UWM’s two-sport star is on the go
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.
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.”