Middleton's best of the best

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s girls track and field team is the Middleton Times Tribune’s Female Team of the Year at MHS./File photo
Several state tournament appearances — again.
Numerous conference championships — again.
Remarkable consistency throughout the athletic department — again.
It was another sensational year for the sports teams at Middleton High School, where the Cardinals continue to match — and exceed — past performances
Of course, some achievements rank as the best of the best. Here’s one person’s opinion of that list.
Girls team of the year: Track and field
There was so scoreboard watching. No number crunching.
Middleton’s girls track and field team simply stuck to the plan, performed at a remarkably high level and finished second at the WIAA Division 1 state meet in June.
The Cardinals weren’t expected to finish inside the top-three at state, but nearly came away with a title.
Whitefish Bay won the championship with 48 points, while Middleton was second with 39 points. Kenosha Bradford and Monona Grove tied for third with 36 points, while Waukesha West was fifth (31).
It was Middleton’s best finish at state since the 1997 and ’98 teams won back-to-back state championships.
“I am so incredibly proud of our  team,” Middleton junior standout Lauren Smith said. “We came into state without even the thought of a team placement. We did our very best in all of our events and in the end it all added up to our best accomplishment as a very talented team.”
Middleton standout senior Bobbi Patrick agreed.
“I don’t think we could’ve performed better as a team,” Patrick said. “Everyone did their part perfectly. It was an amazing surprise.”
Smith set a school-record in the 100-meter hurdles, running a 14.82 in the preliminaries. Smith ran a 15.10 in the finals, which was good for second place, just behind Holmen’s Danielle Kohlwey (14.85).
Patrick had a memorable weekend, too, highlighted by a third place finish in the 800. Patrick entered the state tournament seeded eighth in the 800, but her time of 2:12.90 also broke a school record.
“We have kids intrinsically motivated and driven,” Middleton coach Tara Franklin said. “And Bobbi is motivated for herself and the team. It’s not just how Bobbi Patrick does, it’s how the team does.”
Middleton’s four relay teams all set school records, as well, and all finished between second and fourth overall. The quartet of junior Hailee Milton, Smith, junior Hanne Andersen-Smith and senior Hanna Docter was second in the 800-meter relay in 1:42.27.
The foursome of senior Emily Zeker, senior Rachel Wians, junior Sam Valentine and Patrick was third (9:16.52) in the 3,200-meter relay. And the quartet of junior Olivia Roberts, Docter, Andersen-Smith, and Smith was fourth (48.82) in the 400-meter relay.
“I’m most happy about the growth and improvement these relay teams have had over the years,” Smith said. “I’m very grateful to have been able to participate in so many events.”
That left things up to Middleton’s 1,600-meter relay team of Docter, Zeker, Wians and Patrick — who finished third and gave the Cardinals a runner-up finish.
“Oh my god!” Franklin said. “Shocking, surprised, amazed. You name it. It was just great.”
Just like Middleton’s year.
Honorable mention: Basketball (state semifinals), Cross Country (sixth at state), Golf (third at state), Gymnastics (fifth at state), Soccer (Big Eight champs), Softball (Big Eight champs), Swimming (sixth at state), Tennis (state semifinals).
Boys team of the year: Track and field
How do you know your program has hit the big time?
How about when you go to the state meet, finish fourth overall, and leave disappointed.
That was the story for Middleton’s upwardly mobile boys track and field team.
The Cardinals’ fourth place finish at state was the best in school history. Afterwards, though, Middleton had a bevy of mixed emotions.
“It was interesting to finish so well historically and feel so let down,” Middleton coach Isaac Mezera said. “We were chosen by many to finish in second or third place. Some even went so far to predict us winning the meet. 
“So, once you get that in your head, it’s hard to adjust to the reality that it’s not happening. It was still an impressive performance.”
Middleton’s best performances came from junior Perrin Hagge in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs.
Hagge was the No. 1 seed in the 800, but was edged for the championship. Wisconsin Lutheran senior Eric Brown won the race in 1:54.78, while Hagge was a close second at 1:55.04.
