UWO coaches work hard to find the perfect fit

Alonzo Fuller

Head coach Pat Juckem and the men’s basketball team are getting better every year, as he brought in a winning record this past season. The team made an appearance in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship game after a surprise victory to the eventual national champions UW-Stevens Point. Juckem said he does his process year-round by paying attention to AAU summer tournaments and building a database of potential players. By July, he narrows the players down and see where they fit academically. He usually recruits around 90 minutes away from Oshkosh. He has interacted with athletes from Stevens Point and even northern Illinois. Juckem looks for character in men. “Character is an important value,” Juckem said. “For each man, it’s different. They want a trusting relationship, even beyond basketball. When you have that, it influences challenge and expectation.” He said looks for athletes who fit in academics and have an ability to play at a high level. Junior Nick Olson transferred from UW-Whitewater because he said it wasn’t a perfect fit for him. “I visited [Oshkosh] a few times,” Olson said. “I got to know some of the guys very well, and I thought I would thrive better in Oshkosh.” He also said he transferred because of a good business program. Football is very competitive in terms of recruiting, according to head coach Pat Cerroni. He competes against the top teams in WIAC, UW-Whitewater and UW-Platteville. The Warhawks and the Pioneers are the top teams in the conference, along with the Titans. He goes for the guys who want to play football at the highest level, but also who have a good sense of character. “We look for great character,” Cerroni said. “We want guys who want to commit themselves to something bigger than wins and losses. We want guys who are passionate about football and who are willing to develop as an athlete.” Cerroni emphasized fair opportunity, where guys can get a chance to play. He said that he cares about his athletes, and that’s why he can retain so many. He couldn’t say the same for the Warhawks or the Pioneers. Cerroni also said that the school sells itself. He said this is a great school where you can get a great education, and there’s a lot going on within the community. Recruiting is all about finding the athlete who can perfectly fit into the program. According to women’s track and field head coach Ben Dorsey, UW Oshkosh’s athletic programs have similar methods of recruiting. It usually starts with getting some information from the athlete as coaches would like to contact them and get to know them on a personal level. Athletes look for trust. If a coach can build that trust and the right athlete will join their program. Dorsey starts the recruiting process with analyzing the maximum potential that is in women. Dorsey said he does this throughout the year to make sure athletes know him on a personal level. He also takes the athlete’s location in consideration. “We really hit all of Wisconsin and Illinois,” Dorsey said. “We have a lot of athletes in the Fox Valley, and we have some in Milwaukee.” Dorsey competes with all of the conference schools and all schools in the state of Wisconsin. They even compete against Division II schools. For senior Jecel Klotz’s case, Dorsey competed against D-I programs. As a high school standout at Markesan High School, Klotz received many offers for her efforts as a thrower. “I was heavily recruited by D-I, II, and III schools across the nation,” Klotz said. “I went on official visits to Wisconsin and Winona State University. I had also been recruited by Minnesota and numerous other D-I colleges.” Eventually, Klotz chose Oshkosh for her college career. She said she trusted former head coach Pat Ebel and knew it was the best future for her. “Oshkosh was known as the throws powerhouse of the nation when I was in high school,” Klotz said. “I wanted to be part of a successful program that would further my potential as a thrower.” This was seen in the case of senior Samantha Blue. She considered the facilities, the coaches’ trust and the overall environment. “The facilities we had here were exactly what I was looking for,” Blue said. “They redid the indoor track after my freshman year, and the [recreation center] was awesome.” Blue said a team is more than just a team, but a family. “Everyone gets each other, and it is great being around people who have similar goals as you,” Blue said. “When that happens, you’re bound to succeed.” Blue was also recruited by UW-Stevens Point, Loyola University (Ill.) and Northern Michigan University. She said she chose Oshkosh mainly for track, but has realized Oshkosh provides a great education as well. Head coach Eamon McKenna and the men’s track and field team do the same thing. He said he usually competes with the other schools in the UW System. He said the toughest competition comes from UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside. He also recruits in Illinois. Since McKenna is an alum from UW Oshkosh, he said he tries to sell the school. “I just sell the school as a whole,” McKenna said. “I sell the team as well, and they are close,” Lara said. “They know what a good performance is for them. This school is great for education, and the campus is nice as well.” He says the championship experience helps get recruits. It is also about the perfect fit for the athlete. Freshman Roberto Lara said he found that perfect fit. Lara is a transfer from an Illinois community college, and he said he wanted to transfer here because of the trust McKenna established. “Coach McKenna kept in touch with me over the summer and checked up on me pretty often,” Lara said. “I knew [Oshkosh] had a successful running program in both cross country and track, and I wanted to be part of the noise. I came to watch a meet and was impressed with the talent. I wanted in.” Lara said the facilities were nice, and the education program was excellent. He also said that he doesn’t have to pay out-of-state tuition and could feel independent while staying close to home. The basketball programs get better every year. The women’s basketball program has won two straight conference championships and have made two straight NCAA tournament appearances. This attracts some players, but it’s not mainly about championships. “Winning championships are attractive, but it’s the athletes that put in the work to get better,” head coach Brad Fischer said. “It’s the people who want to be part of the success and people who want to get there. That’s what I look for in an athlete.” Fischer said he also looks for girls who want to look at the whole picture, instead of just basketball. “I have a lot expectations on and off the court,” Fischer said. “The girls understand that. No one can come here with a single focus of playing basketball. They need to understand and be comfortable with the whole picture. It is all about the perfect fit.” Fischer said he usually stays within a three-hour radius for recruiting, but has done more local recruiting. Sophomore Alex Richard said she wanted to be a part of the winning program and wanted to make this program a powerhouse for the future. “During my visit, coach [Fischer] talked about how serious he was about making Oshkosh a winning program,” Richard said. “I wanted to be a part of that.” Richard was in contact with several schools, but ultimately chose Oshkosh because the university was great in both basketball and education. It was also close to home, to the point where her family can make it to her home games. Junior Ashley Neustifter said she originally didn’t plan on continuing her basketball career. but just considered the education. “Oshkosh has a great education program, which is what I am going to school for,” she said. “I also wanted to stay close to home, where my family can continue to watch me play.” “We have the most down-to earth coaches,” he said. “They are very easy to talk to and are very fun. Yet they work very hard and are very knowledgeable.” Sommers also said that he knew the program was on the rise, persuading his decision to come here. He also said the offense fits him well as tight end. “Out of high school, I was undersized and didn’t have many scholarship offers,” he said. “I loved Coach Cerroni when he came and recruited me.” “Again, it’s all about the perfect fit,” Cerroni said.