Girls basketball team thinking big

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Bria Lemirande and Middleton's girls basketball team are one of the state favorites this season./File photo

Twelve months ago, Middleton’s girls basketball coach Jeff Kind stood in the school’s gymnasium and said, “If Verona’s ever going to win (state), it will be this year.”

The Wildcats then made Kind looked Nostradamus and captured the WIAA Division 1 state championship in March.

During that same conversation, Kind also said, “If we’re ever going to win it, it will be the next year.”

Well, that year is here and it begins when the Cardinals head to Madison Memorial Friday for a 7:30 p.m. contest. Now, Kind hopes his prognosticating skills are as strong as they were a year ago.

Kind brings back arguably the finest team he’s had in 24 years of coaching at Middleton. And considering Kind has guided nine teams to state and has been second at state three times, that’s saying something.

“This is the year,” Middleton junior forward Halle White said. “This is definitely the year. We all think that.”

With good reason.

Middleton went 17-1 in the rugged Big Eight Conference last season and tied for the league title with eventual state champion Verona. The Cardinals went 21-4 overall and lost in the sectional semifinals to Janesville Craig.

Middleton returns its top six scorers from that team, including first-team all-Big Eight Conference point guard Bria Lemirande and second-team all-league forward Alexis Thomas.

“I think this team definitely has the most potential of any team I’ve played on here,” said Lemirande, a four-year varsity player. “I think we’re really focused and we’re really driven because we don’t want to be the group that didn’t live up to our potential.”

The Cardinals certainly have an impressive combination of potential and production.

It starts with Lemirande, who also earned honorable-mention all-state honors last year.

Lemirande led the Cardinals in scoring (14.7) last season, highlighted by a 37-point outing at Janesville Craig. Lemirande also led Middleton in assists (4.7), steals (2.8), and rebounds (6.8).

“It really starts with Bria,” Kind said. “She’s going to have a great year. She’s gotten even better and she’s definitely going to lead us.”

Thomas was second on the Cardinals in scoring (14.1), second in steals (2.4) and grabbed 3.0 rebounds per game last year. She’s stronger physically than any time in her career and should be ready for a banner senior season.

“We’ve teased her how skinny she used to be,” Kind said of Thomas. “Not anymore though.”

Middleton has several other key cogs back, as well.

Senior guard Alyssa Lemirande (10.0 ppg) is a terrific offensive player and an extremely scrappy defender. White (10.1 ppg) is Middleton’s top inside player and should be poised for a big season after injuries limited her to nine games last year.

Senior forward Carlee Lemirande (8.0 ppg) is one of the top shooters in the conference. And junior forward Claire Staples (7.8 ppg) flashed the ability to become one of Middleton’s top all-around players.

In addition, sophomore post Hannah Flottmeyer (5.0) improved steadily during her freshman season and could be poised for big things. Freshman Karina Bursac is expected to contribute from the word go.

Others like senior guard Katrina Anderson and sophomore guard Charlotte Dunn could play key roles.

“We could easily go 12 deep,” Kind said.

“We are definitely a deep team,” White said. “We have a lot of potential if we just keep working and make each other better. I know we can go really far.”

Middleton’s talent and depth will allow Kind to run a “5-in, 5-out” attack. Kind will function almost like a hockey coach and substitute five players at a time every two or three minutes. He’ll then demand they play at a fevered pitch, where the goal is to eventually wear out an opponent.

Two seasons ago, that style of play helped Middleton reach the state semifinals, where it lost in overtime to eventual champion DSHA.

“I think back to that game all the time,” Bria Lemirande said. “I just think if maybe we were a little more focused in one or two practices, that could have made the difference.

“But this team definitely has the ability to go back (to state). And if we can do it again, I like our chances.”

Few coaches in the state have enjoyed more success through the years than Kind. He now ranks eighth in state history with 540 wins and should add handsomely to that total this season.

About the only thing Kind hasn’t done at Middleton is win a state title. Perhaps 2016 is finally the year.

“It’s possible,” Kind said of winning a state title. “I’ve felt that way at different times through the years. But this is a really good bunch of kids and hopefully we’ll have a chance.”

Bria Lemirande agreed.

“We’ve been waiting for this year for a long time,” she said. “We want to make it a great year and we have the players to do that.”

Which could make Kind’s forecasting spot on for a second consecutive year.

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