MHS to Edgewood pipeline runs strong

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MTT News's picture
Dan Larson/For the Times-Tribune
Former Middleton players (from left) Dylan Carrington, Ben Collier, Brooks Kalscheur, Aidan Williams, Easton Zempel and Hayden Hellenbrand are all playing for Edgewood College./Photo courtesy of Edgewood College

VERONA — Last season’s Edgewood College baseball team featured five players from Middleton High School, no small number considering the recruiting footprint most colleges have.

Then Cooper Holewinski graduated.

That number was sure to decrease, right?


And not only didn’t it decrease, it actually increased — to six.

The path from Middleton to Edgewood hasn’t necessarily been a straight one -- a few of the six transferred in over the years — but it’s noteworthy enough that it’s now a de facto pipeline.

Proximity has a lot to do with why that’s turned out to be the case. But it’s far from the only reason.

“They’re definitely two different cultures between Middleton and Edgewood, but they share a lot of similar values, which I think is why you find a lot of us here,” said left-handed pitcher Aidan Williams, a junior who transferred from Milwaukee Area Technical College after his freshman year in 2022. “Middleton is a historic, good program that’s always in the running for something. So it’s definitely a plus coming here knowing we’ll compete, but also have a family culture.

“That’s something you kind of have in high school, so to be able to carry that into college is cool.”

Williams, a 2021 MHS graduate, helped Edgewood to a 14-10 record in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference this season, landing the Eagles in the middle of the pack in sixth place.

As one of the top eight, they earned a spot in the NACC’s postseason tournament, hosted by Benedectine University located in Lisle, Ill. The Eagles will open the single-elimination tournament on Wednesday afternoon against seventh-seeded Concordia Wisconsin, although that game will be at Aurora College in nearby Aurora, Ill.

The winner of the tournament receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III regionals.

Joining Williams as fellow former Cardinals helping Edgewood in its quest to go on a Cinderella run are senior pitcher Ben Collier, senior infielders Brooks Kalscheur and Dylan Carrington, sophomore pitcher Easton Zempel and freshman infielder Hayden Hellenbrand.

Edgewood longtime manager Al Brisack, now in his 25th year filling out the line-up card for the Eagles, said his familiarity with Middleton — among other area programs — has also played a big part in recruiting so many Cardinals onto his roster.

“We’ve got some really good baseball in the Big Eight Conference. It’s one of the best conferences in the state. Middleton specifically, Jorgy (coach Brent Jorgensen) does a great job over there. He teaches baseball the way that we like to play here. And so it’s a pretty seamless transition when they come in here. They know what to expect -- they’ve done it before.

“When we’ve gotten guys in the past from Middleton, they’ve experienced that in the transition. There’s a comfort level of, ‘This is the kind of baseball I’m used to, now I’m going to advance it further.’ And I think they like that.”

A whole bunch of them are experiencing that comfort level together this season.

And the fact it’s such a large group of former Cardinals on the roster isn’t lost on them, either.

“It certainly gives it a homey atmosphere,” said Collier, one of the Eagles from Middleton who didn’t start his college career elsewhere. “It’s a place that’s pretty close to home so you kind of figure there’d be a good amount, but I wouldn’t think that we’d have six of us.

“It’s definitely a cool atmosphere to have a lot of guys that you’ve been with for a while.”

Because of their wide range in age -- there’s at least one from Middleton in each class -- their shared history isn’t quite as strong.

But the common thread of all being from Middleton has certainly helped forge a strong bond at Edgewood -- especially where bridging that age gap is concerned.

“As you’re coming in as a freshman, you’re kind of a little nervous to talk to the older guys. But when you come here and you know these Middleton guys who are upperclassmen, you get to talking to them and they introduce you to others. So it was huge to build those relationships immediately,” Hellenbrand said. “Now we have Middleton guys at every single (class), so it was really easy to connect with those guys who are from California, Arizona and all those places, who are in the same grade as them.”

Kalscheur agreed.

“It definitely helped me get close with some of the younger guys this year as a senior. Getting closer with other guys -- their roommates and stuff -- earlier on,” he said. “Overall it’s just a good experience. It kind of makes everything go a little bit more smooth. You’ve already got those relationships built up.”

The Eagles connection to Middleton has also helped recruit more players from Middleton in the offseason.

It’s a big reason why Hellenbrand ended up at Edgewood.

“I played high school baseball with Aidan Williams and Easton Zempel and Cooper Holewinski, who graduated last year but my family knows him well -- hearing how much they loved it here and how good the culture is, and how much coach Brisack develops you as a player and as a person. I went on my visit here and I was like, ‘This is where I want to be.’ I knew this was home,” Hellenbrand said.

