Girls basketball team has high hopes

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton junior guard Bria Lemirande (left) and the Cardinals’ girls basketball team began their season Tuesday./File photo

What they lack in stature they more than make up for with speed, skill and stamina.

Middleton’s girls basketball team might be one of the smallest around this season. The Cardinals could also be one of the best.

“We could play five guards at times,” said Middleton coach Jeff Kind, whose team opened the season Tuesday against Stoughton. “And that’s fine. The goals still won’t change.”

With good reason.

Kind has built one of the state’s top programs and has taken the Cardinals to state eight times since 2001 and nine times overall. Last year, Middleton reached the state semifinals before losing in overtime to eventual champion DSHA.

The Cardinals return several key cogs from last year’s team that went 22-5 overall and 15-3 in the Big Eight Conference. But most of Middleton’s returnees are guards, and the roster lacks great size, meaning Kind & Co. will play a lot of small ball.

While Middleton may be vertically challenged at times, few expect any decline. picked the Cardinals to finish second in the Big Eight behind Verona and put Middleton at No. 3 in its preseason top-10 poll.

“We have always been a fast moving team, but this year we’ll have to pick up the pace even more to make up for our lack of height,” Middleton senior guard Abbey Webber said. “Most of our guards are returning players from last year, and our new guards fit in perfectly with our style of play.

“They are all talented ball handlers and great shooters. Speed is a huge aspect of our game, so it helps that they are all fast, too.”

Junior guard Alexis Thomas agreed.

“We’re not that tall, but I think our guards match up with anybody’s,” Thomas said. “The goals are the same. We expect to do well.”

Middleton’s best guard — and one of the top players in the area — is junior point guard Bria Lemirande.

Lemirande led Middleton in assists (3.4) and steals (1.8) last year. She was also second in scoring (11.5), second in rebounding (6.0) and was named third-team all-Big Eight.

“She should have been first team,” Kind said.

Kind loves to play at a frenetic pace, where he substitutes five players at a time — much like a line shift change in hockey. But even Kind admits, “It will be hard to take Bria out.”

Kind will have plenty of stellar backcourt options, though.

Junior guard Alyssa Lemirande was named honorable-mention all-Big Eight last season. Alyssa Lemirande tied for third in scoring (6.9) last season, shot a scintillating 55.9% from the field and provided instant offense off the bench.

This season, Alyssa Lemirande will take on a far greater role.

“She’s such a competitor,” Kind said. “She just finds a way to get it done.”

Thomas is a two-year varsity player who averaged 5.7 points per game last year. Senior Katherine Hibner (4.9 ppg), junior Carlee Lemirande (4.8 ppg) and Webber (3.1 ppg) are returning guards that will all have key roles.

Sophomore Claire Staples, and juniors Maya Shea, Kathryn Solie and Katrina Anderson are newcomers that will look to contribute in the backcourt.

While Middleton’s guard play should rival any in the state, there are questions up front.

Sophomore post Halle White suffered a torn labrum this summer and is out indefinitely. Doctors originally targeted a mid-to-late February return for White, but she’s ahead of schedule and is hoping to be on the court sooner.

Senior Grace Douglas, an athletic 6-foot-1 player, elected not to play basketball this winter. So Kind and the Cardinals will have to adjust.

For now, Kind will call on freshman Hannah Flottmeyer, junior Taylor Macdonald, sophomore Sophie Schafer and senior Sam Ballweg to do much of the heavy lifting inside.

“Knowing we might not have the posts, we all just have to work that much harder,” Thomas said. “It’ll be hard, really hard. But I know we can do it.”

Webber agreed.

“We still have good posts, just not the same height as last year,” she said. “Even though we’ve only had a week of practice, we are getting better each day.”

That’s always the story with Kind’s teams.

Few teams anywhere make as many gains from November to March as Middleton. Still, the one thing that has eluded Kind’s Cardinals is a state title.

Middleton seemed poised to capture gold a year ago when it had DSHA on the ropes much of the night in the state semifinals. But Dashers standout Arike Ogunbowale erupted for a state record 55 points to oust the Cardinals.

The next night, DSHA cruised to an easy win in the state finals.

“She was a great player and she had the night of her life,” said Kind, who still hasn’t watched the video of that loss. “I think any other night we beat them.”

That loss should serve as motivation for the 2015-’16 Cardinals. Whether this small — but extremely gifted team — can reach all of its goals remains to be seen.

“After we lost at state last year we all sat down and told ourselves we would make it back to the state tournament next year,” Webber said. “That is our No. 1 goal.”

Let the games begin.

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