about, good things can come out of bad things,” she said.
“I really feel like they have, and things are going well. You can’t ask for more than that.”
MILWAUKEE (AP) — So much for rebuilding.
The Milwaukee Brewers shattered preseason expectations by staying in the playoff chase until the last weekend of the season.
So much went right at Miller Park in 2017, which was initially thought to be the second full season of a rebuilding project under general manager David Stearns. Promising young players like Domingo Santana and Zach Davies emerged into major contributors. Offseason acquisitions Travis Shaw and Eric Thames provided left-handed power . Corey Knebel turned into an All-Star closer.
Milwaukee finished 86-76, a 13-game improvement from 2016, in spite of a subpar season for outfielder Ryan Braun. Manager Craig Counsell’s club finished six games behind the NL Central-winning Chicago Cubs in second place.
“At this point, we fell short,” Counsell said after the season-ending 6-1 win over the Cardinals in St. Louis. “But it doesn’t take away from that this was a good season because this was a good season.”
The rebuilding project is far from done, but the Brewers returned to relevance just two years removed from a 68-win season.
Other notes on 2017 and a look ahead to the offseason:
PATIENCE VS. GOING FOR IT: Milwaukee led the division at the All-Star break. They were about three games back around the trade deadlines, close enough that owner Mark Attanasio said he was tempted to add more difference-makers. Stearns did deal for setup man Anthony Swarzak and second baseman Neil Walker, who become important pieces down the stretch. But Milwaukee didn’t have to give up their best prospects.
“I had to balance putting pressure on David from a competitive standpoint, because I want to keep competing,” Attanasio said recently. “I wanted to be more measured and so I let David and his group make the decisions. ... Now, in hindsight, it feels pretty good that all of our top prospects are still with us.”
NEW CORE: Before the season, few fans outside of Milwaukee might have been able to name anyone on the team outside of Braun, a six-time All-Star and 2011 NL MVP. That is no longer the case. Slick-fielding shortstop Orlando Arcia looks like a future All-Star after hitting .277 with 15 homers in his first full season in the majors. Shaw provided a steady presence in the clubhouse and drove in 101 runs. Thames was one of three Brewers to hit at least 30 home runs along with Shaw and Santana.
BRAUN: The right-handed slugger hit .268 with 17 homers and 52 RBI after being limited to 104 games with calf and wrist injuries. Braun, who turns 34 in November, is due to make $20 million again next year. He’s under contract for two more seasons after that plus an option year in 2021. Braun could still be the subject of trade rumors, but there is a blueprint for the future for whenever he moves on.
FOR STARTERS: Milwaukee finished fifth in the National League with a 4.00 ERA with what started as a relatively anonymous pitching staff. The 24 year-old Davies led the team with 17 wins, and Nelson (12-6, 3.49 ERA) was throwing like an ace before suffering a right shoulder injury while diving back to first as a runner in early September. Chase Anderson (12-4, 2.74 ERA) also stepped up.
Nelson likely won’t be ready for the start of the 2018 season after having surgery to repair his partially torn labrum. He said he thought his arm would be in a sling for a few weeks, followed by five or six months of rehab before he could start a throwing program.
Corey Knebel saved 39 games and had a 1.74 ERA with 126 strikeouts in 76 innings.
MORE ON WAY: Rookie Brett Phillips’ rocket arm and ability to cover a lot of ground appears to make him a lock to at least be part of a center-field platoon next year. Brandon Woodruff showed enough potential to warrant a shot at a permanent spot in the rotation. Outfielder Lewis Brinson, one of the top prospects in the minors, could be ready to be a regular contributor next year.
GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers liked Aaron Jones right away.
While the Green Bay Packers quarterback usually takes a wait-and-see approach when it comes to talking about rookies — including the three running backs the Packers drafted this spring — he’s always observing, always critiquing, always making mental notes about each of them. Why? Because after 13 years around here, he knows that at some point, his draft-and-develop Packers will need them to contribute.
And so, while some might have been surprised by the way Jones performed in last Thursday night’s 35-14 victory over the Chicago Bears — he ran 13 times for 49 yards and a touchdown (3.8-yard average) after injuries knocked starter Ty Montgomery (chest) and backup Jamaal Williams (knee) out of the game – Rodgers was not.
In fact, everything Jones did — except for on one play call, on which he wasn’t sure where to go when he went in motion — confirmed what Rodgers already thought about the rookie fifth-round pick from Texas-El Paso.
“I’ve been a big fan of his since the beginning,” Rodgers said. “I think he’s a very natural runner with the football. He knows what he’s doing. There wasn’t any hesitation. He asked me one time to repeat which side he was motioning to.
“But other than that, I think he did a great job. Like I said, he’s a natural runner. He had some good runs for us, and I’m very confident with him.”
That’s good, because Jones may be the Packers starting running back next Sunday when they return to game action at Dallas. While Montgomery, a Dallas-area native who surely will push to play against the Cowboys, and Williams, who appears to have escaped major injury as well, could be back in action after the quasi-bye weekend that followed the Thursday night game, there’s no guarantee either of them will be ready.
