Ranking Middleton's top male athletes of the century

MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
From left are former Middleton athletes Eric Hagstrom, Derek Rongstad, Ernest Winters, Tim Owen, Perrin Hagge, Aaron Hohlbein, Storm Murphy, Alan Roden, Luke Schafer and Cody Markel./Times-Tribune photos by Mary Langenfeld

The task was daunting.

The Times-Tribune recently asked a 16-person panel to rank the best male and female athletes to pass through Middleton High School in the 21st century. Any athlete who competed in the 21st century was eligible to be nominated and their exploits across their entire career were considered, even if a portion of their playing days came in the 1990s.

The panel consisted of past and present coaches, local sportswriters and community members that have seen countless Cardinals’ events.

There were no set criteria outlined. Beauty was in the eye of each beholder.

If one voter thought a multi-sport athlete with solid production across the board rated ahead of a one-sport athlete who excelled at their craft, that was their prerogative. If another voter prioritized team success, that was fine, too.

Nearly 60 boys and 60 girls were nominated for consideration, and after the votes were tabulated, each field was trimmed to a top-20. 

The top-20 girls were revealed the past two weeks. The top-20 boys will appear over the next two weeks.

We hope you enjoy looking back at many of the athletes who have helped make Middleton athletics shine this century.

 

11. Luke Schafer 

Football, basketball, baseball (Class of 2014)

Schafer did it all during his time at Middleton, earning three letters in both football and baseball and two letters in basketball.

Schafer was then a preferred walk-on inside Iowa’s baseball program after a stellar career at MHS.

Schafer, a second baseman and shortstop, was a first-team all-Big Eight selection as a junior in 2013. Schafer batted .333 that season, had a .433 on-base percentage, scored a team-high 28 runs, was third on the team in hits (28) and stole 14 of 15 bases.

As a sophomore in 2012, Schafer was a second-team all-conference pick after batting .368 with six doubles, two triples, and tying for third on the team with 17 RBI. Schafer also had a .439 on-base percentage, a .474 slugging percentage and an OPS of .913.

“Luke was a three-sport athlete who was a fierce competitor and worked very hard to be at the top of his game,” former Middleton baseball manager Tom Schmitt said. “He was a versatile player who could play many positions. His passion for baseball was seen by fans, teammates and opponents.”

In basketball, Schafer was the Cardinals’ starting point guard his final two years.

Schafer was named third-team all-conference as a junior when he finished second on the Cardinals in scoring (11.7), led the team with 5.2 rebounds per game and was also second on the team in assists (3.0) and steals (2.7).

Schafer was then named honorable-mention all-Big Eight as a senior.

“Luke was a ‘gritty’ competitor,” Middleton basketball coach Kevin Bavery said. “He approached practices and games with the same intensity. I remember his first statement game being at Sun Prairie as a junior when he hit for something like 26 points, got to the free-throw line and went 10-for-10, and we beat a Sun Prairie team that had two Division I recruits. 

“He never cared if he scored or not. He just always did what it took to win — get the timely steal, score in the clutch, make the key assist. You love those players who have a high level of athletic ability and skill but are still willing to get dirty.”

In football, Schafer was Middleton’s quarterback in 2012, and platooned there at the outset of 2013. But when the Cardinals were hit with injuries in their defensive backfield, Schafer moved to cornerback.

Schafer took to his new position rather quickly, and the coaches in the league took notice. In six games at cornerback, Schafer had eight passes defensed and was named first-team all-Big Eight.

“Luke was kind of an ‘old school’ athlete,” former Middleton football coach Tim Simon said. “What I mean by that is he was a genuine three-sport athlete — football, basketball, baseball — and his favorite sport was whatever sport he was playing at that time or season. 

“He was a fierce competitor and had real grit about him. He would do whatever the team needed him to do. He just focused on playing as hard as he could and as well as he could. He had real natural athleticism, but also great leadership skills. 

“I remember vividly his sophomore year of football we had him take some quarterback reps with our No. 1 varsity offense. He came into the huddle with juniors and seniors and immediately commanded that offense. He wasn’t timid or intimidated. His presence and confidence shined through.”

