Cards girls BB team gunning for the top

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Liz McMahon (15) and Middleton’s girls basketball team are hoping to reclaim the Big Eight Conference title this winter./File photo

 

Many teams across the state would love the type of girls basketball season Middleton enjoyed last winter.

The Cardinals went 15-9 overall. Middleton was a respectable 12-6 in the Big Eight Conference and finished fourth. And the Cardinals reached the WIAA regional finals, where they fell in overtime to Madison La Follette.

All in all, it was a solid season.

But the Cardinals have become accustomed to being more than solid. They’ve been special.

And this year’s outfit could be exactly that.

Middleton returns the majority of its key players from a year ago and picked up a talented foreign exchange student. Now, the Cardinals are aiming to move back atop a league they had dominated for years.

That journey begins Friday, when the Cardinals face Oak Creek — the No. 1 team in the state — at 7:45 p.m. at the Brookfield Central Thanksgiving Shootout.

“I think we’ll have some pieces,” an understated Middleton coach Jeff Kind said. “We just need to figure out where they fit. Who’s better at what role and things like that.”

Between the 2006-’07 season and the 2011-’12 campaign, Middleton had its most dominant stretch in school history. The Cardinals won or shared six straight Big Eight Conference titles and reached the WIAA Division 1 state tournament five years in a row.

Over those six years, Middleton was a remarkable 94-10 in the Big Eight Conference (.904). The Cardinals also went a stellar 129-24 (.843) overall.

This year’s team has the potential to once again dominate the conference.

“While we return many talented players from last year, I think with the additions we’ve made we have a very solid roster,” Middleton senior forward Liz McMahon said. “Our team expectations are to be a strong contender in conference. We are playing a very tough non-conference schedule, and that will prepare us for challenging conference games and the playoffs.”

McMahon’s return certainly gives the Cardinals a terrific starting point.

Last season, McMahon was named first-team all-Big Eight Conference after averaging 16.5 points per game, which was roughly one-third of the Cardinals’ total offense. And over McMahon’s final five games, she averaged a whopping 23.4 points per contest.

McMahon led Middleton in rebounding (9.8) and steals (2.9), and shot 48.0% from the field. And McMahon was recently named second-team preseason all-state by Wissports.net.

“She has put in a lot of work in the offseason conditioning program,” Kind said of McMahon. “She’s worked on her athleticism, her quickness, that kind of stuff.

“She knows that she has to be a scorer for us. But this year, she’ll have some help and that’s a big thing. That will help a lot.”

Some of that help will come from junior guard Elizabeth Norregard, a foreign exchange student from Denmark. The 5-foot-6 Norregard has the skills to play point guard and the shooting ability to play off guard.

No matter where Norregard ends up, Kind expects her to be a huge addition.

“You can tell skill wise, experience wise, she has played for a while,” Kind said of Norregard. “She’s used to a fast paced game and our system is different. But she’s catching on.”

The rest of the Cardinals have certainly taken notice.

Elizabeth’s been a great addition to the team,” McMahon said. “She’s got a nice shot and is a good guard. She’s fitting in well and learning quickly.”

Middleton has plenty of other impressive parts to build around.

Junior forward Cole Jordee was third on the team in scoring last season (8.0) and could be poised for a breakout season.

“Cole’s got a lot of skills and she’s easily our best free throw shooter,” Kind said. “She has all these skills, now she has to make the step to be aggressive and explosive.”

Sophomore Grace Douglas, who is Middleton’s tallest player, will either be one of the state’s biggest point guards or play power forward. The two positions actually have a lot of the same responsibilities inside Middleton’s offense, and Douglas’ eventual landing spot could be decided by where the Cardinals decide to play Norregard.

“I think she’ll have a nice year,” Kind said of Douglas. “She’s only been a point guard for half of a year, so she’s still learning a lot of stuff about that. No matter where she plays, though, she’s going to help us.”

Senior center Anna Bunyan (4.5 ppg) had some key performances last year. And Kind believes Bunyan can have a big season if she becomes more consistent.

Senior guard Darby Raffel was a key bench player last season who will again factor in the rotation. Junior guards Lia Passini and Emily Bergum are also fighting for playing time.

Kind calls junior forward Jenna Blair one of his most improved players, and expects her to contribute. Senior forward Kelly Roach is another returning letterwinner.

Kind has traditionally gone at least 10 players deep, pushed the pace and worn opponent’s out. This year’s bunch should be able to do that again.

“I would like our team to be a team others don’t want to play,” McMahon said. “We want to control the game and not let the other team play comfortably.”

If that happens, Middleton should be in the hunt for conference supremacy again.

“Last year certainly wasn’t a bad year,” Kind said. “But it makes you appreciate where you were and where you want to be. Hopefully, we can get back there this season.”

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