Middleton's 'Best of the Best'

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s girls golf team was all smiles after winning the WIAA Division 1 state championship last October./File photo

It was another sensational year for the sports teams at Middleton High School, where the Cardinals remarkably seem to raise the bar every year.

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: Golf

Loren Skibba had just made the biggest one foot putt of her young life.

And as Middleton’s standout senior golfer was trying to exit the 18th green at University Ridge last October, she was met by a mob of giddy Cardinals.

“They were crying, then I started crying,” Skibba said. “It was incredible.”

Incredible is the perfect word for what transpired at the WIAA Division 1 girls state golf tournament.

Middleton and Hartland Arrowhead engaged in an epic battle for the state championship. But for most of the final round, the Warhawks kept the Cardinals at arms length.

Arrowhead still led by four shots with three holes to play. But over that stretch, Middleton made up a remarkable five strokes and won the title by one shot.

Middleton shot a season-low 310 on the final day and a 641 over the two-day tournament. That helped the Cardinals edge the Warhawks (642) and capture the second state title in school history.

Thirty minutes after Middleton’s dreams had become reality, the finish still seemed like a blur.

“It doesn’t even seem real,” Cardinals coach Becky Halverson said. “I knew they could do it, but it sure didn’t look good. But every single player was huge for us today. Everyone really played their heart out.”

Middleton had a bevy of memorable performances.

Skibba, the 2014 individual champion, finished second this time with a 149, three shots behind Beaver Dam’s Ashley Kulka. Junior Alexis Thomas shot a 1-under-par 71 on Tuesday and finished fourth individually at 151.

Junior Morgan Miles carded a second-day 81 and tied for 27th overall. And sophomore Payton Hodson, the Cardinals’ No. 5 golfer, shot an important 84 on Tuesday.

“I’m just speechless,” Thomas said. “I really wasn’t paying attention to all the scores during my round. I was just concentrating on my own game. But right now, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.”

Arrowhead began the day with a 4-shot lead, but Middleton pulled within two after the front nine. The Warhawks stretched that lead to five midway through the back nine before the Cardinals mounted their memorable charge.

The quartet of Skibba, Thomas, Miles and Hodson played the final three holes at 1-over-par. Arrowhead, on the other hand, played it at 7-over.

“Honestly, I don’t really feel that disappointed,” said Arrowhead senior Claire Lauterbach. “Middleton just played great and really finished strong. What are you going to do?”

Middleton surged to a 2-shot lead when Arrowhead’s No. 3 golfer, Keaton Schmitz, made a triple bogey at No. 18. The Warhawks pulled back within one shot after their No. 2 golfer, Alexa Holland, made a birdie at No. 18.

That left it up to Skibba, who bombed a drive at No. 18 and knocked her approach shot within 10-feet. Skibba left her birdie putt just inches short, then tapped in for a state title.

Arrowhead’s Lauterbach also parred the hole, meaning the championship trophy was headed to Middleton.

“I could not ask for more,” Skibba said. “We’re such a tight knit group and it’s so great to leave on a high note.”


Boys team of the year: Golf

Middleton’s boys golf program has been one of the state’s best for years now.

But the Cardinals had one of their finest seasons ever in 2016.

Led by the senior quartet of Emmet Herb, Joey Levin, Brady Thomas and Nils Arneson, the Cardinals finished second at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament.

“It was an unbelievable group,” Middleton coach Tom Cabalka said. “I could coach another 20 years and not have a group like this one.

“Nobody outworked these guys. I mean, they really got after it. And success didn't change them. They didn’t take it easy when things were going well, they just worked harder.”

The Cardinals finished first in 15 of 18 events this season. Middleton ran away with the Big Eight Conference dual meet title and the conference championship.

The Cardinals also finished first at star-studded tournaments such as the Waukesha South Invite held at Bristlecone Pines, the Morgan Stanley Shootout at University Ridge, the Sheboygan North Invite at Whistling Straits’ Irish Course and the Madison Memorial Invite held at Blackhawk Country Club.

“Four years with these guys. I mean, for me, that’s been awesome,” Levin said.


Girls coach of the year: Lauren Cabalka, swimming/diving

Middleton’s girls swimming and diving team finished second at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament. That was the best in school history — and Cabalka was a huge reason why.

Hartland Arrowhead won the meet with 301 points, while Middleton was second at 211. Cedarburg (206), Verona/Mount Horeb (200) and Madison Memorial (165.50) rounded out the top five.

