Middleton’s girls basketball team starts new journey

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s girls basketball team — led by veteran coach Jeff Kind — will begin their season Friday at Mosinee./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Jeff Kind wasn’t sure if this moment would ever arrive.

His Middleton girls basketball team certainly had their doubts, too.

After a season of uncertainty, Middleton superintendent Dana Monogue and athletic director Jamie Sims approved the return of winter sports on Jan. 11, with all games to be played outside of Dane County.

Now, Kind and the Cardinals will begin their extremely truncated season Friday with a game at Mosinee.

“The first time we play will be the first time we see live competition,” Kind said. “Gotta love a challenge.”

There’s no doubt, whatever games the Cardinals can get before the postseason arrives on Feb. 9 will be a challenge.

Due to pandemic restrictions imposed by Dane County health officials, in addition to not being able to play games in their home gym or anywhere in the county, the Cardinals must maintain six feet of social distancing during practices and can only have 10 players in the gym at the same time. 

While that still allows for individual skill development, with no scrimmaging or close-contact drills the players lack an opportunity outside of games to gain chemistry together offensively or defensively, or to learn how to improvise when things don’t go according to plan.

Even before the pandemic arrived, this was going to be a challenging year for the Cardinals. Middleton lost all five starters from last year’s team that reached the WIAA Division 1 state tournament and was the favorite to win the title before the event was canceled.

Now, without a typical offseason — and an extremely unique winter — the Cardinals’ young group will face an uphill battle in whatever games they can schedule. Kind isn't complaining, though. He’s just happy his team is getting some type of a season.

“It'll be learning on the fly and we'll find out a lot as we see how our players compete,” Kind said. “I'm especially happy that our seniors will get some semblance of a season and we'll try to make the most of it and grow as we go!”

When the Cardinals take the floor Friday, they’ll have to replace arguably the greatest senior class in school history.

Forward Sitori Tanin, a three-year starter who’s now playing at the University of Loyola, was named first-team all-state and first-team all-Big Eight last year. Senior guard Josie Lemirande and senior forward Karina Bursac were named second-team all-conference, while senior guard Evie Coleman earned honorable-mention all-conference honors.

Forwards Kendall Roquet and Berkley Smith, along with guards Megan Schwartz and Makenzie Hodson were all key contributors, as well.

That senior class helped Middleton reach the state championship game in 2019, where it dropped a 50-49 decision to Bay Port. Last season, the Cardinals went 25-1 and were in the midst of a 20-game winning streak when the state tournament was canceled.

“It was a terrific group,” Kind said. “They were ready to go and try winning a state title.”

This year’s Cardinals will be led by junior wing McKenna Monogue.

A year ago, Monogue was named second-team all-conference after finishing fourth on the team in scoring (7.7), fourth in rebounding (3.7) and third in assists (2.5). Monogue was also second on the team in three-point field goals (34), shot 40.0% from beyond the arc and shot 48.4% from the field.

“She’s our most established returning scorer,” Kind said of Monogue. “She has great three-point range, good post moves and is a very good passer. She'll probably be the focus of opponents' defense.”

Middleton’s senior class of Mel Accola, Molly Gaab, Bri Acker, Andrea Young, Lauryn Abozeid and Amber Kaplan didn't play a great deal last year. But Kind liked what he saw from them each day in practice, and believes several are ready for much bigger roles.

“While these six returning seniors did not get a ton of playing time, they practiced every day against one of the best starting groups in the state,” Kind said. “They helped fuel our improvement and would often more than hold their own competing with the starters.

“I look to see some of these players exhibit their skills for others to see. Molly is an excellent defender, Mel is a good rebounder and post defender, they each have strengths that can contribute to team success.”

From the junior class, guard Milanne Dahmen is a three-point threat. Others such as Erin Schleusner, Ellie Frisch, Katie Cowling, Emily Tsipis and Devan Utter could all carve out roles, as well.

“There is a scrappy competitive group of players who could compete for spots on the roster and in the rotation,” Kind said. “It will be nice to see the competition they bring.”

The sophomore class is a gifted one and should provide a lot of help.

Audrey Deptula will likely step into a scoring role.

“She has a good skill threat and scoring ability from outside and driving to the basket,” Kind said.

Evin Jordee has terrific versatility both offensively and defensively. Sierra Pertzborn has great length and potential to develop as a scorer.

Kind, now in 29th year at Middleton, knows this group faces challenges none of his past teams have.

The Cardinals will be facing teams that have already played as many as 15 games. Those teams will be in midseason — and even postseason form — while Middleton is just getting started.

Throw in the fact the Cardinals return little experience and Kind has no idea what to expect. But he’s just glad he’ll get a chance to see what this group is capable of.

“First off, it was great to get back in the gym, see the girls again and get to start practicing,” Kind said. “We are late to the game picking up games, so it's a challenge.”

But one Middleton welcomes.

 

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