Zaeske played baseball and basketball for the Trojans, but football and track were his calling cards as he captained both squads his final two years and was recruited in both sports.
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Despite his somewhat circuitous journey, Zaeske is happy with how everything worked out.
“I participated in baseball my freshman year instead of track, but by my sophomore year some teachers convinced me that track was the right path,” said Zaeske, who ended up qualifying for the WIAA state meet three times, including winning the Division 2 high jump title as a senior in 2010. “I took third place (at state) in the 400-meter dash my junior and senior year and set school records in the 200, 400 and high jump. Surprisingly, I was not a good long jumper in high school.
“I actually wanted to go to UW-La Crosse but never got accepted there,” Zaeske said. “I had offers from (NCAA) Division-II schools such as Minnesota State-Mankato, but all of the offers were to play football and none of them were a sufficient amount of money. I chose Whitewater because of the convenience being close to home. I really liked what Mankato had to offer, but they were just too far away. I originally came here to play football, but after working out with the team for two weeks I decided it wasn’t for me and set up a meeting with coach Mike Johnson. I asked if I could do track and he said absolutely and that he thought I could be successful if I put the time and effort in.
“I started out my freshman year as a pentathlete, but the coaches realized that it wasn’t for me and decided to have me just do long jump and high jump,” he added. “My best event would definitely be long jump, considering I am a four-time All-American. But I really do enjoy doing both.”
And it’s shown. Zaeske’s recent accomplishments include finishing second in the high jump (6-91/2) and fourth in the long jump (23-4) at the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association indoor championships; UW-W teammate and Badger High School alum Justin Bowers won the latter event (23-101/4).
Zaeske also participated in the D-III national indoor meet March 14 and March 15 in Nebraska, tying for 12th in the high jump at 6-41/4 and finishing fifth and earning All-America status with his effort of 23-13/4 in the long jump.
He continues to work at his craft as he and the Warhawks prepare for the outdoor season to start in April.
“I definitely improved the most in the long jump,” he said. “Coming out of high school I was only a 20-foot long jumper, but I came here and in my first season I ended up jumping 23 feet, which was remarkable considering what I was doing a year earlier. I have jumped as far as 24-91/2 (outdoors) and want to set a school record (24-111/4). I also have qualified for nationals in high jump but didn’t get on the podium and have jumped as high as 6-9. I can definitely improve my consistency in the high jump. That was my go-to event in high school and I still have success with it, but I am inconsistent.”
Zaeske also said transitioning from indoor competition to dealing with Mother Nature can be challenging.
“Some people would argue there is no difference in the indoor and outdoor seasons as far as jumping goes, but I always have long jumped better outdoors,” he said. “The wind does make a small difference, but I think it has more to do with the mindset and the atmosphere. Outdoor always seems to be more competitive. I definitely high jump better indoors. The cold weather mixed with wind really can mess up your approach outdoors, and a consistent approach is everything in high jump. You can either jump high or you can’t, and the rest comes down to the approach.”
Zaeske was a second-team all-conference pick at defensive back and running back his final two seasons for the Trojans and led the league in interceptions as a junior. He is majoring in health, human performance and recreation and minoring in health promotion and expects to graduate in December.
Zaeske comes from an athletic family: His older sister, Stephanie, played volleyball as a prepster; his older brother Dan competed in track and cross country in high school; and younger brother Cody is a redshirt freshman on a partial track scholarship at Oklahoma.
“Danny was my role model in high school and was my best friend,” Zaeske said of the recent UW-W graduate. “He was pretty much the one who got me to join track in the first place and showed me to a lot of my lifelong friends. I don’t think I would be where I am today without all of his support.”