UWM’s two-sport star is on the go

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Sports - Dave Kall­mann

McKaela Sch­melzer’s sched­ule is her per­sonal Ru­bik’s Cube.

White and black hexagons there. Peb­bled and orange here. Biomed­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing text­books look­ing for their proper place.

And then a sev­enth side: the rest of life.

.Any­one can solve the six-sided puz­zle. Where's the fun in that?

“Hon­estly I’ve been do­ing this my whole life,” said Sch­melzer, Mil­wau­kee’s two-sport star.

“I’ve been pulled in both direc­tions, I’ve been go­ing from soc­cer to bas­ket­ball, bas­ket­ball to soc­cer. I’ve lit­er­ally been do­ing it my whole life. So I guess I’m just used to it. I’m used to be­ing busy.”

The start­ing point guard on the UWMil­wau­kee Pan­thers women’s bas­ket­ball team is also the start­ing cen­ter mid­fielder on the soc­cer team, mean­ing Sch­melzer is even busier this year.

By win­ning the Hori­zon League soc­cer tour­na­ment last week­end, the Pan­thers (16-1-1) earned a trip to the NCAA tour­na­ment for the first time since 2013.

They’ll face Santa Clara (16-3-1), ranked sev­enth in the United Soc­cer Coaches poll, at 3 p.m. (Mil­wau­kee time) Satur­day in Santa Clara, Cal­i­for­nia.

Sch­melzer nar­rowly missed NCAA op­por­tu­ni­ties her first two years, with Mil­wau­kee fall­ing in the Hori­zon League ti­tle game in 2016 and be­ing elim­i­nated on penalty kicks last year in the league fi­nal.

“We’re so ex­cited to be here and the weather is amaz­ing,” Sch­melzer said af­ter prac­tice Thurs­day night in Cal­i­for­nia. “And we lit­er­ally have noth­ing to lose. We’re not ex­pected to win. That just makes it that much bet­ter.”

A ju­nior from Loves Park, Ill., Sch­melzer was a two-time all-state soc­cer player for Har­lem High School and also a four-year starter on the bas­ket­ball team, earn­ing men­tion on the coaches’ and As­so­ci­ated Press all-state teams.

Her re­cruit­ing was an in­ter­est­ing case.

While plenty of schools showed in­ter­est,

go­ing to be huge.”

Penn State, thanks to losses to Ohio State, Michi­gan State and Michi­gan, won’t be re­turn­ing to In­di­anapo­lis for the Big Ten ti­tle game.

James Franklin’s team is try­ing to re­cover from a 42-7 loss last week at Michi­gan.

“There's no doubt about it,” Franklin said, “Satur­day was a tough one for all of us to swal­low. …

“So we’ve got work to do. There's no­body in the build­ing right now that is com­fort­able with where we’re at.

“That’s coaches, that’s play­ers and that's every­body, and we've got an op­por­tu­nity to get a win against a re­ally good pro­gram.”

Back-to-back home losses to Ohio State and Michi­gan State were blows to the psy­che of the Penn State play­ers, in part be­cause the Nit­tany Lions led in the fi­nal quar­ter of both games.

Penn State then bat­tled in vic­to­ries over In­di­ana, 33-28, and Iowa, 30-24, be­fore the hum­bling loss at Michi­gan.

“I think it's a great op­por­tu­nity to show how re­silient we are as a team,” they all wanted Sch­melzer to pick a sport. Mean­while, soc­cer coach Troy Fabi­ano and bas­ket­ball coach Kyle Rech­licz dou­ble-teamed her on be­half of Mil­wau­kee.

“Re­ally, when she came and vis­ited we both met with the fam­ily about how the cal­en­dar would work and how we would both work to­gether to make sure it worked,” Fabi­ano said. “And be­sides (sched­ul­ing,) watch­ing her re­cov­ery, her health, just try­ing to make sure we were not beat­ing her down.

“Now we’re on, for us, Year 3, so it’s worked out pretty well, and McKaela is happy with how it’s worked out. I’m sure there’s been times when she’d like to be at both … or be at one but she can’t phys­i­cally or even just men­tally be­cause she’s worn down or you have to give her time off.”

As league fresh­man of the year two sea­sons ago, Sch­melzer led the team in min­utes played. Last year she ranked third, and this sea­son she is sec­ond be­hind goal­keeper Elaina LaMac­chia. Her 14 points (five goals and four as­sists) are tied for third-most.

Af­ter red­shirt­ing in bas­ket­ball as a

Penn State safety Gar­rett Tay­lor said. “I know right now we’re go­ing through what some might call a lit­tle bit of ad­ver­sity.

“But this team, we have a lot of fight in us and we have a lot of strong-willed guys. We're not go­ing to go out.”

UW was No. 6 in both polls when it ab­sorbed a stun­ning 24-21 home loss to un­ranked BYU in its third game of the sea­son.

UW de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Leon­hard of­fered can­did com­ments this week when asked about pre­sea­son rank­ings and how the play­ers re­sponded to losses.

“It’s pa­per foot­ball,” Leon­hard said of the pre­sea­son rank­ings. “You haven’t earned that.

“(But) they do read things. They do hear things. I think at times they start to get down on them­selves. They start to feel like maybe they’re dis­ap­point­ing peo­ple around them.

“I think we’ve had mo­ments where we felt sorry for our­selves as a team. I think we’ve had mo­ments where we feel like we’ve dis­ap­pointed be­cause of fresh­man, Sch­melzer played in all 33 games last sea­son, started 23 and was fifth on the team in min­utes played, av­er­ag­ing 23.8. She ranked fifth on the team in scor­ing av­er­age (4.7 points), sec­ond in as­sists and fourth in steals.

As soc­cer and bas­ket­ball go, Sch­melzer’s po­si­tions are about as sim­i­lar as you could hope. The abil­ity to see pass­ing lanes and dis­trib­ute the ball are paramount in both.

Rech­licz would have loved to have Sch­melzer for the reg­u­lar-sea­son opener Wed­nes­day night, when the Pan­thers were edged, 68-66, by In­di­ana, the team that knocked them out of the WNIT in March.

At some point in the spring, when the bas­ket­ball games are over and her se­nior soc­cer sea­son is still a ways off, Sch­melzer ex­pects she’ll hit a bit of a wall and fi­nally ad­mit to her­self just how tired she is.

“Yeah, there are some tough days,” Sch­melzer said. “But it goes by so fast that I kind of sit back and re­al­ize I won’t have this again and be­ing busy is good.”

She isn’t miss­ing out on any­thing in life. She’s pack­ing it all in.

those ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Two of those mo­ments were the losses to BYU and Michi­gan.

“You lose a game and … wow. What hap­pened?” Leon­hard said, adding the nat­u­ral re­sponse is to start think­ing about long-term sce­nar­ios. “Well if we win out … If we beat them.

“I think you start play­ing the sce­nar­ios some­times as a player.

“It’s not real. I think ev­ery­one get­ting caught up, es­pe­cially early, in the first play­off rank­ings. …Take a look at the first one and the last one and they're never the same. You just play foot­ball and con­tinue to get bet­ter.”

UW re­serve de­fen­sive end David Pfaff noted sev­eral of the team’s lead­ers have de­liv­ered strong mes­sages this week.

“We have a quote ev­ery day,” he said. “The quotes have been lead­ing to­ward … just go out there and kick their (butt).

“Have fun, fly around. That is go­ing to be key.

“When guys are trust­ing each other and hav­ing fun, it is un­stop­pable. I don’t care who you are.”

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