MHS' top male performances of 2017-'18

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s boys’ cross country team won a state championship last October and are the Middleton Times-Tribune’s ‘Team of the Year’ for the 2017-’18 school year./File photo

It was another sensational year for the sports teams at Middleton High School, where the Cardinals remained a model of consistency both in the Big Eight Conference and across the state.

Of course, some achievements rank as the best of the best. Here’s one person’s opinion of that list.

We will hand out boys’ awards this week, and girls’ awards next week.


Boys team of the year: Cross country

Caleb Easton crunched the numbers in his head.

As Middleton’s boys cross country standout totaled the results from the WIAA Division 1 state meet, Easton figured the Cardinals would be exiting Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids with a championship trophy.

It wasn’t until those results were officially posted, though, that Easton and his teammates could breath a giant sigh of relief.

“I think really the highlight was when we saw the scores and saw that we won,” Easton said. “It was just a great time.”

And a great performance.

Middleton finished with just 76 points to easily outdistance runner-up Stevens Point (177). South Milwaukee (191), Monona Grove (197) and Sun Prairie (203) rounded out the top-five.

Middleton won its first state title since 1992. And the Cardinals’ 101-point margin of victory was the largest in state history at any level.
“I knew when all our guys had finished we had won and that there was some distance,” Middleton coach Brian Finnel said. “So we were all smiles and feeling confident.

“But when that scoreboard showed SPASH was second and that we were first, we all were going nuts. There was a large contingency of Middleton fans there and that was pretty darn cool to see lots of people cheering.”

There was a lot to cheer about.

Easton was fourth individually among runners that had teams at state. Easton finished the hilly, challenging three-mile course in 16 minutes, 2.01 seconds.

Junior Michael Madoch was sixth in 16:06.06, while senior Sam Jaeger finished seventh (16:07.47). Senior Jack Rader battled through an Achilles’ injury and finished 21st (16:39.16) and sophomore Zach Leffel was 38th (16:48.69).

“Our depth is, simply put, sensational,” Finnel said. “Terrific guys who work very hard. It was an amazing day for our program.”

Added Rader: “When they did the countdown on the big board, it was just magical. That image is so fresh in my mind, it was just awesome. Honestly, there’s no better way to go out than this.”

Honorable mention: Swimming (second at state), volleyball (state quarterfinals), golf (sixth at state)


Boys coach of the year: Brian Finnel, cross country

Brian Finnel wanted a state championship.

Middleton’s boys cross country coach got exactly that, when the Cardinals won a state title in October. Then Finnel — and Middleton’s entire program — got a little bit more.

Finnel was named Wisconsin’s Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).

One boys’ coach and one girls’ coach from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia were honored for their successes during the fall of 2017, as selected by a committee of experts from around the nation. Dodgeland’s Barry Smanz was the girls’ winner in Wisconsin.

“I feel very honored to be recognized as the Wisconsin Boys Coach of the Year and it’s neat to be considered for US Coach of the Year,” Finnel said. “Much of the credit of course goes to the boys, who had a magnificent year.”

Finnel, in his just his second season as Middleton’s head coach, guided the Cardinals to their first state title since 1992. Middleton finished with 76 points to easily outdistance runner-up Stevens Point (177). Middleton’s 101-point margin of victory was the largest in state history at any level.

Coach of the Year winners were selected based on their teams’ performances throughout the 2017 cross country season. Among the factors taken into consideration were team score and placement at the state championships, margin of victory, performance against rankings if available, individual championships, and how their teams’ performances stacked up to previous years (e.g. first title in school history, consecutive titles, etc.).

“The guys really have embraced what it means to ‘work hard’ and are seeing big dividends from it,” Finnel said. “I'm hopeful our younger guys see what the upperclassmen have accomplished and make it their mission to keep the amazing things going for our cross country program.”

Honorable mention: Ben White (volleyball), Sam Niesen (swimming), Tom Cabalka (golf), Tom Schmitt (baseball)


Boys performance of the year: Derek Waleffe, soccer

Waleffe, a senior forward, had a year to remember with 45 goals, 13 assists and a remarkable 103 points. Waleffe’s sensational season earned him first-team all-state honors.

But in a year filled with memorable moments, none were bigger that Waleffe’s six-goal effort against Lake Geneva Badger on Oct. 19. Waleffe also had an assist that night and finished with an eye-popping 13 points.

Waleffe also had two games where he scored four points and six games with three goals.

“Derek Waleffe had already proven he was a premier goal scorer, but he had only done that in Braden Allen's shadow,” Middleton coach Ben Kollasch said, referring to 2016 star Braden Allen. “Derek is now casting his own shadow.”


Boys senior athlete of the year: Alan Roden, baseball/basketball

Roden had a memorable senior season in baseball and will be remembered as one the Cardinals’ all-time greats in that sport.

Roden batted .465, had an on-base percentage of .556, a slugging percentage of .721 and a remarkable OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.276.

