Middleton's top-10 sports stories of 2018

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton's girls swimming and diving team won its third straight state title in November./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

 

It was another great year for the sports teams at Middleton High School.

There were conference championships, state tournament appearances and coaching changes.

Here’s my ranking of the top-10 stories of the year.

 

1. Three times the fun

Not many programs could survive the disqualification of an elite relay teams.

Then again, not many programs are like the girls swimming and diving team at Middleton High School.

The Cardinals competed at the WIAA Division 1 state meet without their 400-yard freestyle relay team, which was disqualified at sectionals due to a false start.

No worries.

Middleton finished with 249.50 points – 61.5 points ahead of second-place Cedarburg (188) and brought home its third straight state championships. Sun Prairie finished third with 170 points and Verona /Mount Horeb took fourth with 169 points.

“Certainly you never want those things to happen and it stinks, but it was almost a blessing in disguise,” Middleton coach Lauren Cabalka said of the disqualification. “I think we’re a really solid, deep team with a lot of talent and sometimes you can ride on that. And when that gets taken from you, then you have to really show what you’re made of.”

Without its highly-regarded relay team, Middleton entered the meet as a 2.5-point underdog to Cedarburg, according to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (WISCA), which scored the meet based on sectional times and seedings.

The news only served as more fuel for the Cardinals.

“The disqualification was kind of hard, but I think our team really thrives off of stuff like that,” said senior Makenna Licking. “We have been through so much as a team and it has only made our team closer, so I think that really helps us work together and pump each other up. Going in as the underdog is really motivating for our team.”

Junior Gabriela Pierobon Mays agreed.

“This team just worked their butts off for so long, so hard for this,” Pierobon Mays said. “It almost ended at sectionals. We almost let ourselves be defeated, but we came back Monday afternoon and then we’re like, ‘That’s not something we can control any more, but we still have a week left. We’re not going to be defeated, we’re not going in like we lost.’

“Every single girl on this team embodied that and it’s amazing to see all of the girls that stepped up and moved up, not just the two points that we were asked by our coach, but 10 points, 15 points, 20 points. It was really interesting to see what our team can do when no one believes that we can.”

The Cardinals’ goal was to be leading by at least 40.5 points entering the 12th and final event – the 400-freestyle relay, which would award 40 points to the winner. Victories in the 500 freestyle and the 200 relay down the stretch clinched it as the Cardinals built an insurmountable 95.5 point cushion entering the final event.

Senior Hannah Aegerter won the 500 freestyle in 4 minutes, 55.48 seconds. Aegerter trailed Abby Carlson of Waukesha South/Mukwonago throughout the race, but passed her over the final 50 yards and cruised to victory. Aegerter wasn’t able to compete in the 500 last year after withdrawing from the sectional meet to receive medical attention.

Licking added a third-place finish in the 500 in 5:03.09.

The team of Pierobon Mays, Berkley Smith, Aegerter and Licking then captured the 200 freestyle relay in 1:34.

Aegerter was also second in the 200 freestyle in 1:52.36 and was also part of the 200 medley relay team with Pierobon Mays, sophomore Ally Silvestri and Smith in 1:44.08.

Silvestri earned a runner-up finish in the 100 breaststroke in 1:02.41 behind only Verona/Mount Horeb’s Grace Bennin, who set a new state record in the event in 1:00.65. Teammate junior Alex Anagnostopoulos added a fourth-place finish in the 100 breaststroke in 1:04.35.

Silvestri was also fourth in the 200 individual medley in 2:05.29, followed by Anagnostopoulos (14th in 2:08.34) and sophomore Madelyn Lawn (19th in 2:10.17).

Pierobon Mays, Smith, Emily Keebler and Licking all earned individual podium finishes while swimming in the second heats of their events. Pierobon Mays did it twice earning fourth-place finishes in the 100 butterfly in 55.28 and 100 backstroke in 55.78. She had won the 100 butterfly state title the past two seasons and was happy to contribute while still recovering from shoulder surgery in late February to repair a torn labrum. Licking finished fifth in the 200 freestyle in 1:53.22, Keebler placed sixth in the 200 individual medley in 2:05.67 and Smith took sixth in the 50 freestyle in 24.10.

Also for Middleton, senior Cora Mack placed 13th in the 100 freestyle in 52.93 and freshman Amanda George was 19th in the 500 freestyle in 5:10.86.

Without a 400 freestyle relay, Cabalka put together new 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays and asked some swimmers to make sacrifices.