He added that it was Williams who acted as the primary salesman in convincing him to become an Eagle. 

“Last year he was talking to me a lot when I was going through my recruiting process. The culture and how tight everyone is -- that’s what Aidan was preaching,” Hellenbrand said. “Hearing all the good things he had to say, he sold me immediately.”

Others from Middleton who transferred to Edgewood had a similar experience hearing from those they knew who were already Eagles.

Carrington, for example, heard only good things about what was going on at Edgewood before he arrived.

“A lot of it happens organically -- I would say a lot of it is kind of coincidence -- but word of mouth is definitely a big one,” he said. “It’s how we get a lot of guys here, frankly, who didn’t go to Middleton. We’ve got a good thing rolling here and we like to talk about it.”

Carrington transferred from Augustana College (Rock Island, Ill.) to Edgewood in the same offseason as Kalscheur — from Concordia — and Williams, following their spring, 2022 seasons at their respective former schools.

Zempel, meantime, started out Winona (Minn.) State after graduating in 2022 before deciding to rethink that decision last spring.

He did admit, though, that the decision to first go to Winona State wasn’t made with the most conviction.

Talking to Williams, “one of my best friends since freshman year of high school,” Zempel said, made him even less sure it was the right place for him.

“He reached out to me right away and said, ‘I know what you’re looking for: Edgewood is amazing and the team here is awesome. Everyone is super close.’ It’s exactly what I was looking for,” Zempel said. “Out of high school I couldn’t tell you exactly what I wanted. Going to the visits it was just all feel. I knew hearing from Aidan while I was at Winona, all the great things, it was exactly what I was looking for. I couldn’t be happier.”

Brisack isn’t surprised that so many from Middleton have found their way back close to home, at Edgewood.

He’s been doing this long enough to know that the recruiting process for high school athletes can be overwhelming.

“Remember when you were 18 years old -- the grass is always greener somewhere else, right? And then they get there and they have someone in our program (talk to them) and they’re like, ‘That’s what I was looking for. It was right there and I didn’t even give it the time of day.’” Brisack said. “That’s what I hear from them the most, is, ‘This is what I was looking for, I just didn’t want to look close to home because I assumed it was farther away.’ And I get that -- it’s the same reason we get guys from a long way away that are on our roster.

“The reality is, a lot of those kids want to get away -- or they think they want to get away -- so my guys who have a great experience, when they start to talk over the summer and they hear about it and those guys call (me), I’m going to pick up the phone and have that conversation with them because I know what we do well here and I know if we’ve recruited them in high school it’s a good fit for them.

“It just sometimes takes some time to figure it out.”

There’s six of them at Edgewood now, four of whom took the scenic route to get there.

And in case their old coach forgets where they all ended up, he’ll get an occasional reminder.

“If we ever have a team thing together or we’re all hanging out,  we’ll send a picture to coach Jorgenson and say, ‘the pipeline,’” Williams said. “As our former coach, it’s cool to see your guys playing and achieving their dreams but to have six of them all together is probably something pretty cool for him.”

Cardinals then, Eagles now.

And they’re loving the extra time together.

“Piece by piece it came together,” Collier said, referring specifically to the four Edgewood upperclassmen from Middleton who are now reunited.

“Really the best way I can describe it is that it’s sort of cool. It’s sort of surprising, too, because we all went our separate ways out of high school,” he added. “We didn’t really think that we’d all be coming back together for this sort of reunion, I guess, all being here for this one last shebang.”

The three seniors are now closing in fast on the end of their college careers, which will -- for the time being -- drop the number of former Cardinals on the roster from six down to three.

Kalscheur would like to see that number remain notable, maybe even increase again soon.

“I hope so. I think it’s a great spot to end up,” he said.

It’s a sentiment that Hellenbrand agrees with.

The newcomer hasn’t second-guessed his decision at all, and he foresees the Middleton-Edgewood connection remaining strong.

“I think there’s a good chance,” he said. “There’s some guys at Middleton now who are really solid baseball players who I could see moving on to the next level. And if this is the place they want to be and coach Brisack reaches out to them and asks me about them, I’ll be right there helping them out the same way that these guys that were here were helping me out and trying to get me to come here.

“I’ll be that next guy to continue this pipeline. I wouldn’t be shocked if this trend continues to happen.”

There’s no telling the future, of course.

But with recent history as a guide, Williams said one thing for sure.

“It would be weird not bringing in any Middleton guys next year, I’ll tell you that,” he said.  


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