 

12. Alan Roden

Baseball, basketball (Class of 2018)

Roden, who now plays for the University of Creighton, will be remembered as one of the Cardinals’ all-time greats in baseball. Roden was one of just two baseball players this century to earn a letter all four years at MHS and he received some form of all-Big Eight Conference honors all four seasons.

As a senior in 2018, Roden was named first-team all-state and was the runner-up for Big Eight Conference Player of the Year honors. That year, Roden batted .465, had an on-base percentage of .556, a slugging percentage of .721 and a remarkable OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.276. 

Roden had 28 RBI, 40 hits, 14 doubles and three triples. He also scored 31 runs, had 11 stolen bases and struck out just twice. Roden also helped power Middleton to its first Big Eight Conference title since 2010. 

Roden, a catcher his first three seasons, moved to shortstop as a senior and had arguably his best season as a Cardinal.

“His athletic skills allowed him to play catcher and move to shortstop his senior year without question or hesitation,” former Middleton manager Tom Schmitt said. “He knew that his team needed him to do this to help give us the strongest lineup we could put on the field.”

As a junior in 2017, Roden was named first-team all-Big Eight after leading Middleton with a .459 batting average and ranking first in on-base percentage (.530), slugging percentage (.600) and OPS (1.130). Roden was first on the team in home runs (two), RBI (16) and hits (39), second in doubles (four) and third in runs scored (16).

Roden was named second-team all-Big Eight as a sophomore in 2016. That year, Roden batted .367, was second on the team in hits (29), led the Cardinals with 21 runs scored and had a .993 fielding percentage.

And as a freshman in 2015, Roden was named honorable-mention all-conference.

The Cardinals advanced to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament during Roden’s sophomore season. He was named the team’s Most Valuable Player by his teammates as a senior, junior and freshman. 

He also earned Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Academic All-State and All-District honors as a junior.

“He was a ‘5 tool’ baseball player,” Schmitt said. “Add in his intelligence, passion for baseball, instincts, work ethic and competitiveness and you understand how Alan accomplished all he did in baseball and basketball. A very coachable player who stepped right into the lineup as a freshman and performed as an All-State player for four great years.” 

Roden was also a standout basketball player who earned honorable-mention all-conference honors as a senior. 

That season, Roden finished with a team-leading 7.2 rebounds per game and was second on the team in scoring (8.6). The 6-foot Roden was the ultimate glue guy, a defensive stopper and someone who made his teammates better.

“Alan was our Dennis Rodman,” Middleton boys basketball coach Kevin Bavery said. “He stands 6-feet tall and has the second-most, single-season rebounds in team history. He could score when the opportunity was there, but he recognized what was going to be most important for his team — being an absolute bulldog on defense, setting jarring screens for his teammates, and he definitely has the record for the most diving saves of a ball heading out of bounds. 

“If I’m going to play a game of no-holds barred pick-up ball, Alan is my first pick! In 30 seasons as a head coach I’ve only seen two players consistently dive with their entire body parallel to the floor and Alan did it in almost every game.” 

 

13. Tim Owen 

Volleyball, basketball, tennis (Class of 2001)

Owen ranks among the best volleyball players in school history. He also earned all-conference honors twice in basketball and reached the state tennis tournament as an individual and with his team.

Owen was the Big Eight Conference’s Player of the Year in volleyball as a junior and a senior. Owen played during the era of “side-out scoring” and in one three-match stretch his senior year he notched 150 kills. Owen also has a remarkable 65 kills in a five-set match against Madison Memorial his senior year.

“He was the best player I’ve ever coached, by far,” former Middleton coach Kurt Wong said. “I feel fortunate and grateful to have had three years with him.”

Owen was also a three-year starter in basketball and earned honorable-mention all-conference honors as a junior and a senior. Owen was a deadly shooter who helped the Cardinals win the Big Eight Conference as a senior.