Hagge was also the No. 1 seed in the 1,600. But the Cardinals’ standout settled for fourth place in that race (4:14.30), just 0.65 seconds behind champion Olin Hacker of Madison West (4:13.75).
Middleton’s 3,200-meter relay team had a remarkable performance, shattering the old school record by eight seconds and finishing third overall.
The Cardinals’ quartet of senior Zach Shoemaker-Allen, junior Jordan Futch, junior Cole Conklin-Little and Hagge completed the race in 7:44.82. Wisconsin Lutheran was first (7:43.18), while Hartland Arrowhead was second (7:43.65).
Cardinals junior Jack Jesse was fifth in the long jump with a leap of 22 feet, 9 ¾ inches. Middleton sophomore Gus Newcomb also finished sixth in the 3,200-meter run (9:17.10). 
That capped a sensational season in which Middleton won the Big Eight Conference and notched regional and sectional titles along the way.
“This 2015 team is the best MHS has ever seen,” Mezera said. “I’m incredibly proud to be their coach. We had a great season, and really a great state meet. But expectations we put on ourselves left us feeling a little forlorn when the dust settled.”
Honorable mention: Cross Country (sixth at state), Football (Big Eight champs), Golf (fifth at state), Swimming (seventh at state), Tennis (second at state), Volleyball (state qualifiers).
Girls coach of the year: Jeff Kind, girls basketball
Middleton’s girls basketball team was the No. 3 seed in its sectional. The Cardinals finished third in the Big Eight Conference.
But the postseason is the time of year everyone guns for. And Middleton has excelled there time and time again.
The 2014-’15 campaign was no different.
Middleton got red-hot in the postseason, defeated higher-seeded Verona and Janesville Craig, and earned its ninth trip to state in Jeff Kind’s tenure.
“This was a pretty gratifying year in retrospect,” Kind said. “We had the parts to be a very good team and had pretty high expectations coming into the season, but we had some growing to do as well. 
“I felt we could go either way around mid-season when we ran into a few weeks where we dealt with a lot of sickness on the team and it seemed that we were lacking energy and lost a couple games in a row. 
“But the girls rallied, and when we started doing our five and five platoon system, we really started to wear people out with our depth. It paid big dividends down the stretch when we were able to come back on some really good teams late in games or put them away early if they had trouble with our constant pressure.”
Middleton reached the state semifinals, where it lost in one of the most memorable tournament games ever. DSHA’s Arike Ogunbowale scored a tournament record 55 points and the Dashers toppled the Cardinals, 86-76, in overtime.
Still, the year was a huge success for Kind and his Cardinals.
“We had a nice mixture of youth and veterans this year,” Kind said. “Our seniors this year did a nice job taking leadership roles and keeping the team focused.”
Honorable mention: Becky Halverson (golf), Lauren Cabalka (swimming), Cherie Hellenbrand (softball), Mary Duffy (soccer), Kari Steck (gymnastics), Tara Franklin (track and field), Isaac Mezera and Cindy Bremser (cross country).
Boys coach of the year: Kevin Bavery, basketball
Most believed a rebuilding season was on tap. That Middleton’s boys basketball team would languish near the bottom of the Big Eight Conference standings in 2015.
Instead, the Cardinals were one of the state’s surprise teams last winter. And veteran coach Kevin Bavery seemed to push all the right button time and time again.
Middleton surprised everyone and went 17-7 overall and finished third in the conference at 13-5. The Cardinals succeeded despite returning just two players from their top-eight the previous season.
“Well if I have to say something that would apply to both it would be in one word — fun,” Bavery said. “As strange as that sounds it really is true. 
“We didn’t talk about winning a single game this year. We only focused on the day-to-day process of controlling what we can control, which is working hard, working with a purpose, and having fun along the way.” 
Middleton won its first three games of the season and began the year 6-1. The Cardinals’ high-water mark was at 11-2 in late-January, and they never lost more than two games in a row.