That would mean Jones and rookie seventh-round pick Devante Mays, along with fullback Aaron Ripkowski and wide receiver Randall Cobb, would be charged with manning the Packers’ running game — an operation that has struggled to produce during the season’s first four games.
While the Packers are off to a 3-1 start, they’re 28th in the 32-team league in rushing offense (74.5 yards per game) and 25th in yards per rush (3.5 yards per attempt). Their longest run was a 13-yarder by Rodgers, and none of their running backs are averaging 4.0 yards per carry individually.
Jones was inactive as a healthy scratch for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener (Mays was the No. 3 back behind Montgomery and Williams) and hadn’t played from scrimmage before Thursday night. Once he got the call, though, he delivered with a 2-yard touchdown run
“Played well,” McCarthy said of Jones, who in preseason led the Packers in rushing (19 carries, 105 yards, 5.5-yard average) and also caught six passes, including two for touchdowns. “Instinctive runner. Young. Still has work to do.
“But (we) always liked his run style, and I thought he made good decisions. I thought the goal-line run was excellent, just the way he set the block and cut behind the second block. So I thought he kept me in the run game, kept me confident in the run game, and that’s important. So I thought he did a good job.”
The 5-foot-9, 208-pound Jones left UTEP as the school’s all-time leading rusher, and while undersized, he got Rodgers’ and running backs coach Ben Sirmans’ attention during camp with his willingness to pass block.
“The big thing you always look for with these guys is, what is their fear factor like? What kind of heart do they have?” Sirmans said. “One thing about him is, he has the heart to step up and pass block. He’s not afraid at all. Once you feel comfortable trusting that part of it, now it’s just a matter of keep working with his technique and eventually guys like that that don’t mind stepping up and hitting somebody, they’ll be fine.”
The Packers hope Jones will be more than fine if he has to carry the load against the Cowboys.
“You never like to see any of your boys go down. We lost two guys (against the Bears) and I had to step up,” Jones said. “I enjoyed playing out there. I felt like I did pretty well. I can improve on things, but as time goes on, I’ll get better. I was a little nervous, but I had been waiting for that call.”
An unofficial visit was all Melrose-Mindoro High School sophomore Emily Herzberg needed to determine her college future.
Herzberg already knew that her next three winters would be spent trying to help the Mustangs qualify for the WIAA Division 4 state tournament.
But a 4½-hour drive to Brookings, S.D., earlier this month gave her a solid indication of where she’d be studying dentistry and playing basketball after that.
Herzberg, who averaged 10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists as a freshman, gave a verbal commitment on Saturday to NCAA Division I South Dakota State after the only college visit she has made.
“I got the offer after my (unofficial) visit, but I wanted to take some time in making my decision,” said Herzberg, who will be one of five returning starters for a Melrose-Mindoro team that was 24-1 last season. “I talked to my family about it, and it seemed like the right place for me.”
The 5-foot-11 guard/forward was also holding an offer from Montana State and receiving interest from UW-Green Bay, UW-Milwaukee and Nebraska-Omaha.
Her versatility and ability to defend, she was told, are what caught the eyes of SDSU coaches.
Herzberg’s desire to follow her mother, Liz, into the field of dentistry also played a role in her decision. She said she liked what the health science program has to offer.
“My mom’s a dentist, and I just decided that’s what I wanted to be, too,” Herzberg said. “I was happy with the program at South Dakota State.”
Herzberg said playing Division I basketball has always been a dream, but that it gained momentum as a possibility after her eighth-grade season. That, she said, is when the letters and questionnaires started sliding into her mailbox.
She earned that attention by playing with the Wisconsin Flight Elite. Melrose-Mindoro teammates Calette Lockington and Mesa Byom also play with the Flight Elite, and Byom’s current offer list includes both South Dakota State and Montana State.
They have worked together to improve on a season that fell short of the sectional semifinals with a loss to eventual state runner-up Aquinas in a regional championship game.
The Mustangs, who have never qualified for the state tournament, were beaten by the Blugolds 64-43 in front of a packed house at Central High School.
It was a game that was many had anticipated since the regular season began. Both teams tore through the regular season without much of a setback against good conference and nonconference competition.
Herzberg, also a volleyball and track and field standout at Melrose-Mindoro, had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the team’s only defeat of the season. The outcome has the Mustangs focused more than ever before entering a new season.
“It showed us how badly we want to win,” said Herzberg, who placed third in both the Division 3 200 and 400 and helped Melrose-Mindoro’s 1,600 relay team place eighth at the WIAA state track and field meet at UW-La Crosse in June. “I watched it a couple of weeks ago. It was hard to watch. We did the best we could, and now we work on getting better.”
The Mustangs, who have beaten 19 straight Dairyland Conference opponents, will not be grouped in the same regional as Aquinas — another team that returns all of its starters — this season and won’t match up in same sectional of both win regional titles. They will also be a favorite to win a second consecutive championship in the Large Division of the Dairyland.