Two years ago, Manitowoc Lincoln’s Andrew Ziolkowski was a baseball player holding out hope to play collegiality. On Friday, he completed his dream of being a college athlete, signing his national letter of intent to Cardinal Stritch University.
In doing so, he traded in a pair of baseball cleats for running shoes as the newest member of the Wolves’ men’s cross country team.
“I always wanted to play baseball,” Ziolkowski said. “That dream just didn’t happen to work out, but I was blessed with another opportunity to earn an education while still following my passion.”
Up until his junior year at Lincoln, Ziolkowski had tried several sports — including football — but nothing seemed to fit.
“I loved the team aspect of football but something was missing,” Ziolkowski added.
In a roundabout way, his first love — baseball — led him down the path to join coach Len Nikolai’s Ships cross country team in search of that missing piece of the puzzle.
“My dad had scared me off cross country when I thought about joining as a freshman by telling me I’d have to run 200 miles over the summer, so I sort of put joining the cross country team on the back burner,” Ziolkowski said. “The idea never really popped up again until talking with [Lincoln baseball coach Bruce Steinbecker]. Coach Steinbecker told me the best player he ever had ran for coach Nikolai.”
After talking with several members of the Lincoln cross country team and being assured Nikolai was only interested in improving his runners both on and off the course, Ziolkowski decided to join the team his junior year not knowing what the future held.
“One of the main reasons I chose Cardinal Stritch was the comfort level I had with the coaching staff,” Ziolkowski added. “[Cardinal Stritch cross country coach Greg Daggett] really has the same approach as coach Nikolai. He’s not as interested in how well his runners place as long as they’re consistently improving and have a healthy attitude towards life.”
After admitting to be being incredibly raw as a runner his first year, Ziolkowski continued to improve his times meet after meet on his way to being named the Ships’ most valuable runner his senior season.
The one regret Ziolkowski holds is there’s no telling how much faster and polished of a runner he’d be if he’d chosen to go out for cross country his freshmen year. He did achieve his goal of running under 20 minutes, though, finishing in a time of 19:29 at sectionals.
“I’ve come so far in two years,” Ziolkowski said. “It’ll be exciting to see where I am after I finish my career with Cardinal Stritch.”