Middleton reached the regional finals, before losing to eventual state qualifier Madison East.
Bavery employed a hockey like style much of the year where he substituted five players at a time. And the outside-the-box approach certainly paid dividends.
“First and foremost it was fun,” Bavery said of the 2014-’15 campaign. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had a season where I wanted to come to practice more the next day after we were eliminated in the tournament. 
“I believe the biggest piece was the players buy in, starting with our seniors. This team genuinely cared about one another while not caring who was taking the shots. 
“They all saw the value in chasing down the ball in our press or boxing out on defense as well as who scored the ball. It was both a privilege and a joy to walk into the gym each day.”
Honorable mention: Tom Cabalka (golf), Isaac Mezera (track and field), Ben White (volleyball), Isaac Mezera and Cindy Bremser (cross country).
Girls performance of the year: Loren Skibba, golf
Loren Skibba was one of the top golfers in the state during her first two years at Middleton. But there was always something keeping Skibba from taking the next step.
“There was always a mental hurdle,” Skibba said.
Skibba cleared that hurdle — and all others — at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament last October.
Skibba conquered the rain, wind and plummeting temperatures and captured an individual state title. Skibba posted a two-day score of 3-over par, 147, which was good for a four-shot win over Homestead’s Anika Hitt.
Skibba joined Lindsey Solberg (2006) as just the second individual champion in school history. And Skibba’s score was the eighth-best in Division 1 history, an amazing achievement considering veteran observers all agreed this was the worst two days of weather the tournament ever had.
“She’s amazing,” Middleton coach Becky Halverson said of Skibba. “She’s so focused and so strong. “She’s what I envision for our program. I want the girls to see that and dig down within themselves and stay with it. She can do it.”
Skibba’s amazing two-day journey also propelled the Cardinals to a third-place finish in the team standings.
Verona won the team title with a 648 score, while defending champion Hartland Arrowhead settled for second at 656. Middleton was third at 670, while Homestead (681) and Milton (700) rounded out the top five at the 12-team tournament.
Much of the opening round was played in manageable conditions. And Skibba took full advantage.
Skibba matched her career-low with an opening round 3-under par, 69. That allowed Skibba to grab a five-shot lead over two-time defending champion Jessica Reinecke of Verona and Homestead’s Hitt.
Skibba birdied four of the five par-5s on the 5,200-yard course. She made just one bogey during her memorable round.
And Skibba’s 69 was just one shot off the Division 1 record set by Milton’s Ashton Stair in 2010.
“Loren’s round was stellar,” Halverson said after Monday’s opening round. “She stayed focused and confident and showed everyone her ability. I would say this is a career round for her.”
With the weather at perhaps its worst early on during the second round, Skibba shot 4-over par on her first five holes. But she birdied the par-5 sixth hole, made the turn at 40, and still held a four-shot lead over the rest of the field.
Skibba bogeyed No. 10, then steadied herself and made pars on seven of her final eight holes. As golfers all around her imploded, Skibba had a remarkably steady back nine and refused to let her challengers creep too close.
“I’m really happy, kind of speechless,” Skibba said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Boys performance of the year: Jake Van Emburgh, tennis
He came late to the party. But Jake Van Emburgh certainly made his presence known.
The Middleton sophomore became the first player in school history to win a state championship in tennis. Van Emburgh defeated Brookfield East’s David Horneffer, 7-5, 6-1, in the title match.
“I’m glad I could end like that,” Van Emburgh said. “It’s kind of bittersweet, but it’s something I definitely wanted to accomplish.”
Van Emburgh, the No 2 seed in the tournament, didn’t lose a set in his five matches. In fact, he lost a grand total of just 14 games in his 10 sets.
Van Emburgh also gained a measure of revenge by besting Horneffer — the tournament’s top seed ­— in the finals. One year ago, Horneffer topped Van Emburgh in the state semifinals.
