Stary, stary nights

For too many nights this season, University of Wisconsin-Stout basketball star Julia Hirssig has become painfully aware of her ceiling.

There’s nothing wrong up there. No peeling paint or crumbling plaster. Actually, the only real turmoil in the room is coming from the young woman down below. That’s Hirssig, who is staring angrily from her bed in the middle of the night at the blameless ceiling.

There’s a pattern here. Those angry stares happen every time Hirssig’s team loses a game, and last from midnight until about 2 in the morning.

Stout’s record is 14-10.

But don’t remind Hirssig that her team has reached double-figures in losses this season. It’s likely to just throw the 5-foot-11 former Rochester Mayo star into another fitful, staring night.


"We shouldn’t have that many losses," Hirssig said. "It’s been frustrating. It’s been a coulda-woulda-shoulda season. If we had done this, or had done that. . ."

Hirssig freely admits it. Nothing in life does she detest more than losing.

"When we lose, you don’t want to be around me," she said.

That, by itself, is the best explanation for the magnificent heights the senior has reached at the Division III Wisconsin school: Stout’s all-time leading scorer (1,674 points), second all-time in rebounds (968), first-team Academic All-American last year and second-team All-American, currently leads the country in field-goal percentage (.676), and by the time this year ends will be a three-time first-team all-conference player.

Hirssig, renowned for her work ethic, has done everything she can to avoid losing — and those long, angry stares at her ceiling.

"I’ve put a lot of time and passion into the game," said Hirssig, a Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism major with a glowing 3.96 GPA. "When I get into something, I just really get into it."

In Mark Thomas’ 23 years as Stout’s coach, he’s never had anyone quite like the driven Hirssig.

"She’s the hardest worker I’ve had," Thomas said. "She’s been a warrior for us. Every day, when she walks into the gym, I know what kind of effort I’m going to get from her. She’s just done a tremendous job of raising the bar as far as what we expect from our players, on and off the floor."


Hirssig picked Stout in large part because of its Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism program. It’s considered the top one in the country.

Hirssig, who would like someday to own a restaurant, has had no regrets since showing up at Stout, located in tiny college town Menomonie. And Stout women’s basketball teammates, coaches and fans have sure had none about Hirssig, either.

Hirssig, who led Mayo to the state tournament her senior season, has expanded her game every year. Thomas describes her now as a lethal blend of strength and quickness, with skills refined enough that besides playing center, she also frequently brings the ball up the court.

All of that force and ability has led Hirssig to draw a crowd on the basketball court.

"She gets pounded by the other team," Thomas said. "They are always running two to three players at her. But Julia is so strong, she can withstand it."

About the only thing Hirssig can’t take is when, at the end of the game, the other team has more points than hers.

When that happens, teammate and roommate Megan Maslowski knows how to proceed with Hirssig.

"If her door is closed, I know just to leave her alone," Maslowski said.

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