Panthers In The Pros: Catching Up With Chad Pierce, Lindsay Laur And Sarah Hagen
May 7, 2012
MILWAUKEE - Former University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student-athletes Chad Pierce, Lindsay Laur and Sarah Hagen continue to live their dreams of playing at the professional level. We had an opportunity this week to catch up with all three of them as they continue to excel on the baseball diamond, basketball court and soccer field.
Pierce is with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in Appleton, Wis., this season, the Class "A" affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. After being named the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year and First-Team All-Horizon League as a senior in 2011, Pierce was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 38th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft.
He spent last summer with the Helena Brewers, the team's rookie affiliate in Montana. He went 2-4 in 15 games (five starts), striking out 33 batters in 39.1 innings.
"Things have been going really well so far," Pierce said. "It started off with a great spring training and then I was given the opportunity to start the season in Appleton. I've thrown well the first couple times out and I'm hoping to continue improving on that."
Although it's early in the 2012 campaign, Pierce is off to a strong start in his second season in Minor League Baseball. The Timber Rattlers are currently 16-11, with Chad appearing in five games so far, all out of the bullpen. He is 1-0 in those appearances, working 16.1 innings with an ERA of 2.20. He has 20 strikeouts and has limited opponents to a .237 batting average.
"I think the biggest change this year is going to be playing more games, obviously, but the longer road trips and such," Pierce said. "Being on the road for up to 14 days at a time is something that I haven't had to deal with and it will be a unique experience this year. Playing 140 games takes a toll physically and mentally and just learning different ways to keep as sharp as possible."
As an added bonus, Pierce is playing less than an hour away from his hometown of Fond du Lac, Wis. Friends and family have already had the opportunity to see him play at Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium.
"It's great being so close to home," Pierce said. "Family and friends are able to come up to games and when I feel like it, I am able to head home for the night and have a nice home-cooked meal with the parents. Just the opportunity to keep playing baseball is special, but being close to home to start the season makes it surreal."
Laur finished as the No. 4 scorer (1,404 points) and No. 3 rebounder (791 rebounds) in Milwaukee's Division I history. Following First-Team All-Horizon League honors as a senior, she is now enjoying her second season in professional basketball, playing for the Hobart Lady Chargers of the South East Australian Basketball League.
Laur was recently named the initial SEABL Player of the Month for the season after averaging 19.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in March. Through the first eight contests, she is averaging 17.6 points (ranking 10th) and is first in the league with 11.6 rebounds per game. In addition, she leads the league in free throw percentage at 92.3 percent, making 24 of her 26 attempts from the charity stripe to date.
"My experience in Australia has been amazing so far," Laur said. "This country is so beautiful. The people are so laid back, nice and welcoming and the food here is so yummy and always fresh! Every day I wake up here, I feel so fortunate to be where I'm at. So far, basketball has been pretty good. I love my teammates and my coaches are great. Our chemistry gets better with each practice. And yes, I started out the season on a good note. Traveling the world is quite amazing ... especially because I get to play basketball as a bonus. There are so many places I would still love to travel."
That comes after an initial pro campaign this past November when she led the Carolina Giants to the BNSF championship in Puerto Rico. She posted impressive statistics as the team's leading scorer during the regular season, going 120-for-227 (.529) from the floor, 14-for-41 (.341) from three-point range and 73-for-84 (.869) from the free throw line in averaging 16.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest.
Unlike Pierce, who has had the luxury of staying close to home, Laur has been a world traveler so far in her professional endeavors. It took some getting used to, but she certainly has enjoyed the whirlwind so far.
"So far, being away hasn't been too bad," Laur said. "I miss my family and friends very much, but it really helps to have good coaches, roommates and teammates here in Hobart. I try and Skype my family once or twice per week and I Skype, email or Facebook people all the time. On off days, my teammates and I do things together, like go on little adventures to a wildlife park, or museums, out to a new place to eat, shopping at the markets in town and to some random chocolate, cheese and cherry factories to wineries. We truly are lucky to be here and far from giving up this life just yet!"
Hagen entered her senior season already a legend in school and Horizon League history. An All-American in each of her three seasons, she was already the school and league's all-time leader in career goals and points. She had set the league's single-season record for goals in goals as a freshman and tied it as a sophomore. To say that the bar was set high for her senior season would be a bit of an understatement.
"Choosing to play at UWM under Mike (Moynihan) and David (Nikolic) was one of the best decisions that I've ever made," Hagen said. "At the time of choosing a school to play for, I was just coming back from my cancer and wasn't in top shape for recruiting, but Mike and David were willing to give me a chance. They were really the only Division I coaches that were interested in me and I am very thankful for the opportunity that they gave me. Coming in as a freshman, I didn't have any idea at how successful of a season I was going to have, so my mentality for playing professionally at that point was pretty scarce. Over the years at UWM, Mike and David helped show me that I had what it took to play at the next level. I think it's one thing hearing it from other people, but I think you yourself need to believe in your own abilities, which they did."
She capped her career with school and league records of 26 goals and 61 points, leading the nation in goals per game, points per game and game-winning goals (11). Her career totals reached meteoric heights, as she finished her career with 93 goals and 212 points, both of which have her among the all-time best of NCAA Division I history. Aside from garnering numerous awards in the league, region and nationally, she led Milwaukee to its finest season yet. The Panthers spent the majority of the season ranked, peaking at No. 9 and settling at No. 23. They also set a school record with 19 wins, won a first round NCAA Tournament game and advanced to the second round for the third time ever.
"Playing professionally has always been a dream of mine and now to be doing what I love is unbelievable," Hagen said. "Playing with and against some of the best players in the world is exciting and also challenging."
After completing her eligibility, Hagen elected to sign her first professional contract in Germany with Bayern Munich of the women's Bundesliga, the top flight of women's soccer in the country. She was also drafted in the first round of the 2012 Women's Professional Soccer draft, fifth overall, despite not being able to join the team until May. Her decision proved prudent, as the WPS suspended operations for the 2012 season and she has excelled with her team.
"I think the biggest difference from the college level to the professional level is the variety of talent on the team," Hagen said. "Here at Bayern, and even within the Bundesliga, there are so many talented players on each team that it makes it that much more challenging to find time on the field. I think the gap from the best player on the team to the worst player on the team is much smaller than that of a college team."
Hagen has started seven-of-eight regular season matches for Munich since the team started its second half of the season. She scored a pair of goals in her professional debut and recently picked up a hat trick in the German Cup semifinals. Her three goals and assist in the 5-1 win propelled the team to the finals May 12 in Cologne.
"Adapting to the lifestyle here in Germany has been interesting," Hagen said. "At first, it was difficult hearing everything in German whether it was training, going to the grocery store, or even talking to teammates. But, after spending almost five months here it has gotten a lot easier. Our coach speaks in German at trainings, but will also speak in English if I don't understand something. Pretty much everyone on our team speaks a fair amount of English, so that has been nice. I've been taking German lessons once a week, but it's a very difficult language to learn and my teammates usually just laugh when I try to speak."