“All season long the team has consistently done everything they said they were going to do and they came in here with an agenda to get second,” Middleton coach Lauren Cabalka said after the state tournament. “We were seeded third coming in, and from our diver down to that (last) relay, we did exactly what we needed to do.”

The Cardinals actually trailed Verona/Mount Horeb by 11 points entering the meet’s final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay. But Middleton outscored the Wildcats, 32-10, in the relay after a third-place finish. Cedarburg won the 400-yard freestyle relay, but would have needed Middleton to finish sixth or worse to pass the Cardinals for second overall.

“We just stuck through it the whole time,” freshman Hannah Aegerter said. “We never doubted ourselves. Looking at the scoreboard we were always positive and just wanted to keep a good attitude through the whole meet so we wouldn’t get down and feel bad about anything.”


Boys coach of the year: Tom Schmitt, baseball

The 2015 season was a rough one for Middleton’s baseball program, when the Cardinals went 10-16 and slipped to eighth place in the league.

In 2016, Middleton regained its usual place among the state’s elite.

The Cardinals went 22-6 and reached the WIAA Division 1 state tournament for the 13th time in school history.

“For them to lose and have a losing record (in 2015) and then be able to turn it around, that’s a lot of determination and hard work,” Tom Schmitt said. “Only eight teams out of 96 get here and we were one of them. There’s only going to be one team that’s truly happy.”

Cardinals senior pitcher/outfielder Drew Finley Haag agreed.

“It was a great year and I’m really proud of all these guys,” he said. “It was a real struggle last year, and I’m just really happy that we were able to make it here with all these guys.”


Girls performance of the year: Abbey Webber/Kaisey Skibba, tennis

Their timing was impeccable.

Kaisey Skibba, a singles player most of her life, blossomed into a doubles standout at the perfect time.

Abbey Webber, always a sensational doubles player, took her game to a new level when the stakes were the highest.

When the two combined forces, the rest of the state paid the price.

Webber and Skibba combined to win the WIAA Division 1 girls state doubles championship last October at Nielsen Tennis Stadium. The Cardinals’ dynamic duo became the first Middleton doubles team to win a state title since Jill Karofsky and Kristin Moe in 1982.

“This weekend was amazing,” Webber said afterwards. “Kaisey and I had a lot of fun. We both played our best tennis this weekend, which is great to do when it really matters. I will definitely remember this weekend, even though it seemed to go by quickly.”

Skibba agreed with her teammate.

“This weekend was incredible,” Skibba said. “I'm definitely going to remember it for a long time. I'm just so proud of us and what we accomplished.

“One of the reasons Abbey and I wanted to play together was because we knew we could do well at state. Now that we won, switching to doubles was definitely worth it.”

Skibba and Webber entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed, so they certainly expected to make a run at a title. But few could have envisioned the ease in which they trampled over the state’s best.

The Cardinals’ pair didn’t lose a set in their five matches and dropped a total of just 14 games in the entire tournament. Skibba and Webber defeated Elise Gerard and Annabelle Crowley of Nicolet, 6-1, 6-1, in the finals.

“I think Abbey and I really played the best matches of our career this weekend and that is how we were able to win our matches,” Skibba said. “I was a little surprised that we played so well, but then again I knew Abbey and I could do it.”

Webber agreed.

“I wasn't surprised with the outcome because we were the second seed and we were expected to make it to the finals,” Webber said. “Even though we had a good seed, we took every match like it could be our last.”



Boys performance of the year: Emmet Herb, golf

One of many things that makes Emmet Herb one of the state’s elite golfers is his temperament.

It doesn’t seem to matter if Herb goes low — or high — his facial expressions, body language and mood rarely change.

But on June 7, the typically calm and collected Herb turned to mush. Then again, he is human.

Herb walked off the 18th green at University Ridge Golf Course as the WIAA Division 1 state champion. He was soon doused with water by his teammates. And when Herb saw his fellow seniors, the finality of it all set in and the tears began to flow.

“I just kind of realized that this was the end,” Herb said. “There’s a lot of memories with these guys.”

None better that the ones Herb made during the two-day state tournament.

Herb shot 6-under-par, 138, in the two-day tournament. Not only did Herb win the state title by seven shots, he posted the third-lowest score in state history.

In the process, Herb led Middleton to a second place finish overall. Marquette won its first-ever state title shooting a blistering two-day total of 598, eight shots better than the Cardinals.

