Middleton's girls had unforgettable season

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton's girls basketball team had an unforgettable season that ended with a second-place finish at state./Photo courtesy of Mary Bavery

ASHWAUBENON — When they showed up for work just more than four months ago, the questions easily exceeded the answers?

Could anyone make outside shots?

Was there a point guard on the roster?

Could the post players improve?

Was the first round playoff exit in 2018 a hiccup or a sign of things to come?

By the time the year ended, Middleton’s magical, memorable girls basketball team had taken their faithful on an unforgettable joyride. And were it not for one painful, excruciating, unbearable inbounds play, the Cardinals would have brought a gold ball — and not a silver one — back to Middleton.

Bay Port’s Emma Nagel scored the game-winning basket with 2.4 seconds left lifting the Pirates to a 50-49 victory over the Cardinals in last Saturday’s state title game. And while Middleton’s players went through every available Kleenex in the Resch Center afterwards, they also realized what they accomplished was awfully unique.

“It was quite a year from where we were at the beginning of the season to where we are now, playing the toughest teams in the state and playing them well,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said after the loss. “We came a long ways.”

Boy, did they ever.

Middleton lost two of its first three games, including a setback at rival Verona. After rolling off six straight wins, the Cardinals dropped three of four — including a 48-42 home loss to Bay Port during the Middleton Holiday Shootout.

One week into 2019, the Cardinals were just 8-5 and a longshot to win the Big Eight Conference title.

“It took us a while to get things figured out,” Middleton junior forward Sitori Tanin said. 

Once Middleton discovered just who it was, though, it became a force.

The Cardinals’ greatest strength was always their size, led by the 6-foot-2 Tanin and 6-foot senior Hannah Flottmeyer. Flottmeyer was a model of consistency during a brilliant final season, while Tanin — a coveted Division 1 recruit — played with greater steadiness as the year unfolded.

“Sitori is just scratching the surface,” Kind said. “She’s going to keep getting better and better.”

The rest of the Cardinals did just that, as well.

Senior point guard Charlotte Dunn, who struggled early in the season with turnovers, became far more consistent as the year progressed. Dunn, a dynamic athlete, developed into the floor general and leader Middleton needed.

“Charlotte likes getting assists more than scoring,” junior guard Evie Coleman said. “That’s what makes her such a great point guard.”

Coleman, a deadly, but streaky shooter, became far more dependable throughout the year. And Coleman gave a memorable performance in the state semifinals, draining five three-pointers and scoring 11 straight points at one time as Middleton upset top-seeded Mukwonago.

Junior forward Karina Bursac was the Cardinals’ Swiss-army knife, doing a little bit of everything. Junior guard Josie Lemirande found her groove and had her two highest scoring games of the year in the postseason with 15 points against Waunakee and 14 vs. Bay Port in the state title game. And junior forward Kendall Roquet was a model of consistency both defensively and on the glass.

As the Cardinals settled into their roles, they began taking off.

Middleton finished the regular season with nine straight wins — highlighted by a victory at Sun Prairie on Valentine’s Day that gave MHS the Big Eight title

“We got better and better this year,” Lemirande said through tears after the Bay Port loss.

The Cardinals found another gear in the postseason, as well.

After comfortable wins in regional play against Janesville Parker and Waunakee, Middleton rallied for a 41-39 victory over Madison Memorial in the sectional semifinals. Then in another meeting with Sun Prairie for the sectional title, Middleton put together one of its finest efforts of the year and cruised to a 60-45 win.

“It’s awesome,” Lemirande said before going to state. “Nobody expected it.”

Not many people expected the Cardinals to beat No. 1 Mukwonago either. But that’s exactly what happened, as the Cardinals played arguably their finest game of the year, stunned the Indians in the state semifinals, 62-53, and pushed their winning streak to 14.

Middleton had found all the right answers on offense. The Cardinals were mixing and matching a fierce man-to-man defense with a smothering 1-3-1 zone defense.

And the Cardinals were on the brink of the first state title in school history. Until Bay Port’s Nagel changed the script.

As the great Dr. Seuss once said, though, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

“I am so incredibly proud of this team,” Flottmeyer said. “At the beginning of the season no one thought we’d be playing in the state championship game. However, we played for each other. We played our hearts out every game.

“As much as the ending wasn’t ideal and we weren’t supposed to be there, we proved we were supposed to be there. I am beaming with pride over my team and what we accomplished.”

Dunn felt the same way.

“I’m just so glad I got to play with all of these girls,” Dunn said. “I can’t complain. The girls on this team are family. I was here my sophomore year, but it’s nothing compared to being here this year. Every girl on this court was through and through, always there for someone. It was an amazing year.”

One Middleton fans will never forget.

 

 

 

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