Wildcat Leadership in Africa
by Jen Dobias, Sports Information Director
Given the opportunity to adventure 9,000 miles away from his native Michigan, NMU football long snapper Aaron Rochow didn’t hesitate to take it.
After a rigorous application process, Rochow was offered an internship with the African Leadership Academy, a boarding school in South Africa that aims to develop the next generation of African leaders.
An international political science major, he recognized the internship as a chance to immerse himself in a culture radically different than his own.
“In the field of international political science, you’re going to be living abroad,” Rochow said. “You’re going to be communicating with folks from all different kinds of countries. Understanding the sociocultural environment you’re living in and how to communicate with other people, understanding currency exchange, becoming a more efficient traveler, these were helpful experiences that I can use later in life.”
At the African Leadership Academy, Rochow was a member of the team that helped the Global Scholars Program run seamlessly. Directly responsible for student sign-ups, he kept track of student information, coordinated travel to and from the airport and tackled everything from phone problems to rejected Visas.
“We did all the behind-the-scenes things that allowed educators to focus on building relationships with the students,” Rochow said. “We didn’t want them worrying about if the bus was going to show up or if lunch was going to be there or if a student was going to come to the camp.”
Rochow didn’t just make a daily impact at the African Leadership Academy. He also set it up for future success by helping replace its outdated camp registration software.
“I basically designed a program that would eliminate my job,” he said. “That was where I was able to leave the mark the most: designing how next year was going to go and keeping track of the issues I ran into and had to solve. I helped solve them beforehand so whoever takes over wouldn’t have to deal with them.”
Despite his busy schedule and many responsibilities, Rochow made time for football so he’d be ready for his sophomore season. He worked out three to four times a week at a local gym and ran laps around the African Leadership Academy’s soccer field almost every day. He also found a creative way to hone his long-snapping skills.
“None of my friends were able to catch any of my snaps,” he said, with a chuckle. “So I ended up tying my sock to a soccer net and just snapping balls at that the whole summer.”
Rochow also went on a safari at the Lion Park, spent time in Cape Town and downtown Johannesburg and attended the U.S. Embassy’s 4th of July celebration.
In the end, Rochow’s experience in South Africa taught him what he wants in his future career.
“I’m very interested in places that aren’t exactly mainstream because that’s where most of the work is that the State Department needs to do,” Rochow said. “I would definitely go back and work in Africa. I loved Africa, and I want to explore more of what it has to offer. I’m also very interested in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. I’d like to end up in all of those areas at some point.”
NMU Olympic Training Center Athletes Represent Well at Summer Olympics
Greco-Roman wrestler Andy Bisek ’10 BS, along with six other Olympic Training Site alumni, represented Northern Michigan University at the Summer Olympic Games held during August in Rio de Janeiro. NMU has been represented by current or former students at every Winter and Summer Games since the Olympic training program began on campus in 1985.
Bisek was joined by former NMU students Robby Smith and Ben Provisor on the United States Greco-Roman team. The NMU trio filled all but one position on that team and Provisor was considered the veteran as it was his second Olympic Games. Bisek entered the competition as a World Championships bronze medalist, but he and his teammates were unable to reach the medal podium in Rio. (Bisek was, however, just hired as assistant Greco-Roman wrestling coach at the NMU-OTS.)
Former NMU-OTS freestyle wrestler Helen Maroulis made history for the United States by becoming Team USA’s first gold medalist in the sport. In the championship match, Maroulis defeated Japan’s Saori Yoshida, who only lost twice in the last 14 years. Former NMU teammate Adeline Gray also joined Maroulis on Team USA. She reached the quarterfinals before being eliminated from competition.
Two-time Olympian and former NMU-OTS weightlifting team member Sarah Robles also made history by winning a bronze medal, ending a 16-year medal drought for United States weightlifters.
Mikaela Mayer became the first female boxer with ties to NMU to compete at the Olympics. While attending Northern, she trained with former NMU-OTS coach Al Mitchell. Although Mayer went into the Games ranked first in the world, she was ultimately defeated in the quarterfinals, just short of medal contention.
NMU was also represented at the Paralympics for the first time by para-canoe athlete Kelly Allen. While NMU is not an official training site for para-canoe, Allen, an Upper Peninsula native, trained in NMU facilities and used the NMU-OTS sports medicine clinic and strength coach while she was a student.
Third Olympics for NMU Swim Coach
No matter where, Wildcat networking is all in a day's work.
Interview by Jen Dobias
Milton Braga’s third Olympics played out a little differently than his first two.
Braga, who dove for Brazil at the 1976 and 1980 Olympic games, served as a color commentator for SporTV at the 2016 edition.
“I was a behind-the-scenes guy and provided insight,” the Northern Michigan diving coach said. “I was able to connect the old-timers and new-timers and give a lot of fun facts that made people say, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool,’ when they heard them.”
SporTV, the Brazilian equivalent of ESPN, relied on Braga’s connections and deep knowledge of diving to bolster its coverage.
“I would go to the pool in the morning, watch the practice and talk to the coaches and divers,” Braga said. “The main announcer told me to treat it like a conversation. He had me share stories about divers I knew and their connections to these games.”
While Braga enjoyed every second he spent on the air, poolside and in the Olympic Village, the highlight of his trip was how his native Rio de Janiero represented itself on the international stage.
“Everything went smoothly from the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony,” Braga said. “The only unusual thing that happened was the pool water turned green. I’m not responsible for that, but it was nice to see Wildcat colors in the house.”
