Selfless approach key for soccer Cards

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton girls soccer coach Mary Duffy and her Cardinals are in the midst of a banner year./File photo

The discussion wasn’t easy.

The hard truth never is.

Middleton’s girls soccer program is one of the deepest and most talented in the state year-in and year-out. This year’s Cardinals might have their best roster in many moons, as well.

So before the season began, Middleton head coach Mary Duffy had an honest conversation with her players and their parents. The Cardinals’ remarkably positive reaction to that talk is a major reason they’re in the middle of a memorable season.

“We had a very open discussion at the beginning of the year with players and parents about the struggles of being on a varsity team, and the difficulties of being at the top level, but not playing or not playing a lot,” Duffy said. “Every single girl has embraced their role with great character, strength, determination to improve themselves and the team. They’ve done it with a fantastically positive attitude to produce this amazing team that we have.”

The Cardinals have been downright amazing this year, winning the Big Eight Conference for a second straight season and compiling a 10-1-3 record. As a result, Middleton was awarded the No. 1 seed in its regional last week.

The top-seeded Cardinals host 16th-seeded Janesville Parker in a WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal Thursday at 5 p.m. If the Cardinals win there, they’ll host either eighth-seeded Watertown or ninth-seeded Mukwonago in a regional final June 2.

The sectional semifinals are June 7 and the sectional finals are June 9 in Kettle Moraine.

After Middleton, Kettle Moraine was the No. 2 seed, followed by Sun Prairie, Janesville Craig, Verona, Madison West, Madison Memorial, Watertown, Mukwonago, Oconomowoc, Beloit Memorial/Turner, Waukesha South, Madison East, Badger, Madison La Follette and Janesville Parker.

“The path is set,” Duffy said. “As I have said my entire career as a player and coach, we have to play with confidence in ourselves and what we know we can do. We have to play our game and make them adjust to us. 

“This group of girls is one of the most thoughtful and passionate groups of players we have coached and we have trained them to make adjustments within their game, or at half, to shut down the other team. We have intelligent players that are able to process the game, see what is needed and then get that done.”

A big reason for Middleton’s success is its ability to come together as a team.

The Cardinals have several players that could be stars in other places, and several more that would see significantly more playing time on other teams. But many of those players have been asked to take a lesser role on a Middleton team blessed with unique talent and depth.

Duffy has done a masterful job of getting her gifted roster thinking about team success instead of individual achievements. And with everybody on the same page, the results have been impressive.

“This team has come together as a team more than any I have ever been a part of,” Duffy said. “I have all 25 players working towards the same team goal, no matter the hardships it brings to them personally.

“When we put our cleats on, lace them up, and step onto that practice field or game field, all individual concerns cease to exist and every single person on the bench, field, or bleachers, is playing, cheering, working towards our team goal. I have been amazed at the camaraderie and the team mentality of these 25 girls all season long.

“This is a very talented group of players, but more importantly, they are a talented group of players working together for each other and team. I have not seen such teams-manship in a long time. And the scary part is that I have also not seen this group of girls best 90 minutes, a complete game from them. We are getting better and more refined and focused every day, but I know there is more.”

The Cardinals will be aiming for more when the postseason begins this week. Duffy & Co. hope it lasts through the state tournament June 14-16.

Middleton hasn’t been to the state tournament since 2013. And the Cardinals — whose only state title came in 2006 — would love to bring home a second gold ball.

“Getting to state is always a goal,” Duffy said. “But what will separate this team from past years will be the way they come together as a group and support each other, and finally, who and how many are going to work hard and push themselves and others. We have 25 players, the whole team, focused on that goal, which is what I think the difference is. 

“Everyone can want it, desire it, but this team is working hard together for it. Not for their individual needs or selves, but for this team together, for our seniors, our leaders who we are so lucky to have such strength, composure, focus, passion in our leadership.

“I am so thrilled and nervous and happy and excited to see what this postseason playoffs will bring. But best of all, I am so honored and fortunate to be taking this journey with this wonderful group of girls.”

Let the postseason begin.

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