Arenz Overcomes Adversity, Helps Lead Onalaska To State

There’s a reason Onalaska head boys basketball coach Craig Kowal handed the sectional championship to Nick Arenz first Saturday, after the Hilltoppers beat Antigo 62-38 and advanced to the WIAA Division 2 State Tournament.

After four years as varsity starter, Arenz finally gets to finish a season in Madison.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet that we finally made it to State,” Arenz said Monday.  


“After three years of not making it, and after all I have been through.”

Three straight seasons ending with heart-breaking losses in the sectional finals certainly hurt, but Arenz has faced much more pain and adversity off the court.

After playing in a state tournament game for the Onalaska Royals in 6th grade, Arenz began feeling sick.

“I went to Gunderson Lutheran, and that’s really the last I can remember,” Arenz says.

“The rest was a blur.”

Arenz was diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome caused by a staph infection.  He was taken to Mayo Clinic where he spend an entire week on life support.

“At that point we were just hoping he’d be alive to be with his teammates, family, and friends,” says Nick’s father Scott Arenz.

While in intensive care Arenz also faced kidney failure, pneumonia, and suffered multiple seizures.

“He survived it and that just tells you what kind of person he is,” adds Scott.

“He battled through a lot.”

The next bump in the road came sophomore year when Arenz felt a cramp in his chest after lifting weights at school.  Before leaving for an AAU tournament in Arkansas, Arenz went in for an X-Ray.

“Found out my lung was 30% collapsed,” says the UW-Green Bay recruit.

Arenz had surgery to have his lung re-inflated and was limited to no physical activity for a month.

6’8″ Arenz came back looking stronger and better than ever his junior season averaging more than 14 points per game and dominating on defense for the undefeated top-ranked Hilltoppers.

Then, just 11 games into the season, Arenz tore the ACL in his right knee.  That meant crutches were taking the place of clutch shots and rebounding was replaced with months of rehabbing.

“I was just more disappointed in letting my team down basically,” says Arenz who his coach nicknamed “Big Smooth” because he makes everything look easy on the basketball court.

“We were doing so well, I felt bad for the team more than anything.”

Exactly 6 months after suffering his knee injury, Arenz lung collapsed again.  This time was worse than the first and doctors had to remove one-third of his lung.

“We were at the point where something good needs to happen now,” recalls Scott at all the misfortune falling on his son.

That good has finally come his senior season as Arenz has remained healthy while trying to get back to his old self following major knee surgery,

“It’s been a slow progress,” admits Arenz.  “Just trusting that it is fine now.”

Arenz has contributed as 25-1 Onalaska’s second-leading scorer, and an irreplaceable force in the middle of the defense.

“They say the true measure of a person is how they bounce back from adversity,” said Kowal Monday.

“Obviously in 18 short years Nick’s had more than his fair share to say the least.  He’s bounced back strong every time.”

If Onalaska can bring home their first gold ball since 1992, don’t be surprised if the trophy ends up in the hands of Arenz first.

“He’s been the heart and soul of this program for four years,” adds Kowal.  

“I am so proud he gets to finish his career at the State Tournament.

Onalaska opens up play Friday at 1:35 p.m. vs. Pius XI at the Kohl Center.