“Tim came in here as a great shooter, but he really developed the rest of his game,” former Middleton coach John Boyle said. “He did all the little things that coaches absolutely love. To me he was the perfect player because he did so many things. He’s the kind of guy you’d pay $1 million for.”

Owen was also a terrific doubles player in tennis.

Owen helped Middleton finish second at the WIAA Division 1 state team tournament in 2000. He also teamed with Bubba Schultz the following year and that duo reached the Round of 16 at individual state.

“He was one of the better defensive players we had even though he was also one of slowest players we had,” Boyle said. “Now how can you do that? It’s because he was always in the right place at the right time. 

“He was one of the smartest kids I ever coached, not only from an academic standpoint, but just his intelligence on the court. He understood that he had pretty mediocre athletic talent, but he got more out of what he had that maybe anyone I’ve ever coached.”

 

14. Storm Murphy 

Basketball (Class of 2017)

Murphy, who will be a senior this season at Wofford College, ranks among the greatest basketball players in Middleton history.

Murphy broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore and was a first-team all-Big Eight Conference selection each of his final two years. Murphy was also named honorable-mention all-conference as a sophomore.

Murphy, a lightning-quick point guard, finished second in the Big Eight in scoring as a junior with 18.4 points per game. He also led the Cardinals in assists (4.4) and was second in steals (2.0). 

As a senior, Murphy averaged 19.9 points per game, which ranked third in the conference. Murphy also led Middleton in assists (4.8) and added 2.0 steals per game.

Middleton went 55-18 overall and 40-14 in the Big Eight during Murphy’s three seasons on varsity. The Cardinals captured a share of the conference title when Murphy was a junior and were third his other two years.

Middleton also reached the sectional semifinals during Murphy’s senior year, but lost to nemesis Madison Memorial.

“I’ve only had one other player with the same effervescent, unabashed love of the game, and that was Shaka Smart,” Middleton coach Kevin Bavery said of Murphy. “Practice was his game day and he always brought a consistent high level of energy and enthusiasm with him every day. 

“Storm probably had the highest overall skill set of any player I’ve ever had, and you never knew when the highlight reel play was going to come. That skill level, along with his incredible work ethic of intense physical workouts for his strength and conditioning, and his high volume of skill work has translated into great success at the Division I level at Wofford. 

“He was a tremendous shooter, and with his relentless approach being a part of his DNA, I have no doubts he’ll have opportunities to play professionally after his college career is over.” 

 

15. Aaron Hohlbein

Soccer, basketball (Class of 2003)

The case could certainly bThe case could certainly be made that Hohlbein is the finest soccer player in school history.

Hohlbein was a four-year letter-winner at MHS who played primarily in the midfield. Hohlbein was named all-state his final three seasons and was a first-team all-Big Eight Conference selection each of those years.

He was also named honorable-mention all-conference as a freshman. 

Hohlbein then had a memorable career at the University of Wisconsin where he moved to center back. Hohlbein remains one of just seven players in UW history to earn all-American honors, being named to the third-team as a senior.

Hohlbein was named first-team All-Big Ten in 2005 and 2006, second team All-Big Ten in 2003 and 2004, and made the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and College Soccer News All-Freshman second team in 2003. Hohlbein was also named to the Big Ten’s All-Tournament Team in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

Hohlbein was drafted in the 2007 Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft third overall by the Kansas City Wizards and played in the MLS for three years. Hohlbein made 43 appearances at defender for the full squad and 14 appearances for the reserve team, tallying two career goals and one assist.

He then returned to UW in 2015 as an assistant coach.

“During Aaron’s senior year he became a player-coach,” former Middleton boys soccer coach Ken Burghy said. “The staff trusted him to run the back line, four of the deepest players in what is termed a ‘flat-back-four.’ This is a defensive team alignment that requires the highest levels of intelligence, communication, and tactical awareness. Aaron’s back line is the only time we attempted this complicated scheme. Aaron was always a leader throughout his four years on varsity. 

“His willingness to learn and improve, combined with his incredible talent, are what propelled him to captain the University of Wisconsin team and later enabled him to start for the Kansas City Wizards in the MLS.”