And Northern Michigan was never far from Braga’s mind. He packed plenty of Wildcat shirts to wear during his time in Rio.
“Every place I went, they saw NMU,” Braga said, with a laugh. “I gave NMU cards to coaches, and I left my NMU hat with my nephew. I was a marketing person for NMU in Latin America. Maybe we’ll start drawing swimmers and divers from there.”
Sports Hall of Fame Highlights
On September 23, the Northern Michigan Athletic Department inducted five individuals and one team into the Sports Hall of Fame.
The class of 2016 included Dave Bradshaw ’76 BS, Jim Grahek ’81 BS, Cory Hartbarger ’56 BS, Morgan Smyth ’08 BS, Jeremy Wilkinson ’99 BS and the 1967 football team. The 1967 football team became the first team since 2000 to be inducted. The Wildcats went 9-0 in the regular season, outscoring their opponents, 251-75. They pitched two shutouts and allowed more than 10 points in only three games.
Dave Bradshaw, a swimmer, captured multiple All-American awards in distance races and relays. He also set pool records in two events and school records in three more before graduating from Northern Michigan in 1976. “I’m more than honored,” Bradshaw said. “There have been many great athletes out of Northern and great coaches as well. It just brings me back to where it all started.”
Jim Grahek, a ski jumper, represented the United States at the 1980 Olympics. As a senior in 1980, he led the Wildcats to an NCAA ski jumping team title and captured first team All-American laurels with a third-place finish. “It’s a really great honor,” Grahek said. “I’m honored for being remembered for something that happened so long ago. I love the school, and I use the experience I got there to this day.”
Cory Hartbarger competed for the track & field team from 1953 to 1956. He was named the team’s MVP as a senior after going undefeated in the discus and javelin. He also had success at the national level in senior athletics, winning a silver medal in the shot put at the 2009 National Senior Games. “I’m still very amazed by this honor and have difficulty understanding how it happened,” Hartbarger said. “Northern was a godsend for me. All the good things that have occurred in my life, I give Northern most of the credit.”
Mortan Smyth teamed with Lindsey (Weier) Dehlin ‘11 BS and Lindsay Williams to secure the first double podium sweep in the NCAA Skiing Championship’s history. Smyth took second in the 5K freestyle and sealed the sweep with her third-place finish in the 15K classic. She was also named the 2008 CCSA Skier of the Year as a senior. “It’s a huge honor,” Smyth said. “For me, being part of the NMU ski team was a huge honor. Being inducted into the NMU Sports Hall of Fame was something I never even dreamed of.”
Jeremy Wilkinson, a football wide receiver, set numerous Wildcat records and was named to three all-league teams. He finished his career in 1999 with 3,367 career receiving yards and 35 career touchdown receptions, records that still stand today. “I remember when I first went to the Superior Dome, I looked at all of the plaques on the walls,” Wilkinson said. “I remember reading those and thinking it would be neat to be up there with all of those athletes and coaches one day.”
To read each inductee’s full story, visit NMUWildcats.com/general/Feature_Stories
The Northern Michigan cross country team qualified for its second-straight NCAA National Championship by placing fourth at the NCAA Midwestern Regional on Nov. 5. At the national meet on Nov. 19, the Wildcats placed 14th in the 32-team field. Kameron Burmeister raced to an All-American finish, taking 30th with a time of 21:16.7. She is the first Wildcat since 2005 to earn All-American accolades.
The cross country team also had a memorable GLIAC Championship on Oct. 22, placing second behind 2016 NCAA National Champion Grand Valley State. Five all-GLIAC performances lifted the Wildcats to that finish, their best at the GLIAC Championship since 2005. For the third-straight year, Burmeister earned a spot on the all-GLIAC first team, placing sixth (21:57.6). She was joined on the first team by Caroline Brisbois, who finished ninth (22:15.0). Sophie McDonald (17th, 22:38.1), Abby Fifarek (19th, 22:42.3) and Vivian Hett (20th, 22:44.1) all made the all-GLIAC second team.
Shaye Brown became Northern Michigan’s leader in career touchdown throws on Sept. 3 at Lake Erie and its leader in career passing yards on Sept. 10 against Angelo State. He is also the first Wildcat quarterback to exceed 1,000 passing attempts and 600 completions and tied Tom Bertoldi for longest touchdown pass with a 92-yard throw to Paris Woods on Oct. 1 against Walsh.
The men’s soccer team had a memorable inaugural season. Northern Michigan won its first game on Sept. 18, toppling Walsh, 5-2 at the NMU Soccer Field. Ben Hoffman (2g-2a), Sveinn Karlsson (1g-3a) and Eric Suess (1g-1a) paced Northern Michigan to its historic victory. Hoffman wrote his name into the record book by scoring the Wildcats’ first goal On Sept. 4 at Missouri-St. Louis,
The women’s golf team captured its first victory at the Wildcat Invitational, held Sept. 10-11 at Marquette Golf Club. The Wildcats, in their second season, posted a two-round 490 (178-312), 25 strokes better than the second-place team. Haley Hewer (40-75) and Avery Rochester (43-72) tied for the individual title by shooting a 115. Rochester went on to break her own single-round school record with a 71 posted during the Northwood Invitational’s first round on Oct. 3.
Robbie Payne became the first Wildcat hockey player in 10 years to have a five-point night on Oct. 8 against Wisconsin, notching two shorthanded goals and three assists. His two shorthanded strikes tied a school record last matched in 1999 by J.P. Vigier. For his efforts, Payne was named the WCHA’s Offensive Player of the Week and was featured in the NCAA’s Plays of the Week.