“It allowed us to move our relays around a little bit which was a big risk,” Cabalka said. “I mean we swam two relays that we’ve never swam before. We had Hannah Aegerter swim on the medley and she was going right into the 200 free and then we had Gabby who stepped up on the 200 free going right into the backstroke. They sacrificed those individual swims essentially to be on those relays and see what we needed for the team and that’s I mean, that’s a team right there.”

Of the three state titles, Cabalka said this one may have been the most challenging.

“Every year is different, every year feels different,” Cabalka said. “This one I think was certainly the biggest challenge. There was a lot of newness this year. This team really didn’t look that much different than our team last year, but all of the things we went through at the end of the season and the lineup that we put forward here, it was different.”

And extremely rewarding.

 

2. Speed demons

Heartbreak. Frustration. Disappointment.

Those are rarely the words used to describe a team that finishes second at the WIAA Division 1 state cross country meet. But Middleton, the 2017 state champions, were targeting a repeat all year.

And while the Cardinals were excited to bring home another trophy, they were hoping for gold — not silver.

“The boys were pretty devastated when the scoreboard showed we placed second,” said Middleton coach Brian Finnel. “Any other year, we are probably stoked about second, but this is a unique bunch who expected to win. We had the pieces to win, but the stars just didn't quite align for us.” 

Middleton senior standout Caleb Easton agreed.

“After seeing that we finished second, the guys and myself were very upset,” Easton said. “Looking back to my 2015 and 2016 seasons, we would have been very excited with second. This year it hurt because we knew we were capable of much more, but we did not execute well.”

Just one year ago, Middleton came to this same course in Wisconsin Rapids and defeated runner-up Stevens Point by 101 points. That was the largest victory in Division 1 history.

This time, things were much tighter.

Neenah finished with 122 points, while runner-up Middleton had 131. Germantown was third at 162, while Madison West (165) and Stevens Point (169) rounded out the top five.

While this marked the third-best finish in school history, these Cardinals believed another state title was well within their grasp, making a runner-up finish somewhat disappointing.

“We didn't have our best day overall,” Finnel said. “Neenah ran basically how we expected them to perform. I told the guys it would be close, probably near 15 points either way and we ended up losing by nine.

“We knew they could get four runners in front of our two. We were hoping to counter that a little bit, but didn't unfortunately. The next thing we discussed was getting all seven runners in before Neenah's fifth runner. We got six in, so again we didn't quite capitalize there.”

Easton was the Cardinals’ top performer, finishing fourth overall among team participants in 15:51.9 seconds. Easton, a Northern Arizona recruit, finished eighth a year ago and 39th as a sophomore.

Cardinals’ junior Egan Johnson came in at No. 21 in 16:28.4. Junior Peter Hoferle was 26th (16:33.0), junior Zach Leffel was 39th (16:45.0) and junior Braedon Gilles was 41st (16:46.6).

Middleton’s five runners totaled 131, while Neenah’s first four were at just 44. That meant if Neenah’s No. 5 runner was 88th — or worse — the Cardinals would repeat as state champs.

Unfortunately for Middleton, Neenah senior Joseph Murray came in 78th which gave the Rockets the title.

Afterwards, the Cardinals refused to use injuries as an excuse. But there’s no question they played a large part in the outcome.

Middleton junior Roman Ystenes, one of the Cardinals’ top runners, didn't compete due to an Achilles injury. And senior Michael Madoch, who was 10th at state last year, tried battling through an undisclosed injury but settled for 93rd place.

“Michael and Roman have been battling health-related things all season,” Finnel said. “We all tried our best to get them ready for today.”

Easton found some positives after the Cardinals’ disappointing day.

“This year will definitely be remembered as a year of rolling with the punches,” Easton said. “Not every race will be ideal, but you have to work with your situation that you are given. Overall this team means the world to me. They have shaped me as an athlete and as a person and I am very lucky to have them.”

 

3. Girls golfers shine again

When it comes to Middleton’s girls golf program, the word rebuild should never be uttered.

“Maybe readjusting,” said junior standout Kate Meier.

How about reloading, restocking or replenishing?

Middleton lost three players from its 2017 team that finished eighth at state. With little experience and several questions, expectations were certainly tempered for the 2018 Cardinals.

In mid-October, though, Meier walked around University Ridge Golf Course clutching the WIAA Division 1 runner-up trophy like a mother holding a newborn. To the surprise of many, Middleton finished second at state with a 659, just eight shots behind champion Kettle Moraine (651).

“I knew we had a lot of underclassmen and a lot of talent,” said junior Makenzie Hodson, who joined Meier as Middleton’s only returnees this fall. “But with it being the first year at state for so many girls, I didn’t know what to expect. In my mind, I was thinking top-4 or top-5. So I’m really proud. I didn’t really see this coming.”