“I love Emmet Herb. I just love that kid,” Middleton coach Tom Cabalka gushed afterwards. “He never gets too up, he never gets too down. He’s just so, so steady.”

Herb became the fourth individual state champion in school history, joining Brad Nelson (1993), Jon Turcott (1997) and Mike Schilling (2010).

“What Emmet did was unbelievable and I think it kind of helped cement our legacy,” said MHS senior Joey Levin, who finished 17th individually. “We had four unbelievable years and this was really a great way to cap it off.”

Herb’s two rounds will be talked about inside Middleton’s program for years to come.

The 130-pound Herb certainly doesn’t look like an intimidator. But Herb brought University Ridge to its knees.

Herb shot a 4-under-par, 68, on the first day and held a five shot lead over two players. Herb then shot a 2-under-par, 70, on the tournament’s second day, which was the best final round score in Division 1.

“He played incredible golf,” said Marquette junior Harrison Ott, who played with Herb the final day and finished in a tie for second individually at 1-over-par, 145. “He just never made any mistakes. He was really, really consistent.”

That’s always been the story of the Herb’s game.

Herb has never been long off the tees, but his ball is rarely outside the fairway. Herb stays out of trouble, has a beautiful iron game and is a magician with the putter.

All of those magnificent skills were on display during Herb’s glorious run to a title.

“To be honest, Emmet is just a great, great player,” said Cardinals senior Brady Thomas. “He can flat out play the game.”

Herb showed the rest of the state exactly that. In the process, he made a scintillating run at the state record of 136 held by a pair of Homestead players — Andy Hansen in 2006 and Jordan Niebrugge in 2012.

“You couldn't have scripted it any better,” said the unassuming Herb. “Just a great, great two days.”


Girls senior athlete of the year: Sam Valentine, track and field/cross country

Middleton’s girls track and field team finished fifth at state — thanks in large part to Valentine.

Valentine finished second in both the 800- and 1,600-meter runs and earned the Cardinals 16 points.

“Placing second in both races was both unexpected for me and very exciting,” Valentine said. “In a way shows that its very possible to come back from injury.”

Valentine’s time of 4:46.87 in the 1,600-meter run was the fifth fastest in state history. Unfortunately for Valentine, Whitefish Bay’s Cami Davre was a tick faster than Valentine (4:46.40). Valentine also shined in then 800 with a time of 2:12.15. Davre also edged Valentine in that race (2:11.13).

“Sam Valentine continues to impress me,” Cardinals coach Cory Christnovich said. “Every race it seems like she goes and out does herself.”

Valentine also finished eighth at the cross country meet last October.

“This season has no doubt been one of my better ones,” Valentine said. “I’m thankful to have stayed healthy throughout and been able to continuously improve.

“Reaching top-10 at state was definitely a big preseason goal of mine that I wasn't even sure was attainable at that time, but throughout the season I gained my racing confidence back and knew what I could achieve. Now, having reached that goal, it's a wonderful ending to my senior season.”


Boys senior athlete of the year: Perrin Hagge, cross country/track and field

Hagge, one of the top runners in school history, helped Middleton’s track and field team finish second at state and the Cardinals’ cross country team place fourth.

Both finishes were the highest in MHS history.

In track, Hagge experienced three trips to the podium and scored 23 of Middleton’s 41 points.

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. “I credit (Ashwaubenon’s) Tannor Wagner for leading three strong laps. On the fourth lap, when he began to falter, I just tried to keep driving my arms and turning my legs over down the homestretch.

“I was exhausted after the race, but delighted to see my teammate, Gus Newcomb, cross the line in third place. It was a goal of mine to win an event at the state meet, and to have a teammate share the moment with me on the podium was unforgettable.”

Hagge was also second in the 3,200, where his time of 9:05.66 set another school record. Hagge finished behind only Madison La Follette standout Finn Gassner (9:01.81).

Hagge was also fourth in the 800 with a time of 1:55.84. Franklin’s Brady Snelson won the race in 1:54.59.

“The state meet exceeded my expectations and was a great way to end my career at Middleton,” Hagge said. “I was very pleased with how the team performed against so many excellent competitors. To finish tied for state runner-up in team competition came as a wonderful surprise and confirms the strong training program developed by the coaching staff.”

Hagge was also 36th at the state cross country meet with a time of 16:45.24.

“Perrin improved his position toward the finish,” Middleton coach Cindy Bremser said. 


