Girls basketball team has unfinished business

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Josie Lemirande and Middleton’s girls basketball team open their new season Thursday./File photo

Josie Lemirande put an app on her phone last summer counting down the days until the girls’ basketball season began.

“I can’t wait,” Lemirande said.

Sitori Tanin has been crossing off the days since the painful ending last March.

“It was throughout the whole team,” Tanin said. “Since the first week of practice we could all feel it. We have so many returners and we all have so much drive and excitement.”

Excitement.  Anticipation. Eagerness.

Middleton’s girls basketball team — which hosts Waunakee in its season-opener Thursday at 7:15 p.m. — has been looking forward to this season for nearly eight months now.

The Cardinals enjoyed a magic carpet ride last year that saw them put together a 14-game winning streak and reach the WIAA Division 1 state championship game. Middleton led Bay Port, 49-48, in the title game when the Pirates scored with just 2.4 seconds left and pulled out a 50-49 win in one of the most dramatic championship games in state history.

Middleton returns most of its top players from that team and welcomes a key transfer, as well. Now, the Cardinals want nothing more than to capture the gold ball that narrowly eluded them back in March.

“Every year is different and we have to figure out what we can and can’t do,” said Jeff Kind, who’s beginning his 28th season as Middleton’s head coach and his 42nd year of coaching high school sports. “I think when it comes to depth and experience, we’re going to be pretty good. If things come together like you hope, we may have a very good team.”

That’s for sure.

Middleton finished 22-6 overall last season and claimed its 10th Big Eight Conference championship under Kind. The Cardinals also reached the state tournament for the 11th time under Kind and the eighth time in the last 12 years.

Middleton returns a terrific nucleus from that team, led by Tanin, a University of Loyola (Ill.) recruit. The 6-foot-2 Tanin received first-team all-Big Eight Conference and honorable mention all-state honors last year after leading the Cardinals in scoring (13.2), rebounding (11.0), steals (2.2) and blocks (1.1), and finishing second in assists (2.0).

“Sitori’s improved a lot from last season,” said Kind, who was inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018. “The one big thig she has to do is become more consistent around the basket. But her potential and her upside are pretty exciting.”

Lemirande is expected to step into the point guard role that Charlotte Dunn handled with aplomb last season. Lemirande is a three-year varsity player who averaged 4.3 points per game last season and was second on the team in three-point field goals (16). Lemirande was also sensational in the state title game, knocking down 4-of-5 three-pointers and scoring a team-high 14 points.

“She really stepped up to the plate (at state) and now she’s ready to lead us,” Tanin said of Lemirande. “I think she’s going to have a great year.”

Senior shooting guard Evie Coleman, who averaged 9.9 points per game and made 53 three-pointers last season, also returns. Coleman had the night of her life in the state semifinals, burying 4-of-5 three-pointers and scoring a career-high 19 points as Middleton upset No. 1 Mukwonago.

Versatile senior forward Karina Bursac is the Cardinals’ swiss-army knife, capable of playing play four positions. Last year, Bursac was fourth on the team in scoring (8.4), fourth in rebounds (5.5), tied for first in steals (1.2) and fifth in assists (1.1).

“Karina does a little bit of everything,” Kind said. “Every team needs a player like that.”

Senior forward Kendall Roquet also returns, and is someone Kind said has shown marked improvement. A year ago, Roquet was third on the team in rebounding (5.8) and seventh in scoring (3.4).

“She’s worked harder than anyone we have,” Kind said of Roquet. “She’s been in the gym constantly.”

Sophomore guard/forward McKenna Monogue, a transfer from Mukwonago, is also expected to provide an immediate lift. The 6-foot Monogue, whose mother Dana was named Middleton’s new superintendent last spring, averaged 5.0 points for the Indians last year and is already one of the top shooters on the team.

“She has Norregaard range,” said Kind, comparing Monogue to former MHS standout Elizabeth Norregaard, one of the top shooters in school history. “She’s versatile and smooth. She’s going to help us a lot.”

Middleton should have solid depth, as well.

Senior guard Megan Schwartz, who was part of the Cardinals’ state cross country team, will backup Lemirande at point guard. Senior guard Makenzie Hodson, who helped Middleton win a girls state golf title last month, is a steadying presence.

Junior post Melanie Accola, junior guards Molly Gaab and Brianna Acker, junior forward Andrea Young and senior forward Berkley Smith should also help.

“We have that end goal of a state championship this year, especially after last year,” Tanin said. “So we'll be putting in a lot of work.”

As great as last season was for Middleton, the end left a bittersweet taste for everyone. Lemirande and Tanin still haven't put in the tape of the Bay Port game, knowing the final moments were simply too painful.

That loss helped drive Middleton this offseason, though, which could pay dividends this winter.

“When we were in the gym, working this summer, I would think about it a lot,” Lemirande said of the state title game loss. “I think it’s going to drive us all season.”

Tanin agreed.

“Last year was awesome,” Tanin said. “But we all feel like we could have won the whole thing. That’s definitely the goal.”

Interestingly, Middleton wasn’t even tabbed to win its own conference. Wissports.net picked Madison Memorial to win the Big Eight, with the Cardinals finishing second.

“We love being the underdog,” Tanin said.

You can be sure that won’t be the case very often.

Middleton is gifted, deep and optimistic it can bring home the first state title in school history.

“This is what we’ve been waiting the whole offseason for,” Lemirande said. “I think it’s going to be a great year.”

 

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