Hodson wasn’t the only one somewhat blown away by Middleton’s performance.

“If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that we’d be second at state, I would have told you you’re crazy,” Middleton coach Becky Halverson said. “I knew we had a lot of young talent, but we didn't have much experience. There was no way to predict this.”

Since 1997, Middleton has been to state 19 times, won two state titles and been second six times. History has shown that the Cardinals simply don't rebuild — and Middleton’s 2018 team was the latest to prove exactly that.

“I had no idea what to expect,” freshman Ellie Frisch said. “I was just a freshman trying to make varsity. But I couldn’t be happier with how the year went.”

Meier put together two sensational rounds at state, firing a 6-over-par 78 on day one, then shooting a final round 77. Meier’s two-day score of 155 was good for fifth individually.

“I didn’t feel any pressure and just tried to make the most of my last two rounds,” Meier said. “I just never gave up and fought through the rough patches.”

Sophomore Glenna Sanderson continued her late-season surge by firing a 165 (82-83) and finishing 18th overall. Sanderson averaged an impressive 5.30 on the par-5s and 3.50 on the par-3s.

Frisch tied for 20th individually with a 167 (85-82). The Cardinals’ fabulous freshman capped her tournament by pitching in from 15 yards out at the par-5, second hole — the final hole of her season.

“That was so exciting,” Frisch said. “The perfect ending. We didn’t have any expectations. We just wanted to do our best and see what happened.”

And after a tough opening round of 89, Hodson rebounded with an 83 Tuesday and finished in a tie for 34th place individually.

Middleton shot an opening round 334, which was good for second place, but was also 16 shots behind Kettle Moraine. The Cardinals then fired a 325 on Tuesday, which was their season-low and the low round of the day by seven shots.

“This is pretty awesome,” Meier said. “We worked so hard, and even though people thought we were rebuilding, it turned out we weren’t.”

No one will use the word rebuild around Middleton next season.

The Cardinals return four of their top five golfers and have several gifted youngsters waiting to make their mark.

“I’m already looking forward to next year,” Halverson said. “They’ve been a great group of girls. There hasn’t been any drama and they’ve just been a joy to be around every day. It was just a really, really fun year."

 

4. Boys swimmers make a splash

Hopes for a second-place finish were fading fast. With each passing lap, the gap grew larger and larger.

Then along came Michael Draves.

With his team needing a miracle finish, Middleton’s senior swimming standout came through in spectacular fashion. Facing a huge deficit, Draves overtook the one swimmer he had to pass on the anchor leg of the meet’s final event – the 400-yard relay – to lift the Cardinals’ boys’ swim team to a second place finish at the WIAA Division 1 state swimming and diving championship at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium last February.

“That last relay was insane,” Middleton sophomore Nate Lamers said. “We had to beat Waukesha to get that second place. That relay really took it out in the end and we ended up getting second place.”

Entering the 400-yard relay, Middleton trailed defending state champion Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial by just 1.5 points for second place. That meant the Cardinals needed to finish one spot ahead of Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial to secure second in the relay.

Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial front-loaded its relay squad and had built at least a half pool-length lead entering the anchor leg. That’s when Draves went to work as he immediately cut into the deficit and eventually sailed past sophomore Blake Baertlein of Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial midway through the last lap.

“I think I had at least the half to try to make up so that’s always hard, but that’s when I thrive,” Draves said. “I always love trying to make those epic comebacks. I had a similar experience last year at sectionals, so it’s when the pressure is on that I feel like I really can do it for the team. I’m very proud of myself and proud of the team for a phenomenal performance.”

Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial led off the race with three of its top swimmers in senior John Acevedo, senior Conrad Farrell, and sophomore Caleb Blischke. Acevedo, one of Draves’ chief rivals in the 500- and 200-yard freestyle races, had already won the 500 earlier, while Farrell had placed fifth and eighth in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle races, respectively, and Blischke took fourth and sixth in the 500-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley, respectively. Baertlein had placed 22nd in his only individual event, the 100 breaststroke.

“We don’t see Waukesha a whole lot throughout the season, so once we saw that we were (down) by that much and we just had to beat them on the relay, we weren’t really sure what they had,” Middleton coach Danny Lynam said. “We got the guys fired up, they knew what they had to do, they knew that Waukesha was the target and they all swam great. Waukesha front-loaded the relay, they had their fastest guys going first and our guys were just able to keep up with them enough.”

Middleton finished fourth overall in the 400-yard relay in three minutes, 9.46 seconds, while Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial settled for sixth in 3:10.18. It all added up to a second-place finish for Middleton, matching its best finish at state.