Girls breakthrough athlete: Alexis Thomas, golf/basketball

During her first two years at MHS, Alexis Thomas was a complimentary piece inside Middleton’s golf and basketball programs.

In 2015-’16, Thomas became a star in both sports.

Thomas took her golf game to new heights during a brilliant junior season.

Thomas averaged 78.56, won the Big Eight Conference tournament and finished fourth individually at state. Thomas fired a remarkable 1-under-par, 71, on the second day of the state tournament, which keyed Middleton’s run to the title.

Thomas was in the top-five in 11 of the 14 tournaments she competed in, including eight top-three finishes.

“Alexis really excelled this season,” girls golf coach Becky Halverson said. “She improved almost three strokes from last season to this season. 

“Her winning the conference tournament and then the 1-under-par on day two of state is amazing! I'm thrilled to have Alexis one more year because if she keeps working at her short game, she is going to continue to do great things for us.”

Thomas was also named second-team all-conference in basketball.

Thomas was second on the Cardinals in scoring (14.1), second in steals (2.4) and grabbed 3.0 rebounds per game.

“Alexis had a great year, almost tripling her scoring from the previous year,” Kind said. “She hit a couple game-winning three-point shots and was very consistent throughout the year.”

The highlight of the year came when Thomas drilled a 23-foot, three-pointer in overtime to defeat Janesville Craig, 77-75.

“I have never really hit a game-winning shot like this one before,” Thomas said. “Knocking it in from so far out was such an amazing experience and something I’ll always remember. It was very exciting in the moment, but at the same time, it didn't feel real. I was in shock, but my team and I were thrilled.”


Boys breakthrough athlete: Kevin Meicher, wrestling

They call him “Ice.”

Calm. Composed. Cool. Collected.

You’d never know that Middleton wrestler Kevin Meicher was a freshman.

Meicher certainly didn’t act his age at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament in March. Instead, the poised and unruffled Meicher acted several years older.

Meicher stunned the field and won a state championship at 126 pounds. Meicher defeated top-ranked and defending state champion Justin Folley of Wauwatosa West/East, 9-8, in Saturday’s finals at the UW Kohl Center.

On the state’s biggest stage, “Ice” refused to melt.

“I’m surprised,” said Meicher, who finished the season with a 43-3 record. “My goal has always been to win four state championships since I don’t even know when, kindergarten.

“When I came here and wrestled the older guys here, I just knew I wanted to be here one day and win as many as I could. Being my freshman year, it’s pretty good.”

Pretty good is a major understatement.

Middleton has had just one state champion in its lengthy history. That was Ben Brummel, who won a title at 171 pounds in 2009.

Meicher notched No. 2 in what became a remarkable freshman season.

“He said he wanted to be a four-time champ and you can’t do it if you don’t win the first one,” Middleton coach Kent Weiler said. “Good for him. He worked hard. He came from a young boy in eighth grade last year in the summer and you saw him turn into a man.”

It took a big time performance in the final for Meicher to capture gold.
Meicher entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed, while Folley was a prohibitive favorite in the finals. But Meicher surprised many by upending Folley.

“It feels great,” Meicher said. “To knock off the defending state champion feels pretty good.

“I didn’t think about him being a defending state champ. I just thought of him as another wrestler. It was just another match, the same as wrestling in the wrestling room. So I just focused on what I’m good at on the mat and controlled him throughout the whole match.”

Meicher had a memorable run during his first trip to state.

Meicher pinned Union Grove senior Brett Kieslich in 1:55 in a first round match. Meicher then edged Hortonville junior Jacob Barnett, 3-2, in a quarterfinal match.

In the semifinals, Meicher edged Lake Geneva Badger senior Robby Mutimer, 8-6. Meicher was then at his best — and needed to be — to dethrone Folley.

“Even (Saturday), we practiced at Middleton High School at 3:30 (p.m.),” Weiler said. “We put him through a workout. We said you have to do this, this and this. You’re going to get into a scrap and you’ve got to catch him and he did. It was virtually what we talked about.

“I told his dad early in the year he would win the whole thing. I know how tough he is and we’ve got great coaches working with him. He had a good practice partner in Chris Rogers and other people, kids who came in and helped out. I’m ecstatic.”

So was Meicher.

Immediately after the match, Meicher gave Weiler a giant hug. Meicher then hugged his mother, Linette, who was crying in the Kohl Center stands.

“I went up to hug my mom and she was crying,” Meicher said. “She was pretty happy.”

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