“Overall, I played well,” Van Emburgh said. “I didn’t serve great, but I felt good about it and felt good about the whole season.”
Van Emburgh wasn’t even planning to play high school tennis. Instead, he was going to compete in a number of United States Tennis Association junior tournaments to improve his national ranking.
But when Van Emburgh met that goal by April, he joined the Cardinals.
According to WIAA rules, Van Emburgh had to serve a four-game suspension because he didn’t report to the team on the first day of the season. But Van Emburgh then made the most of his limited time.
He carried a 9-0 record into the state tournament, then rolled through the field.
“I made sure I was ready,” Van Emburgh said. “I was practicing a lot and tried to keep everything tight. The team environment is something you don’t get when it’s just you. So this was a lot of fun.”
Especially the ending.
Girls senior athlete of the year: Bobbi Patrick, cross country/track
Patrick was a major reason the Cardinals finished second at the WIAA Division 1 state track and field meet. Patrick also qualified individually for the state cross country meet.
At the state track meet, Patrick was third in the 800. Patrick’s time of 2:12.90 set a new school record.
“We have kids intrinsically motivated and driven,” Middleton coach Tara Franklin said. “And Bobbi is motivated for herself and the team. It’s not just how Bobbi Patrick does, it’s how the team does.”
Patrick had qualified for state in the 800 the last two years, but made her final appearance the best yet.
“I’ve never been able to get in the fastest heat for the 800 the past two years I’ve gone, so to get in it this last year I knew would push me further than I’ve ever gone,” Patrick said. “The competition allowed me to truly see what I could do and I couldn’t be happier with my performance.”
Patrick was part of the Cardinals’ third-place 3,200-meter relay team. And she was also part of Middleton’s 1,600-meter relay team that placed third.
“Both the relays were really intense to see who would walk away with the gold medals,” Patrick said. “We all gave our best and did everything we could.”
Patrick also placed 46th at the state cross country meet.
“When I was racing, it felt like I was racing for the moment and the experience of state itself,” Patrick said. “(Finishing) 46th wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but I can’t be disappointed with my season as an individual. I just wanted to go out there and represent my teammates who weren’t able to race at state.”
Honorable mention: Cole Jordee (volleyball, basketball); Katie Fermanich (basketball, softball).
Boys senior athlete of the year: Sean Benedict, football/wrestling/track and field
Benedict enjoyed a terrific senior season and shined in three different sports.
First, Benedict was a first-team all-Big Eight Conference football player. Benedict played center and right guard and was an anchor on Middleton’s terrific offensive line.
Benedict then went 42-6 during the wrestling season and reached the state tournament in the heavyweight division.
Lastly, Benedict had a solid spring in track and field, where he was one of the top throwers in the Big Eight Conference.
Honorable mention: Brett Joers (football, basketball, track and field), Alex Wood (football, track and field), Kellan Schulz (football and basketball).
Girls breakthrough athlete: Lauren Banke, fr., softball
Middleton’s softball team entered the season with a bevy of gifted players. But the Cardinals were unsure who their pitcher would be.
Freshman Lauren Banke helped answer that question. Banke went 7-3 with a 2.39 ERA, struck out 36 batters and walked 28.
“She was huge for us,” Middleton manager Cherie Hellenbrand said. 
Honorable mention: Jessica Parente, fr., softball; Kristen Reikersdorfer, soph., soccer.
Boys breakthrough athlete: Cam Maly, jr., football/basketball
Middleton junior running back Cam Maly had a breakout junior season. Maly ran for 1,143 yards, scored 19 touchdowns, had just one fumble and averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
Maly also received first-team all-Big Eight Conference honors.
Maly was then a key reserve and defensive specialist on Middleton’s surprising basketball team.
“Cam doesn’t need much room,” Middleton coach Tim Simon said. “He just needs a crease, and if we can get him out into the open field, he’s dangerous.”
Honorable mention: Tyree Eady, soph., basketball; Storm Murphy, soph., basketball; Jack Rader, fr., cross country.
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