The Cardinals finished with 223.5 points, just ahead of Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial with 221 and fourth-place Madison Memorial with 215. Top-ranked Madison West totaled 293 points and won its first state title since 1993.

“We were seeded third coming into the meet,” Lynam said. “We had a phenomenal sectional meet and had a lot of guys go really high up.

“After that you never really know if a guy is going to be able to reproduce after the sectional meet. We had a lot of guys shaved and tapered and suited up for that meet so we tried to keep them sharp throughout the week and a lot of them still came in and dropped their time.”

Draves also placed third in the 500-yard freestyle in 4:33.12 and fourth in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:40.59. Both times were slightly better than his times at last year’s state meet.

Lamers made the podium with a fourth-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle in 21.03 and added a seventh-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly in 50.40.

Junior Archer Parkin and senior Sam Young both had podium finishes for the Cardinals. Parkin was sixth in the 50-yard freestyle in 21.13 and Young was sixth in the 100-yard breaststroke in 59.23. Young also took seventh in the 200-yard individual medley in 1:54.87 and Parkin also placed 18th in the 100-yard backstroke in 54.45.

Parkin, Lamers, Young, and Draves earned third in the 200-yard freestyle relay in 1:25.08 and Parkin, Young, Lamers, and junior Blake Zillner took fifth in the 200-yard medley relay in 1:35.13.

Junior Andrew Martin had a pair of top-10 finishes taking seventh in the 500-yard freestyle in 4:40.51 and ninth in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:43.67. Sophomore Nathan Kim placed eighth in the 200-yard individual medley in 1:55.20 and 16th in the 100-yard butterfly in 52.91.

“I’ve loved swimming for this team,” Draves said. “I had a really good meet and couldn’t ask for a better way to go out.”

 

5. Youthful boys golf team impresses

In many ways, this year’s WIAA Division 1 boys state golf tournament was about the present — and the future — for Middleton’s boys’ golf team.

The Cardinals were the youngest of the 16 teams at state, featuring three sophomores, one freshman and a senior. Middleton’s four underclassmen were all making their first-ever trips to state.

So despite a sixth place finish at the 36-hole event held Monday and Tuesday at University Ridge, Middleton left this brilliant course full of hope.

Sure, the Cardinals were hoping for a better overall finish. But with 80% of its lineup expected back — and several young and promising players in the program — this might have been just the beginning for Middleton.

“I think we got a lot of experience from this tournament,” said sophomore Carson Frisch, who plays No. 2 in the Middleton lineup. “That will definitely help going into next year and helping us handle big pressure situations.”

Fellow sophomore Kip Sullivan agreed.

“It was a heck of an experience, heck of an experience,” Sullivan said. “I had a blast, even though I didn’t play so well (Tuesday). It was really cool to see all the people on the different holes, clapping.

“We’re going to take this experience and we’re going to learn from it, obviously. It was great to get here and to play University Ridge. This is just huge, just getting here and playing.”

Marquette won its second team title in three years, shooting 11-over par, 299 each day and finishing at 598. Defending champion Arrowhead was second at 606.

Middleton was tied with Arrowhead for third place after day one at 306, seven shots behind Marquette. But after a strong start in Tuesday’s final round, the Cardinals struggled, shot a 318-team score, and tied for sixth with Brookfield Central at 624.

“These kids learned a tremendous amount about themselves in the last two days and what they’re capable of and what they have to work on to come back here and get better,” Middleton coach Tom Cabalka said. “This was a great learning experience for them. They learned a lot over the last couple of weeks with the pressure and the people watching. And I think they just got better and better.”

Middleton will clearly be one of the state favorites a year from now. But the Cardinals know they’ll have to continue trending upward to eventually pass powers such as Marquette and Arrowhead.

Frisch and Tommy Kriewaldt improved their averages by more than five strokes each in 2018 and seemingly have limitless potential. Freshman Jacob Beckman was a terrific surprise in his first season with the program. And Sullivan “came from nowhere” according to Cabalka and has the makings of a future standout.

That fabulous foursome will lead a team that should come into 2019 as one of the frontrunners to capture a state championship.

“I definitely welcome that,” Frisch said. “If we all just go out and play our game like I know we can, there should be no one stopping us.”

Kriewaldt agreed.

“I think that will be cool,” Kriewaldt said. “But I think the hardest thing about that is living up to the standards people set for us. I think we want to set our own standards for next year and have those standards be pretty high.”

Before exiting University Ridge, the loquacious Sullivan took one look back — reflecting on the Cardinals’ memorable 2018 campaign, and thinking about the promise of an even brighter future.