Roden had 28 RBI, 40 hits, 14 doubles and three triples. He also scored 31 runs, had 11 stolen bases and struck out just twice.

Roden was named first-team all-state and was the runner-up for Big Eight Conference Player of the Year.

Roden also helped power Middleton to its first Big Eight Conference title since 2010. Roden, a catcher his first three seasons, moved to shortstop this year and had arguably his best season as a Cardinal.

“This is huge for me and huge for the team,” Roden said of winning the conference. “I feel great right now, being able to win my first conference championship. It’s really great to get it with the guys I’ve been growing up with my whole life. It’s a good group. It’s your guys. This is everyone. It’s all of us.”

The 6-foot Roden was also the ultimate glue guy on the basketball court and earned honorable-mention all-conference honors.

Roden was a defensive stopper and someone who made all of his teammates better. Roden finished with a team-leading 7.2 rebounds per game and was second on the team in scoring (8.6).

“The way he plays the game often goes unnoticed,” Middleton coach Kevin Bavery said. “But the Big Eight coaches recognized his ability to rebound, defend and lead in awarding him an honorable mention all-conference.

“Alan was one of the surprise performers in the Big Eight this season. I’m always putting it in our underclassmen’s minds ‘Who is going to be next season’s Alan Roden?’ He was that special for us this year.”


Boys breakthrough athlete of the year: Bryce Carey, football/hockey

Carey was Middleton’s leading receiver during football season with 24 receptions for 268 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s a true quarterback,” Middleton coach Tim Simon said of Carey. “But he made the switch to wide receiver to help team.”

Carey then finished third on the hockey team in total points with 17. Carey tied for second on the team with 12 assists and added five goals.


Boys comeback athlete of the year: Brogan Brunker, football/basketball

Brunker might be Middleton’s comeback athlete of the decade — or even the century for that matter.

Brunker was struck with Lemierre's syndrome in the summer of 2016, a disease that affects just 1-in-1,000,000 people and has a mortality rate between 4 and 12%. Brunker survived a procedure in which his heart had to be re-started and doctor’s gave him a 25% chance to live.

The disease took away Brunker’s 2016 football season. And even though he returned for some of the basketball season last winter, he was still recovering and was never close to 100%.

Brunker was fully recovered for the start of football season last fall. But in a preseason scrimmage, Brunker broke several bones in his hand and missed almost all of the 2017 football season.

Brunker was healthy for this basketball season, though, and put together his most memorable athletic achievements at MHS.

Brunker was named first-team all-Big Eight in basketball after leading the Cardinals in scoring at 18.1 points per game. He also scored in double figures in 20 of the 21 games he played.

Brunker was also second on the team in rebounding (4.6), shot 55% from the field, 41% from three-point range, 74% from the free throw line and averaged 2.2 assists per game.

“This was one of the best years of my life,” Brunker said. “I don't really have anything to say except it was so much fun.”
Middleton coach Kevin Bavery was glad to see Brunker exit on a high.

“Brogan will clearly be missed, but more so for his journey off the court and his leadership and attitude on the court than for his ability as a player,” Bavery said. “Don’t get me wrong, you can’t replace 18 points per game. But his genuine approach to hard work and intense effort along with a calming and accepting demeanor to his teammates was something special.”


Game of the year: Middleton 58, Arrowhead 55 in boys basketball

Arrowhead has been a state power in most sports — including basketball — for several years now. The Warhawks won a Division 1 state title in 2010, then reached the state finals in 2017 before losing to Stevens Point.

The 2018 Warhawks reached the sectional semifinals before falling. And two months earlier, Middleton knocked mighty Arrowhead down a few pegs, as well.

Senior forward Brogan Brunker had a game-high 18 points and the Cardinals notched an extremely impressive  win over Arrowhead in a game played at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee in January.

In addition to Brunker’s 18 points, he added five rebounds and five assists. Senior forward Alan Roden had 11 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

Senior wing Davis Roquet had eight points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Senior guard Joel Ticknor had seven points and junior guard Sam Close added five points.

Middleton outrebounded the Warhawks, 36-25, and had 23 assists on its 30 field goals.

Brunker hit two late three-pointers and junior guard Jack Boyle drained a three-pointer from the wing. Brunker also hit four free throws in the final 30 seconds and Close drilled a pair of foul shots with seven seconds remaining as the Cardinals grabbed a 58-55 lead.

“We took a time out and asked the players if they were more comfortable fouling or playing it out, given the three-point lead,” Bavery said. "All the analytics out there say it's pretty even. Our guys wanted to play, so we told them to simply stay in front, don't foul, and switch all ball screens or dribble handoffs so they couldn't get a throwback for an open three.”

Roden guarded the ball the length of the court. Arrowhead ran a nifty play where the ball-handler faked a handoff and took a 25-footer at the buzzer.

Roden stayed in front of the shooter and challenged the shot that went long and deep off the back and side of the rim.

“It certainly wasn't a bad look and it was a nice design,” Bavery said of the Warhawks’ final play. “But it would have been a really tough shot to make.”

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