Middleton girls have state title in sights

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton's girls basketball team, shown here celebrating their sectional semifinal win last week, remain in the hunt for a state championship./Photo courtesy of Mary Bavery

The concept has a glorious ring to it, which was music to Bria Lemirande’s ears.

“The greatest team in the history of girls basketball at Middleton.”

That’s what Lemirande and the Cardinals will be gunning for this weekend.

Middleton advanced to the state tournament for the 10th time in school history and will meet DePere in a WIAA Division 1 semifinal game Friday at 8:15 p.m. at the Resch Center in Green Bay.

The first nine Middleton teams to reach the state tournament fell short of winning a championship. These Cardinals know with a win Friday — and another in Saturday’s title game — they’ll be remembered as the greatest team in school history.

“I think definitely that’s a good push, something to talk about,” said Lemirande, whose team brings a 23-3 record to state. “It’s like, ‘Guys, we have a chance here to be the first team to win state.’ That’s exciting.”

Middleton has been one of the state’s elite programs for years now.

The Cardinals are appearing in their seventh state tournament since 2008. Middleton has either won the outright Big Eight Conference title or a share of the crown nine of the past 11 years.

But Middleton hasn’t gotten over the proverbial hump at state.

The Cardinals finished second in 1993, 2003 and 2009. Then was there was the 2015 state semifinal game where DSHA’s Arike Ogunbowale scored 55 points and led the Dashers to an overtime win over the Cardinals. The following night, DSHA defeated D.C. Everest by 35 points in the state title game.

“It still haunts me,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said of that loss to DSHA. “I haven’t forgotten.”

Kind, now in his 25th season, has been at the heart of Middleton’s rise the past quarter century. And he just might be bringing his deepest — and best — team to state.

Middleton began the year 13-0, went 3-3 in the middle of the year when injuries struck, and has won seven straight since.

The Cardinals upended top-seeded Mukwonago in the sectional semifinals on March 2. Middleton then routed Madison East, 65-38, in the sectional finals.

“I think we’re definitely peaking,” Lemirande said. “I think we’re at the peak right now. I think we’re going up and hopefully we can stay consistent.”

Senior forward Alexis Thomas agreed.

“Honestly, we just keep saying if we play with our hearts, we can do this,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of confidence right now.”

So does DePere (24-2), which brings a 16-game winning streak to state.

Ironically, Middleton and DePere met in the 2010 state championship game when the Cardinals’ current group of seniors were in fifth grade. Middleton prevailed that day.

“Hopefully we can do it again,” Lemirande said.

Senior guard Lizzie Miller, who averages a team-best 15.2 points per game, leads the Redbirds. Miller suffered an ACL injury last season, but came back and was the Player of the Year in the Fox River Classic Conference this season.

Much like Middleton, DePere plays an up-tempo style and loves pushing the pace. In addition to Miller, the Redbirds have five other players averaging at least 7.0 points per game.

“They’re extremely scrappy and I like the way that they play,” Kind said of DePere. “They push the ball up the floor. They put a lot of pressure on you defensively.”

As Middleton prepared for its brutal sectional last week, Kind wore a different T-shirt each day from a past state qualifying team. The current group of Cardinals took notice.

“We all talked about that and how it was motivation for all of us to get a win for him,” Thomas said. “That would be great.”

Now, these Cardinals want their T-shirts to read, ‘State champions.’

And if that happens, no one can argue they’ll go down as the finest team in school history.

“If anything, we said, ‘Let’s do it for coach,’ ” Lemirande said. “He’s been coaching for how many years? It would be so great for him to get this.

“But really, we want to do it for everybody, too. Getting there is really exciting. But we really want to put it away this year. We don’t want to just get there and lose the first game or anything.

“It’s so exciting. And I really do think we can do it this time.”

 

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