“This year was unbelievable,” Sullivan said. “This is not what I was expecting. This was just an unbelievable season, one that I will never forget. Super fun.

“But now, we want to be the team to beat. That’s the way we look at it.”

Soon, the rest of the state might, too.

 

6. Changing of the guard

It was December, 2017, when Middleton head football coach Tim Simon called a meeting with offensive coordinator Jason Pertzborn.

Pertzborn was a finalist for the Madison Memorial head coaching job. And after days of contemplation, examination and introspection, Simon had an idea that would keep Pertzborn inside the program he’s been part of for more than three decades.

Simon wanted to elevate Pertzborn to the position of co-head coach for the 2018 season. And if everything went smoothly, Pertzborn would become Middleton’s head coach in 2019 — and beyond.

“It was a huge surprise and I really appreciate it,” Pertzborn said. “It’s certainly not something Tim had to do. When I went to talk to him that day, that was the farthest thing from my mind. I wasn’t ready for that.”

Middleton went 6-4 in 2018, ending Simon’s 15-year reign as the Cardinals’ head coach. Simon compiled an impressive 117-43 record, a .731 winning percentage.

Simon led Middleton to the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals in 2008 and the state quarterfinals in 2010 and 2016. Simon also led Middleton to the playoffs each of his 15 years as the Cardinals extended their postseason streak to 23 years, which is tied for the state’s longest streak with Hartland Arrowhead in Division 1.

Many expected Simon, 51, to remain Middleton’s head coach for at least another decade. If that happened, though, Pertzborn, 47, would almost certainly have never gotten the chance to coach his alma mater.

“I just don’t feel like I need the title of head coach to be happy,” Simon said. “I love coaching football and I’m going to do it for many more years. I might be in my 70s and still coaching here. But again, I don’t need a title to love coaching the game.

“So it’s easier to make a sacrifice like this knowing I will still coach football. The big thing for me is to continue to work with young kids and mold them into the men they want to be.

“I think this is the right thing to do and it was the right time to do it. Jason’s been dedicated and supportive and he deserves this kind of opportunity. It just didn’t feel right to have him go to another school district to get that chance.”

Pertzborn, a 1990 Middleton graduate and former football and basketball standout at MHS, worked his way up through the coaching ranks and guided one of the area’s top offenses the last five years.

And in a selfless move rarely seen in coaching circles, Simon sacrificed his own position so Pertzborn wouldn’t have to go elsewhere to become a head coach.

“If you think about it, Jason’s a Middleton grad,” Simon said. “He teaches in Middleton and lives in Middleton. His kids go to school in the Middleton-Cross Plains district. He shouldn’t have to go somewhere else to coach.

“It was definitely an internal struggle. I had a lot of restless nights, but at the end of the day, I just felt like this was the right thing to do. And we always tell our kids that doing the right thing might not be the easiest thing, but you always try and do the right thing. So it was time to practice what I preach.”

Pertzborn was certainly grateful.

He and his family — wife Larissa, and daughters Sierra and Aubree — wrote Simon a letter after the change became official. Sierra and Aubrey — who both attend Kromrey Middle School — have been around the MHS program since they were toddlers.

When the Pertzborn girls learned their Dad might possibly be going to Memorial, they put on a happy face. But Pertzborn knew it could be tough for his family to begin wearing green after decades of donning Cardinal red.

“I knew they didn’t want me to coach over at Memorial,” Pertzborn said. “But they also knew they couldn’t say that. They felt like they had to support me no matter what.”

Now, they’ll continue to support him in Middleton.

“It’s really a dream come true,” Pertzborn said. “I had given up becoming a head coach for a while. Having kids obviously changes things.

“But then I put my résumé back out there. I wanted to share my mission and my vision and now I get to do it in Middleton. That’s pretty great.”

 

7. Same movie for boys spikers

Let’s be clear, most people would love to have the boys volleyball program that Middleton does.

The Cardinals have won 12 of the last 13 Big Eight Conference titles. Middleton is 129-4 in the Big Eight since 2006.

And the Cardinals have been to state six straight years and 11 times since 2002.

What continues to drive the Cardinals bonkers, though, is an inability to breakthrough at state.

This year, Middleton received the No. 3 seed at state — the highest in school history. But that’s where the fun ended.

Kenosha Indian Trail rallied from a 2-1 deficit and upset the Cardinals, 25-22, 23-25, 23-25, 26-24, 15-9, in the state quarterfinals. It marked the sixth straight time Middleton lost its opening round match at state.

