There’s not skirting around it: Both Nolan Vils and Maggie Hartwig are gifted athletically.
Division I sports are calling for the Sauk Prairie senior duo as Vils has committed to play football at the University of Wisconsin and Hartwig is set to play basketball at the University of Evansville. It’s a change that will see the two focus on the sole sports after being very involved throughout their high school careers.
Vils played football and wrestled all four years as well as three seasons of baseball for the Eagles, while Hartwig was part of two WIAA Division 2 state appearances in her four seasons on the volleyball team.
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The looming moves inspired both standouts to try something new this spring by joining the track and field team for the first time.
“Last year I was thinking about it and I thought I could do pretty well at shot put,” Vils said during the Badger Challenge in Portage on April 11. “I played baseball because that’s what I’d been doing since I was 7-years-old, but this year I was like ‘Well, I’m a senior. It’s my last year to try something new,’ and that’s pretty much why. It’s my last year to try out high school track.”
Added Hartwig: “This year, with no club basketball, I was like ‘Well, I might as well give it a try. One last fun sport to do my senior year.’”
Sauk Prairie coach Andy Sherman was delighted to hear about the pair opting to try track as opposed to their traditional sports. Vils had long been one of Sherman’s top recruiting targets dating to his freshman year because of his athleticism.
And when the future Badgers athlete made his commitment, the recruiting pitch started to get legs.
“Where I could sell it was saying ‘Hey, you can come throw and I’m pretty sure you can pick up that 12-pound ball in your hand and make it look like a marble, and you’re going to throw it well because you’re so strong. But then I can help you get faster for football,’” Sherman said.
“That was kind of our selling point and I’m just really happy he’s out for the team. I can really see he’s going to help us, and I’m just excited to have him with us.”
Vils, who will play defensive line for the Badgers, believes that speed work will really help him at the next level. Sherman is confident of that, too, and it’s shown with Vils’ impressive start. He won the shot put at the season-opening Watertown Indoor Invitational with a throw of 47 feet, 6 inches before adding two more inches to finish runner-up in the event at the Badger Challenge.
While Vils believed he’d be a great fit for the shot put from the outset, the discus was another story. He should have no doubt now after winning the Badger Challenge with a throw of 140-7.
It’s an impressive start, especially given Vils’ raw skillset.
“He’s doing this so far and he still doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Sherman said. “You can get guys who are really strong but they can’t move, and he’s just able to figure it out. That’s the impressive thing and as a head coach, it’s just fun to watch him.”
Vils acknowledged given how technically difficult both events are he “apparently picked up really, really quickly.” That being said, he’s fully aware there’s lots of room for improvement and fine-tuning, and the payoff won’t just be with farther throws with his hip and arm motions translating to the football field.
Hartwig is hopeful her first season on the track will be just as beneficial before her time playing for the Purple Aces.
Unlike Vils, the 6-foot-1 power forward planned to run track and field her freshman year before it ultimately got shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Former volleyball teammate and current Illinois State outside hitter Aida Shadewald pushed Hartwig to join her on the team last year, but the latter chose to remain on the hardwood.
However, after seeing how much success Shadewald had last spring — the current Redbirds freshman set the Eagles’ school record in the shot put (38-7¾) and discus (103-7) — Hartwig didn’t want to miss her shot.
“After seeing her season and how well she did I was like ‘You know I could be good at it. I would say I’m a pretty athletic person, so I might as well give it a try,’” Hartwig said.
The choice has worked out so far as she helped the Eagles record a pair of top-three relay finishes at the Badger Challenge. Hartwig alongside Olivia Schultz, Lexi Been and MariElla Viola won the 800-meter relay in 1 minute, 51.66 seconds, while she was later part of the third-place 1,600 relay (4:31.02).
All that sprinting should serve Hartwig well at Evansville as she said the Purple Aces run an up-tempo style of play.
“We do a lot of speed training and I think being able to have that on the basketball court, getting up and down on defense, will help me a lot,” she said.
The former middle blocker should also be able to put her jumping abilities to use, too. Originally slated to compete in the long jump at the Badger Challenge, Hartwig didn’t compete in the event, though she found a potential new event in the high jump having seen none of her teammates compete.
It’s that level of positivity and athleticism that has Sherman so excited about Hartwig’s possibilities.
“All the things she did well with the other teams where they were able to win, she’s now helping our team do that,” he said.
Sherman is hopeful both Vils and Hartwig can have long-lasting effects on the program this season. While viewing both as viable scoring threats in both invitational competition and dual meets, Sharman knows there are plenty of underclassmen who are looking up to both seniors. The more eyeballs on that type of athleticism and skill, the more longevity the program can create.
“We’re also hopefully going to get the payoff later with the little kids who know them and are going ‘Oh, they’re going out for track? Track kind of rules,’” he said. “It’s a lot of fun when you get those great athletes out and it makes your team better.”
That isn’t on the mind of the pair as much, as Hartwig and Vils are both looking to enjoy a change of pace in the final chapter of their high school careers.
“Next year is going to be serious and time to get down to it, so I think this was a really good idea for me,” Hartwig said. “I think just trying new things and being with a different team. I’m not really used to this atmosphere and it’s a good eye-opener for me.”