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Backing the Badgers
Wisconsin mens basketball coach Greg Gard and his wife, Michelle Gard, visit with Badger fans at the 63rd annual Monroe Badger Days Tuesday at the Ludlow Mansion. To order this photo, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - The 63rd annual Monroe Badger Days is more than cheese, meeting University of Wisconsin coaches and bragging about the Badgers success on the field, court and ice.

Colony Brands President and CEO John Baumann said Monroe Badger Days will fund two more scholarships next season in a push to raise $1 million in five years to fund scholarships for UW student-athletes.

One two-year scholarship went to UW volleyball player Lauren Carlini last year. Baumann said Monroe Badger Days will also fund scholarships for senior linebacker Vince Biegel, who plays for the Badgers football team, and senior Michelle Cheung, a Hong Kong native on the women's golf team.

UW women's hockey coach Mark Johnson commended Pat Kubly and Colony Brands for their support of Badger athletics for more than a half a century.

"The money raised in this event will go towards someone getting a scholarship and going out into the community," Johnson said. "Hopefully, in four or five years, they will be an asset to the community."

The pledge for two additional scholarships was just one highlight from the event Tuesday at Ludlow Mansion. The culmination of the two-day Badger bash, which serves as a fundraiser for the UW Athletic Department, included updates from UW coaches on highlights of the 2015 season and recruiting updates.

One of the big hits was Wisconsin men's basketball coach Greg Gard, who was named the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year after taking over for Bo Ryan midseason and guiding the Badgers to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six years. The Badgers went 12-6 under Gard to close the regular season and finished fourth in the Big Ten. Wisconsin then upset Pittsburgh in the second round of the NCAA tournament and stunned Xavier on Bronson Koenig's buzzer-beater.

Gard, a Cobb native, played basketball at Iowa-Grant against former Monroe boys basketball coach Pat Murphy when he was at Mineral Point.

"I think when we were 1-4 Big Ten and 9-9 (overall), I thought I would have to apply for Murphy's job down here in Monroe," Gard said referencing Murphy's decision to resign as the MHS boys head coach after the past season.

Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes pulled out of Thursday's NBA draft so he could return to play his senior year with the Badgers. The Badgers return all five starters from last year's team that made a surprise tournament run.

"With Nigel returning and not entering the NBA draft, expectations will change," Gard said. "There are some pollsters who have us in the top 25 and picking us to win the Big Ten. We can't worry about playing Syracuse in November or Oklahoma in December. We have to worry about getting better in June, July and August before that."

Success is nothing new for Johnson and the UW women's hockey team. Johnson has a team coming off a Frozen Four appearance. Johnson, who has 395 career coaching wins and won four national titles, has guided the Badgers women's hockey team to nine Frozen Four appearances in the last 11 years.

The UW women's hockey team has a 25-game home winning streak and has had 12 straight sellouts.

"That's unique," Johnson said. "You don't see that all over the country."

Badger fans in Green County also got a chance to meet new Wisconsin women's basketball coach Jonathan Tsipis. Tsipis coached four years at George Washington University and was named the Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year last season. The first chance Tsipis, a Cleveland native, got to meet someone from Monroe, when Jamie Armstrong, a 2010 Monroe High School graduate, was playing volleyball and basketball at George Washington.

"I called her Jessica in my initial meeting with the team," Tsipis said. "It was then that she ended up just playing volleyball."

Tsipis said he wants to focus on recruiting the top players from Wisconsin and plans to build a hard working team that takes pride in playing the game for its home state and playing defense.

"I hope when you come and watch the Wisconsin women play you feel like that is your daughter out there playing," he said.

Badger Days marked a reunion for new UW men's hockey coach Tony Granato, who was an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL last season. Granato, 51, played hockey at Wisconsin from 1983 to '87 and went on to a 13-year career in the NHL with the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

Granato is replacing Mike Eaves, who was fired in March after 14 years with the Badgers.

"Looking out and seeing all of the red shirts there was a big part in my heart when I left that wanted to return to Wisconsin," he said. "As a kid, I always dreamed about being in the NHL. There is more than the NHL."

Granato said the Badgers men's hockey team has underachieved the last two years.

"They are better players," he said. "There are good enough players and potential to rebound."

Wisconsin sophomore Luke Kunin is expected to be drafted in the top 10 or 15 picks in the first round of Friday's NHL draft, Granato said. He cited three other incoming recruits who could be selected in the second round of the draft.

UW football coach Paul Chryst is coming off a 10-3 season and a 23-21 Holiday Bowl win over USC in his first year as the head coach for the Badgers last year.

Chryst gave kudos to Colony Brands for its support of the UW athletic program.

"I have known the name Colony Brands since the time I was growing up," he said. "We all want to be a part of excellence."

The Badgers football team has made 14 straight bowl game appearances and combined with the men's basketball team's 18 straight NCAA appearances, that is the most of the two programs combined in the country.

Chryst doesn't want his team to back down from playing a tough schedule: Wisconsin will open the season playing LSU Sept. 3 at Lambeau Field.

"The reason our players came to Wisconsin is to play in those big games," Chryst said. "Our kids are excited about it."