Middleton finished its stellar season 35-6 overall, but like its recent trips to state, also exited with a hollow feeling.

“I’d say we had a lot of confidence coming in,” Middleton junior outside hitter Parker Van Buren said. “I had a lot of confidence that we were going to win this game and advance to at least the semifinals. So that’s very frustrating.”

Middleton coach Ben White agreed.

“It’s disappointing. It’s disappointing that we can’t get over this hump,” White said. “We thought we had them prepared. Indian Trail didn’t do anything we didn’t know they were going to do. We talked all week about how big they were and how they were going to block. They did everything we thought they were going to do … and we made a lot of silly, silly mistakes.”

This quarterfinal loss stung more than others.

The Cardinals defeated Indian Trail at the Middleton round robin one month earlier. And if ever there was a year Middleton seemed poised to snap its opening round curse, this was it.

“I thought this was our chance,” senior setter Matt Ballweg said. “This is the highest we’ve ever been seeded. I thought we had a favorable matchup, too. It just didn't go our way.”

There were two areas the Hawks got the better of the Cardinals.

Indian Trail had 22 blocks to just eight for the Cardinals. The Hawks’ ability to stymie Middleton at the net led to the Cardinals having an unusually low kill percentage of just .122.

Indian Trail also got stronger as the match went along, while the Cardinals struggled. Over the final two sets — both won by the Hawks — Indian Trail had a .291 kill percentage, while Middleton’s was just .055.

Van Buren led the Cardinals with 22 kills, but his .125 kill percentage was substantially lower than his season-average of .396. Senior middle blocker Owen Engling had a strong game with 12 kills and a .267 kill percentage, while Ballweg had 46 assists, senior libero Dylan Griffith had 17 digs and senior outside hitter Eagan Peters-Michaud added 16 digs.

“There was no point tonight where I thought we played well,” White said. “But a lot of that had to do with Indian Trail putting up a giant block and taking away the confidence of our guys. You’ve got to give them a ton of credit. They blocked a ton of balls, kept the ball in play and waited until we made a mistake. Those are the teams that have given us problems all year.”

Middleton trailed 20-17 in the fourth set when it used a 4-0 surge to grab a 21-20 lead. And for a moment, White thought his Cardinals had the Hawks right where they wanted.

“I thought we had it,” White said. “I really did.”

Not quite.

Indian Trail responded with three straight points to go ahead, 23-21. And after Middleton fought back to tie things, 24-24, the Hawks got back-to-back block kills from dynamic middle blocker Edelmar Rivera to force a deciding fifth set.

There, the teams were tied 2-2 early when the Hawks embarked on a 9-1 run to take control. Middleton countered with a 6-2 run to close within 13-9, but the early deficit was just too steep and the Hawks pulled off the upset.

Despite the loss, the Cardinals enjoyed another memorable year — until they reached state, anyhow.

“I had a lot of fun,” Ballweg said. “It was just fun to be the leader this year and I just really liked all of my teammates. I was proud of what they did.”

Added White: “It was a lot of fun and that’s why this was so disappointing because this is such a fun group to be around,” White said. “Every day there was a lot of laughter and a lot of fun and we loved ‘em. They were fun to be with and that’s why this hurts so much.”

 

8. Schmitt steps down

It was mid-March when Tom Schmitt saw the light.

Middleton’s long time baseball manager was in Winterhaven, Fla., watching his oldest son Brennan and his University of Wisconsin-La Crosse baseball team.

Brennan’s Eagles still had a handful of games to play. But Tom Schmitt headed back to Middleton to coach the 2018 Cardinals, a group that included his youngest son, Brady.

It was at that moment, Schmitt realized his heart was in two places at once. And that was a tricky path to navigate.

So in June, after a sensational 16-year run as the Cardinals’ skipper, Schmitt resigned.

Brennan Schmitt has two years left at UW-La Crosse and Brady will try out for the Eagles this fall. Now, with a far more flexible schedule, Tom Schmitt will be able to see his two sons instead of trying to follow their progress on his phone.

“It’s been a good run, a really good run,” Schmitt said. “But I just know I won’t get those years back if I don’t do it now.

“A couple of times this year, I made one of Brennan’s game after we practiced. But I just didn’t want to keep juggling schedules. I gave this (managerial) job my entire effort and focus. But with both boys gone now, it was going to be tough.”

Schmitt had a remarkable run with the Cardinals, going 287-124 overall (.698) and winning five Big Eight Conference championships — including the 2018 crown. Schmitt led Middleton to state seven times in 16 years and guided the Cardinals to the 2003 state title — his first year at the helm.

Schmitt’s resignation sent shockwaves through the program from both current and former players.