Hohlbein also was the starting point guard for Middleton’s basketball team his final year.

“He was so fast, probably the fastest kid we ever had,” former Middleton basketball coach John Boyle said. “He didn’t have much of a left hand, but he didn’t need one. He just went right by you with his right hand. 

“And because he was so fast, teams couldn’t press him. I mean, he was a world-class athlete. He was something else.”

 

16. Perrin Hagge

Track and field, cross country, soccer (Class of 2016)

Hagge, who currently runs at Princeton, had a memorable career at Middleton.

As a senior in 2016, Hagge won the 1,600-meter run with a time of 4 minutes, 11.58 seconds. Hagge needed to be that good, as runner-up Nicholas Rank of Kimberly finished in 4:12.71.

“I knew the race was going to be difficult and I tried to prepare myself mentally,” Hagge said the day he won state. “On the fourth lap, when (Rank) began to falter, I just tried to keep driving my arms and turning my legs over down the homestretch.”

Hagge was second in the 3,200 that season and his time of 9:05.66 set another school record. Hagge was also fourth in the 800 in 1:55.84. 

Hagge enjoyed three trips to the podium at state that year, scored 23 of Middleton’s 41 points and helped the Cardinals finish second as a team.

As a junior in 2015, Hagge was second at state in the 800 and fourth in the 1,600. He was also part of Middleton’s 3,200-meter relay team that broke the previous school record by 8 seconds and finished third overall.

Hagge was 10th at state in the 800 in 2014 and competed on Middleton’s state qualifying 1,600-meter relay team.

Hagge was named all-state in track as a junior and senior. He still holds school records in the 800-meter run, the 1,600, 3,200 and the 3,200-meter relay. 

Hagge set the Big Eight Conference record in the 800 and 1,600. And he was a four-time Big Eight Conference champion — three times in the 800 and once in the 1,600.

In addition, Hagge was a national meet qualifier in the mile, was eighth in the mile at the 2015 New Balance Nationals, and was named academic all-state in cross country.

Hagge also led Middleton to second-, fourth- and fifth-place finishes at team state in cross country his final three years in the program.

“Perrin was a very driven, extremely tough, and the most level-headed runner,” said Brian Finnel, who coached Hagge for three years in track and field and one season in cross country. “He was super fun to watch and always executed very well in races. 

“No doubt, he was the apex of Wisconsin distance runners in 2016. Without him, we don’t get a state runner-up trophy.” 

 

17. Cody Markel 

Football, basketball, tennis (Class of 2016)

Markel was a three-sport standout who then played football at Vanderbilt.

As a senior in 2015, Markel was named first-team all-Big Eight Conference at both tight end and defensive end. Markel was the only player in the Big Eight that season to earn first-team all-conference honors at two spots.

Defensively, Markel finished second in the conference with seven sacks that year, added eight tackles for loss, seven passes defensed and had 35 total tackles. Offensively, Markel had 16 catches for 211 yards, five touchdowns and added one two-point conversion catch.

“When I think of Cody I immediately think of perseverance and determination,” former Middleton football coach Tim Simon said. “He battled a couple different injuries early in his high school career. He did not lament when these injuries happened. I think that is what really drove him to work so hard in and out of season to be the best that he could be. 

“Coaching him in football and basketball, it was easy to see how talented he was. When you combine his great work ethic with his natural athletic abilities, it was easy to see why he was so successful.

“He was a natural leader and everyone looked to him as he set a high standard for our teams. He was a prototypical great student-athlete. People should look into what he did on and off the field for the Vanderbilt football program. He is truly amazing!”

On the hardwood, Markel was a starter for most of his last two seasons. During those two years, Middleton went 36-12 overall and won a share of the conference title during Markel’s senior season.

“Cody was our Captain America as he always did everything with a sense of purpose and a raw determination to whatever was in the best interest of the team,” Middleton basketball coach Kevin Bavery said. “He was a relentless rebounder, had the ability to score inside and get to the free-throw line, was the consummate teammate and he was always ‘dialed in.’ 

