Balancing a full-time academic load with the demands of participating in a competitive sport at the collegiate level is not easy.
Add a second sport, and the juggling act is even harder.
It takes a special individual to thrive and excel at the demands of being a dual-sport athlete. UW-Oshkosh student-athletes Jack Flynn and Isabella Samuels are those individuals.
Flynn and Samuels have been integral parts of the nationally recognized UW-Oshkosh basketball programs and have helped the resurgence of national prominence to the UW-Oshkosh track and field teams.
Flynn and Samuels were each three-sport stars at their respective high schools – Appleton West and Green Bay Preble – participating in volleyball, basketball and track & field.
When it came to deciding what to play in college and where at, it was UW-Oshkosh that offered exactly what they were looking for.
“I come from a very small family so staying close to home was a deal breaker for me,” Samuels said. “UW-Oshkosh was a little less than an hour from Green Bay, my family could come and watch my games and meets, and was a place where I felt like I could excel at both throwing and basketball. Oshkosh it was.”
Flynn was also intent on participating in both basketball and track & field in college and really liked what UW-Oshkosh offered.
“The high quality of culture, coaching and teammates that both teams had at UW-Oshkosh really appealed to me,” Flynn said.
Samuels arrived on campus in the fall of 2015, Flynn a year later in 2016. Both were ready to tackle being dual-sport athletes.
For UW-Oshkosh head women’s basketball coach Brad Fischer and assistant track & field coach Mary Theisen-Lappen – who coaches the throwers – each had trepidation on how it would work having an athlete play both basketball and outdoor track & field.
“We weren’t 100 percent sure how it would work,” Fischer said. “Could she do both at a really high level or would it take away from each side and take two sports she was really good at and make her average at both? She has proven she can be exceptional at both.”
Theisen-Lappen had just settled into her role at UW-Oshkosh when Samuels started her freshman campaign and knew a relationship with the basketball coaches would be crucial.
“I think it is very important for us to have a very open relationship about the student-athletes we share,” Theisen-Lappen said. “I don’t think Izzy (Isabella) and Jack would excel as much as they have if we didn’t have a good relationship.”
Also easing the trepidation for UW-Oshkosh head men’s basketball coach Matt Lewis was the lack of overlap between the two sport seasons.
“Fortunately, our seasons don’t overlap too much,” Lewis said. “Jack is able to focus on basketball and then transition to track & field following our season, and solely focus on track and field.”
With the logistics on how it would work settled, both Flynn and Samuels had to learn how to balance academics with the demands of both sports.
For Samuels, a women’s and gender studies and accelerated nursing major, the routine both basketball and track & field gave her has been a blessing.
“Being a two-sport athlete has definitely helped me become more aware of my time management,” Samuels said. “Having a set schedule also helps. I am able to block off time for when I am in practice and then dedicate enough time to school.”
Flynn, a communication major, appreciates the services the university provides.
“I have taken advantage of all the help that UW-Oshkosh offers,” Flynn said. “The labs have been a huge help for me, they help me a lot with things that I miss in class and have to learn myself. My professors are also very accommodating as are the Academic Team Fellows, they all make time for me to come in and get help.”
Flynn and Samuels are also both grateful for the support they’ve received from their respective coaches in pursing their dual-sport careers.
“Both Coach Lewis and Coach Theisen-Lappen have supported me tremendously in each sport I play and are very accommodating with me playing two sports,” Flynn said. “They both also stay in touch with me during my seasons and ask me how it’s going and both stay very involved with the sport I am in at the time.”
Samuels echoed Flynn’s comments.
“Coach Theisen-Lappen and Coach Fischer have been absolutely amazing when it comes to supporting me being a two-sport athlete,” Samuels said. “If I am in basketball season, Mary is constantly asking me about basketball and going to my games and when I am in track season, Coach Fischer is always keeping tabs on my meets and my marks. I couldn’t ask for two better coaches to influence and motivate me to be a two-sport athlete.”
This weekend’s NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Geneva, Ohio, is Samuels final meet as a Titan. And when the event ends, it will cap off what has been an extraordinary career.
On the basketball court, Samuels helped the Titans win two Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) regular season championship and two WIAC Tournament titles. She also played in three NCAA Division III postseason tournaments, including two Sweet Sixteen appearances.
UW-Oshkosh won 96 games during her four years on the basketball court, including 45 in WIAC action. She played in 83 games, getting the starting nod 47 times. Samuels ended her Titan career scoring 750 points, grabbing 365 rebounds, making 55 steals, passing out 43 assists and blocking 15 shots.
She also was named All-WIAC Honorable Mention in 2018 and All-WIAC First Team in 2019. Samuels went on to earn D3hoops.com All-Central Region Third Team honors and Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Division III Public Schools Women’s Basketball Player of the Year.
Fischer is proud of what Samuels has accomplished during her time as a Titan.
“She has taken advantage of every opportunity she has had and that is what careers come down to,” said Fischer. “They earn the opportunity to get to college and once they are there they have to take advantage of it. There are not a lot of people in that country that will leave with the resume and experiences that she has had and at the high level she has done it at.”
On the track & field side, Samuels is throwing the shot put at the NCAA Division III Championship for the third consecutive year. She finished 12th with a distance of 44-6 3/4 in the shot put at the 2017 NCAA Championship and become a NCAA All-American at the 2018 meet by placing sixth with a toss of 46-8. Samuels also took second place at this year’s WIAC Championship with a measurement of 45-9.
Theisen-Lappen isn’t ready to summarize Samuels’ track & field career just yet, instead she is focused on her performance this weekend.
“Izzy has grown so much in her career as a track & field athlete here,” Theisen-Lappen said. “My hopes for this weekend are to nail the technical aspects we have been working on the last couple of weeks. She is a gamer, and if the technical aspects of her throw are right, she will have a great weekend.”
Flynn still has another season of both basketball and track & field, but has strung together an already impressive three seasons at UW-Oshkosh.
“Jack has been part of the most successful teams in UW-Oshkosh basketball history,” Lewis said. “He has helped elevate our program to one of the best in Division III.”
He helped the Titans win their first NCAA Division III men’s basketball championship this past year, after a national runner-up finish in 2018. Flynn was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, along with being named D3hoops.com All-America Fourth Team, National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) All-Central Region Second Team and All-WIAC First Team.
Individually, Flynn has scored 1,085 points in his career, grabbed 607 rebounds, blocked 75 shots, assisted on 70 buckets and made 32 steals.
Like Samuels, Flynn earned All-America status in the discus last season at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Championship. He finished sixth with a measurement of 169-7 and will compete once again for a national title this weekend.
“Jack has improved almost every week since he returned to our team,” Theisen-Lappen said. “He is so competitive that those technical pieces should carry him to a great finish.”
Flynn and Samuels will put on their Titan uniforms for one last and very important meet this weekend.
Both appreciate what that uniform represents and couldn’t be happier that is says UW-Oshkosh on the front.
“Being able to be part of such successful programs with great coaching staffs that makes it impossible for one to fail only solidifies that being a Titan doesn’t just mean you get to put on a UW-Oshkosh jersey, it means you get to represent a school that strives for excellence every day and one that makes putting on that jersey a whole lot sweeter,” Samuels said.
“When I graduate, I will be able to say proudly that I am a Titan, and a Titan for life,” Flynn said.
Written by Liz Smith, UW-Oshkosh University Marketing & Communications