“Coach Schmitt resigning is a tough day for the Middleton program,” said Shane Adler, a four-year varsity player at MHS and a two-time all-state selection. “He brought an intensity and focus that you don’t always find at the high school level.

“He held his players to a high standard, which led to a lot of successful seasons during his time. He loved the game and it showed with the way he coached on the field. He always expected his players to show up and give 110%.

“He taught me to never take any opponent or any day that you get to spend on the field for granted. Any day playing for coach Schmitt was a good day and playing for him was one of the best opportunities I had growing up as a kid. Middleton was fortunate to have him since 2003 and he will surely be missed.”

Drew Finley Haag, a standout center fielder who helped Middleton qualify for state in 2016, agreed with Adler.

“Since (Schmitt) started coaching me when I was 12 years old, he always taught us to do things the right way,” Finley Haag said. “He taught us to be not only respectful players, but respectful young men, as well. He is someone I can call on about anything in life and I know he will give me good advice. I'm thankful that I had the chance to play for him.”

Schmitt, a 1985 graduate of Columbus High School, was a standout for the Cardinals. After Schmitt graduated from UW-Oshkosh, he began teaching in the Middleton-Cross Plains district.

Schmitt became Middleton’s JV coach in 1993 and he held that position for 10 years. When Mike Zimmerman stepped down as the Cardinals’ varsity coach in 2002, Schmitt took over and experienced immediate success.

With an aggressive style and a star-studded team, Schmitt led Middleton to the 2003 WIAA Division 1 state championship. That was the Cardinals’ first — and only — state championship in program history.

One of Middleton’s strengths under Schmitt, though, was always its consistency.

The Cardinals also reached the state tournament in 2005, ’06, ’09, ’12, ’14 and ’16. In addition, Middleton won four straight Big Eight Conference titles between 2007-’10, then won the league again this spring.

“Everybody wants it as a goal to win it every year,” Schmitt said of a state title. “But it’s just as important to have good relationships with kids and try helping them become good people.

“We had a solid program and we were so consistent. We didn’t waver from what we were doing. There was a pretty good baseline of where Mike (Zimmerman) had the program and we kept building it into a state power.

While the Cardinals were extremely successful on the field, Schmitt earned plaudits for more than just baseball. Schmitt was a terrific teacher who didn’t simply preach baseball. He also passed on several life lessons to his team.

Schmitt and Sun Prairie manager Rob Hamilton started the “Cardinals Strike Out Cancer” game in 2014. That event raised approximately $55,000 for American Family Children’s Hospital pediatric cancer research during the last five years.

“It was great playing for coach Schmitt,” said Drew Haack, a 2013 MHS graduate who also played at UW-Milwaukee. “He loved the game of baseball and taught us the right way how to play.

“He taught us how to be successful on the field and how to win. He also taught us how to be successful off the field and how to develop into grown men. He has done a great job in his time coaching Middleton, leading them to success each year, even in years when they weren’t supposed to be the best. My four years with him were great.”

Schmitt didn’t rule out coaching again once his sons are done playing collegiately. But for now, Schmitt plans to watch the careers of both Brennan and Brady unfold knowing he gave the Middleton program all he had.

“The biggest thing is we played good baseball, but we’ve produced some pretty good guys, as well,” Schmitt said. “It wasn’t just always baseball, it was life skills and life lessons.

“We certainly tried to put them in position to be fine young men. So it was always fun to see those kids progress, both on and off the field. It was a great 16 years.”

 

9. Double trouble

Maddie Clark had four different doubles partners during her stellar tennis career at Middleton High School. Each one brought something different to the table, and Clark experienced an impressive level of success with all of her partners.

But Clark found the perfect fit in 2018.

Despite never having played together, Clark was paired with Karsen Dettman this fall. The two then proceeded to take the state by storm.

At the WIAA Division 1 state tournament held at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in October, Clark and Dettman surged to the finals. There, Nicolet seniors Annabelle Crowley and Emma Koppa toppled Clark and Dettman, 6-3, 6-2, in the championship match.

But Middleton’s dynamic duo left state extremely happy with how their weekend — and their first year together — went.

“This was our first season playing together, and I was amazed with how well we gelled and worked together to get to the finals,” Clark said. “Our passion for tennis and chemistry on and off the court helped us to get to where we ended up. We played so well this season and had a lot of tough competition so I'm happy that we earned the title of state runner-up.”

Dettman echoed Clark’s sentiments.

“I am very happy with second,” Dettman said. “We played well together throughout the tournament and the season and had many challenging matches. I also think Nicolet was a great competitor in the finals because they have been a very competitive team throughout the season.”