“Whenever a coach or a teammate had anything to say or teach, his eyes were locked in and his face said it all — that he was all-in and ready to execute. Cody is one of those incredible individuals who has gone on to great success both on and off the field at the next level and he undoubtedly will continue to do so. He was the epitome of ‘leave everything on the court.’ ”

Markel was also a standout tennis player and helped Middleton qualify for team state three times. In addition, he teamed with Dan Jin to reach the individual state tennis tournament twice.

In 2016, Markel and Jin reached the Round of 16 at the state doubles tournament. The Cardinals also reached the state semifinals in the team competition that year.

In 2015, Markel and Jin qualified for the state doubles tournament and helped the Cardinals reach the state finals as a team. And in 2014, Markel helped Middleton qualify for team state.

 

18. Ernest Winters

Track and field, football (Class of 2014)

The marquee event at every state track and field meet is the 100-meter dash. And in 2014, Winters earned the title of the fastest high schooler in the state and the fastest athlete in school history.

Winters won the 100-meter dash in a blazing 10.83 seconds and edged Kimberly’s Weston Guilfoyle (10.85) for the title. Menomonee Falls’ Christian Almonte (10.94) and Racine Park’s Jeremy Steward (10.96) were a close third and fourth, respectively.

Winters was in third place after the preliminaries, then cranked it up during the finals and set a school-record with his blazing time.

“The 100 meters is something I worked extremely hard for,” Winters said that weekend. “But having a team that pushed and encouraged me these four years really helped me succeed and I wouldn’t have done it without them.”

Winters also finished third in the 200 and anchored Middleton’s 400-meter relay team that finished second. Winters helped account for 24 of Middleton’s 34.5 points that weekend as the Cardinals finished fifth as a team at state.

Winters then ran collegiately at UW-La Crosse.

Winters was also a wide receiver/defensive back on the Cardinals’ football team.

“Ernest was the fastest athlete we have ever had at Middleton High School,” former Middleton football coach Tim Simon said. “That is not just a statement of his blazing speed on the football field. He set the school record in the 100-meter dash and was a state champion in that same event.  

“Being a 100-meter dash state champion puts him in a very exclusive club. Ernest had this great balance of determination and joyfulness. Some athletes get too focused and they forget to enjoy the journey. Ernest didn’t. 

“He led by example in how to push yourself to reach limits beyond your potential, and he also led by example how to be a great teammate and how to enjoy the journey. His drive became more focused as he progressed from a freshman athlete to his varsity years. This is part of what led him to cap off his senior year as track state champion.” 

 

19. Derek Rongstad 

Basketball, football (Class of 2014)

Rongstad, affectionately known as ‘Doc’, was one of Middleton’s top basketball players this century and enjoyed a terrific football career.

Rongstad was named first-team all-Big Eight Conference in basketball as a junior and a senior.

Rongstad was a unanimous all-conference selection as a senior when he led the Cardinals with 14.8 points per game. He also led the Cardinals in assists (2.5 per game) and steals (1.5) and was second on the team in rebounding (4.3).

Rongstad was also named first-team all-Big Eight as a junior when he averaged a team-high 16.4 points per game.

Rongstad was named Middleton’s Most Valuable Player on two occasions and averaged 13.1 points per game during his career. Rongstad finished his MHS career with 891 total points, which at the time were the second-most of the Kevin Bavery-era.

Rongstad began his collegiate basketball career as a preferred walk-on at UW-Milwaukee and later played at UW-Whitewater. Today, he’s a graduate assistant for the University of Alabama’s men’s basketball program and he eventually hopes to get into the coaching profession.

“Doc was first and foremost a competitor, and he was always the hardest on himself as he always expected the team to go as he did,” Bavery said of Rongstad. “He led by example as well as by his words, and as successful as he was in high school, we always had the sense that he was just starting to come into his own physically during his senior year and that his collegiate days were going to be highly successful. 

“He could score, defend, block shots, handle the ball against pressure, and set up his teammates. All of those attributes led to a successful collegiate career starting at UW-Milwaukee and finishing at UW-Whitewater, where he rarely left the court. 

