Coach Kyle Rechlicz has never passed the captain’s baton for a women’s basketball team to an underclassmen until Steph Kostowicz ran away with it for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
After missing part of last basketball season with a shin stress fracture, the sophomore forward is flourishing as a first-year starter. Kostowicz has averaged 9.9 points and a team-leading 9.9 rebounds per game in eight non-conference games.
“From when last season ended to the beginning of this season, there was a switch that flipped in her mind,” Rechlicz said.“After she got injured, she took on this mentality that she’s never going to take a play off.”
Kostowicz also doesn’t embrace taking time off once basketball season ends, picking up the javelin, discus and shot put as a thrower for Milwaukee’s track and field program. She earned seventh-place honors in javelin and discus, and an eighth-place effort in shot put at the 2014 Horizon League outdoor championship.
Basketball is the priority and counter sport for Kostowicz, meaning her full-time scholarship falls under that program’s scholarship count. “Our sport takes precedence money-wise over track,” Rechlicz said.
Kostowicz committed to play basketball at Milwaukee the summer prior to her senior year at Oak Creek (Wis.) High School, and was then approached by a Milwaukee assistant track coach, inquiring about her interest in becoming a dual-sport competitor for the Panthers.
The 6-foot-2 player helped lead Oak Creek to a 2014 state girls Division 1 basketball championship, and posted a runner-up effort in state shot put that same year.
College life as a dual-sport athlete has been a rewarding experience for Kostowicz, who said a large corps of friends and supportive teammates are benefits. Getting enough sleep and securing WiFi to study during eight-hour bus rides to track invitationals are some challenges.
“I absolutely love it,” Kostowicz said. “You’re only young once, and only have this level of stamina at this time in my life, so I think I appreciate doing as much as I can.”
Milwaukee head track and field coach Pete Cofeld said he likes the dynamic a multi-sport athlete brings to a team. He’s had soccer and volleyball players transition to track during his 27-year tenure with the Panthers.
Kostowicz tackled throwing javelin for the first time as a freshman at Milwaukee, due to the fact the event is not one offered at the high school level in Wisconsin.
“Old-school coaching wants people’s athleticism to come out in other sports and then apply it to their main sport,” Cofeld said. “It works out awesome from what I’ve seen, but unfortunately, everyone is specialized in one sport these days.
“If they truly love both sports, you can take them a long way. A person in Steph’s situation is what I’m looking for. She’s an outstanding athlete and her situation is pretty cool. I hope she sticks it out (for four years).”
Kostowicz does no training for track during basketball season, but continues basketball conditioning two to three days per week in the off-season with shooting drills and post-player fundamentals, coinciding with outdoor track season. Track is comprised of workouts and practice every weekday, in addition to meets.
A schedule jam-packed with workouts, competition and homework might faze the average student-athlete, but Koskowicz’s aims are far from average. She’ll apply to Milwaukee’s nursing school this winter, with a career goal of working as a nurse anesthetist.
At the moment, Koskowicz said she’s not struggling to juggle two sports, but staying out in front of her homework has been critical to her success. She’s logged a fair share of long, 12- to 14-hour days with the track-basketball combination.
“There are some nights when you’re done with practice and you just want to lay in bed but you know you have to get this assignment done, you have to study for this exam coming up,” she said. “You need to do your work early.”
If Koskowicz was forced to choose one sport, basketball would get the nod. For the time being, though, she has no plans of unlacing her track shoes.
“If I have kids in the future and they’re like ‘How am I supposed to do homework and go to practice?’ I’ll tell them: ‘You don’t even know, it gets way worse,’” Koskowicz joked.
“I have something to remember. I’m going to do both until someone tells me I am physically unable to be in two places at one time.”
Above: Playing two sports is easy for Milwaukee’s Steph Kostowicz: “You’re only young once.” (Courtesy Milwaukee Athletics)
Middle: After basketball wraps up, Steph Kostowicz moves to the field events for track and field season (Courtesy Milwaukee Athletics)