Clark and Dettman — who earned the tournament’s No. 1 seed — had an impressive ride to the finals.

After an opening round bye on Thursday, the Cardinals’ duo posted a pair of exciting wins Friday.

First, Dettman and Clark downed Jenna Tackmier and Anna Ziech of Green Bay Southwest, 6-2, 6-3. Middleton’s twosome then rolled past Cedarburg’s Hailey Haws and Willow Larson, 6-0, 6-1.

In the quarterfinals Friday night, though, things got much tougher.

Clark and Dettman dropped the first set, 7-5, to Homestead’s Bridget Brown and Kate Wade. But Clark and Dettman rallied to win the final two sets, 6-1, 6-4.

“In the first set, we seemed to struggle with playing our game, coming to the net and closing points,” Dettman said. “However, in the second set we began to realize that getting tight to the net led to the most success, which helped us in winning the second and third set. They were both great competitors with good hands which made it especially important to place our shots wisely.”

That win vaulted Dettman and Clark into Saturday’s semifinals, where they rolled by 12th-seeded Allyson Verbauwhede and Kendra Peterson of Manitowoc Lincoln, 6-2, 6-1. By all accounts, Clark and Dettman played one of their better matches of the year to reach the finals.

“Our confidence in the semifinal match Saturday morning definitely helped us win,” Clark said. “We were determined to get to the finals.

“We had never played Manitowoc Lincoln before so we didn't know what to expect. We started and ended the match aggressively, and our serves were one of our strengths. We had a plan for how we were going to play, and we executed the plan well.”

Unfortunately for Middleton’s terrific twosome, the success ended there.

Crowley and Koppa played a sensational match in the finals and toppled Clark and Dettman.

“I think it was a mixture of them being on their ‘A’ game and us playing a bit tentative at times,” Dettman said. “We came out hoping to take control of the net, but they seemed to gain that control early on, and by the time we started to play more aggressively, it was just a little too late. They are both great doubles players and work well together, and were definitely playing their best tennis.”

Overall, Dettman and Clark agreed their weekend at state — and really their entire season — couldn’t have gone much better.

“This was such a memorable season for so many reasons,” Clark said. “Making the podium was one of my goals since freshman year and I'm so glad I got to accomplish that.

“After four years of going to state, I'm happy that we made it to the finals. I was really fortunate to have Karsen as a partner because she is so hardworking and determined. I can't wait to see what she does in the future because I know it will be incredible.”

Dettman still has two years left at MHS, but knows it won’t be easy to match what she and Clark just achieved.

“I will always remember the great chemistry Maddie and I share on and off the court, which I think is a big factor in our success,” Dettman said. “Overall, this season has definitely been one to remember.”

 

10. Sabol, Cardinals shine

Karina Sabol was one of the state’s newest and brightest gymnastics stars this winter.

Sabol, a lifetime club gymnast, joined the program at Middleton High School for the first time. And Sabol, a junior, had a year to remember.

At the WIAA Division 1 individual state meet held at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln Fieldhouse in March, Sabol tied for the state championship on the vault with a score of 9.60. Sabol also finished third on the floor (9.383) and 12th on the balance beam (9.033).

“There are many emotions that came along with winning a state title,” Sabol said. “First, there was surprise because I never thought I was going to win vault.

“So I went into it just having fun and it could not have turned out in a better way. I was not only thrilled about accomplishing that for myself, but I also had the chance to represent Middleton High School, which I haven’t been able to do in the past. 

“Secondly, I personally feel like all the work paid off. I had worked a lot for that vault over the past year and receiving that was just icing on the cake.”

Sabol and Tyra Turner of Madison East/La Follette both posted scores of 9.60 on the vault and tied for the title.

Sabol was also third on the floor exercise with a 9.383. That was just 0.17 points behind co-champions Allayah Lane of Sun Prairie and Lexi Romero of Brookfield East/Central, who both scored 9.40.

“The competition was physically demanding,” Sabol said. “But I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friends and family, as well as all my teammates from Middleton and other schools.”

Middleton also finished ninth in the team competition.

Franklin’s co-op won the team title with a 147.8333, while Hartland Arrowhead was second (144.4667). Middleton was a distant ninth in the 10-team field (136.0333).

“I was extremely proud of the girls for their performances this weekend,” Middleton coach Kari Steck. “The girls tried their best, and that's all we could ask for.

“Despite having one of our lower team scores, I am so proud of the girls for this. It shows their mental toughness and the impact coming together and building each other up can have. It also reflects on the leadership on the team, specifically those who have competed at the state level before.”

 

 

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