“I have joked with him that he’s way too intelligent to become a coach, but he has everything it takes to work himself up to the highest level in that profession.”

Rongstad was also a standout football player. He was named second-team all-Big Eight as a wide receiver both his senior and junior years, and was named first-team all-league as a kicker as a senior.

During Rongstad’s senior year, he caught 27 passes for 518 yards and eight touchdowns. He had 14 catches for 190 yards and two TDs as a junior.

Rongstad also made 33-of-34 extra points as a senior and all four of his field-goal attempts.

As a sophomore, Rongstad drilled a 26-yard field goal late in the game to give Middleton a 17-14 win at Sun Prairie.

“Derek ‘Doc’ was an ultimate competitor,” former Middleton football coach Tim Simon said. “Basketball may have been his favorite sport, but he was equally talented in football. He just loved sports and loved competition. 

“It didn’t matter how big the situation, Doc never flinched. Hitting the free throws down the stretch in a big basketball game or making the catch at a pivotal moment late in a football game. He thrived in clutch moments and on the big stage. His athleticism was absolutely exceptional, but his grit and mental toughness were also great attributes of his.”

 

20. Eric Hagstrom 

Golf, basketball, football (Class of 2012)

Hagstrom was a three-time letterwinner in golf, a two-time letterman in basketball and also played football as a senior.

As a junior in 2011, Hagstrom finished fourth individually at the WIAA Division 1 state golf tournament and helped lead the Cardinals to the state team title. Middleton shot a 608 team score that season and defeated runner-up Hartland Arrowhead by 10 strokes.

As a senior in 2012, Hagstrom was named first-team all-Big Eight Conference and honorable-mention all-state. But Middleton lost in a playoff in the state’s toughest sectional and Hagstrom and the Cardinals were denied a chance to compete at state.

Hagstrom then played collegiately at UW-Eau Claire.

“Eric probably had as much natural talent as any golfer I have coached,” Middleton boys golf coach Tom Cabalka said of Hagstrom. “He was a very good athlete. He was long off the tee, great iron player and a terrific short game.  

“He was a great kid to coach on the course, as he never got too high or too low during his round. It was always fun getting back in the vehicle after the round as Eric always found ways to entertain us with his humor about something funny that happened during the round. Opposing players loved playing with Eric as he enjoyed having fun on the course and he made even a long round enjoyable.”

Hagstrom had plenty of enjoyable moments on the hardwood, too.

As a senior in 2012, he was named first-team all-Big Eight Conference after leading the Cardinals in scoring (12.1) and finishing second in rebounding. Hagstrom was named to the Wisconsin State Journal’s All-Area team and was voted Middleton’s Most Valuable Player.

“The ‘Big E’ was a throwback player, the type who develops his game playing 1-on-1 in the driveway and in old school pick-up games,” Middleton boys basketball coach Kevin Bavery said. “His game was so crafty, especially down on the low block where he had tremendous footwork and the ability to sell his moves to get to the rim as well as to the free-throw line. 

“He also had the ability to find open teammates when the double teams came, and to step outside the arc and nail the three-point shot. He was extremely difficult to guard as he would take smaller defenders down to the block and destroy them, and he would take less mobile defenders out to the perimeter and stick the three in their face. 

“Eric also had the type of personality that kept things fun and loose. You never knew when he might show up to practice in a Jackie Moon jersey!”

Hagstrom also played football his senior year, where the good times kept coming.

“Eric was such a natural athlete,” former Middleton football coach Tim Simon said. “He made things look easy, be that on the basketball court or the golf course or the football field. He also made things fun.  

“He had this ability to be a gritty competitor one moment, and a great teammate the next. He made sports fun for his teammates and his coaches. His athletic ability was easy to see. 

“He was the type of athlete who could kick or throw a football 60 yards, turn right around a hit a three-point shot, and then for an encore hit a 300-yard drive. And he could make all three things look equally easy. Just a smooth and natural athlete."

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