Kerrigan Lyga was a standout basketball star at Cochrane-Fountain City High School just a few years ago. She chose to attend the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, even though she didn’t continue her athletic career.
After some time, however, she felt like something was missing from her life.
“I found myself shooting baskets alone in the gym, wishing I was still on a team,” she said.
Lyga eventually transferred back to Western Technical College. After being mentioned in an email to Western’s head coach by her former basketball coach at Cochrane-Fountain City, she was invited to practice, and later joined, the women’s team.
“I fell in love with the atmosphere,” said Lyga. “I loved being an athlete again.”
Not many people are aware of the athletic opportunities at Western. In fact, some say it’s the best kept secret at the college.
Athletics have been a Western tradition since 1967, although the programs offered have changed over the years. Over time, Western has fielded teams in cross country, golf, and even bowling.
Currently, the Cavaliers, as they are known, represent Western in men’s baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, and women’s volleyball, competing in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference (MCAC) of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).
That little-known fact gives Western the upper hand against other colleges in the state.
“Only three of the 16 Wisconsin Technical Colleges have multiple varsity sports competing in the NJCAA, and with our residence hall, it makes us very unique,” said Dave Fish, athletic director for Western since 1994. “We average around 70 to 80 varsity athletes a year, and 95 percent of them wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have sports.”
Athletics have always played an important role in the academic success of Western’s students as well. Just this year, 18 students in all four sports earned all-academic honors with the conference this past year. Team GPAs for the women’s basketball team have been between 3.3 and 3.5 the last two seasons.
In addition to the academics, the chance to play athletics can be an important factor in choosing a college.
“I can think of several players I recruited last year that were set for schools elsewhere, but changed their mind and came to Western because of the chance to play basketball,” said Chad Dull, head coach for the women’s basketball team. “It’s a great way to promote Western and connect to young people inside and outside our area with a dream of continuing their athletic career.”
Lyga says she is continuing her dream to play basketball, and says others are doing the same.
“I’m a competitor, and it’s a really cool thing to be surrounded by other competitors,” said Lyga. “You don’t always get the chance to be on the court with other people who want to be there.”
“Because we play in a quality conference against quality opponents, as well as the chance to keep playing sports, these moments will be treasured when the players look back at their lives,” added Dull. “And it is very likely the best friends they make in college will be fellow student athletes.”
Lyga hopes others see the benefits of continuing their athletic careers, even if it’s not where they expected.
“Being a Cavalier has been one of the best times of my life. You spend so much time with your teammates and your coaches that they become family,” said Lyga. “It’s amazing to be part of something that matters, and Western athletics matter.”
Western’s volleyball and women’s and men’s basketball teams compete at Holy Cross Seminary Gym, 3710 East Ave. South, La Crosse. Western’s baseball team competes at Copeland Park.
To learn more about Western’s athletic programs, head to www.westerntc.edu/athletics.