MHS' top female performances of 2017-'18

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s girls’ swimming and diving team won a state championship last fall and are the Middleton Times-Tribune’s ‘Female Team of the Year’ for the 2017-’18 school year./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

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.

Last week we handed out the boys’ awards, and this week it’s the girls’ turn.

 

Girls Team of the Year: Swimming

After completing a thoroughly dominant season, Middleton’s girls swimming and diving team found itself in the unfamiliar role of underdog heading into Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 state swimming and diving championship.

According to a pre-race “mock meet” based on seedings from sectionals, Middleton was tabbed to finish second at the state meet, something that didn’t sit well with the Cardinals.

“Going into this year we did read articles about how we weren’t supposed to win and how we were seeded second by eight points,” sophomore Gabriela Pierobon Mays said. “I think that’s when we turned around and we were like, ‘All right, we’re the underdogs now and we love being underdogs.’ ”

Motivated by that slight, the Cardinals dominated the state meet from start to finish as they rolled to their second consecutive state championship at the UW Natatorium.

Middleton won the meet’s opening swim event, the 200-yard medley relay, and never looked back.

“We knew what it was like,” Middleton coach Lauren Cabalka said. “A lot of these girls were here when we got second. They were here last year when we won. They know what it feels like and they know what it takes. We just rode on some leadership today that was outstanding and we had girls step up and swim like I’ve never seen them swim before.”

According to sophomore Gabriela Pierobon Mays, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Swim Coach Association (WISCA) gave Cedarburg the edge over Middleton based on the seedings before the meet.

“Going in as underdogs we really were more calm, but we were really confident in our abilities,” Pierobon Mays said. “We just wanted to go out there and we wanted to race and compete. Every single person in every single race could move up except for our relays. So that was just our goal for everyone to move up and score points and we did. It’s pretty amazing how much of a jump we had from the seeds to the finals.”

Middleton finished with 313.50 points, well ahead of runner-up and pre-race favorite Cedarburg with 242. Hartland Arrowhead was third with 189 points and Verona/Mount Horeb was fourth with 176.

“It is so unreal,” junior Hannah Aegerter said. “Going into this meet we were not seeded to win and we just came in to it with just such a high attitude. We were like, ‘We know what we can do so let’s prove it.’ We all swam like we should have, we all felt super great throughout the meet, we kept up our attitude super high, and it was just really fun.”

Added senior Caroline Hippen: “We came in as underdogs and we win by that big of a margin is pretty remarkable.”

Though Middleton only captured one individual event, the Cardinals showed off their depth by dominating the relays and accumulating 15 podium finishes in the meet.

“That’s been our story for three years,” Cabalka said. “That is what I’m most proud of when I coach this team that we have depth that other teams don’t. You don’t have to come out and win everything, but, if you’ve got a solid group of girls that are committed to the same goals and they’re going to do whatever they can to move up wherever they can, then they’re going to come out like that.”

Honorable mention: Golf (seventh at state), gymnastics (fifth at state), soccer (Big Eight champions)

 

Girls coach of the year: Lauren Cabalka, swimming

Lauren Cabalka grew up inside the swimming program at Middleton High School.

Cabalka swam at Middleton High School, where she was a captain and a four-year letterwinner.

Then she returned to Middleton High School and has engineered the greatest run in school history.

Cabalka led the Cardinals to the 2016 state title — the first in MHS history. Then Cabalka made sure the Cardinals didn’t rest on their laurels and led Middleton to back-to-back championships in 2017.

“I’ve known Lauren since I was really little,” said Caroline Hippen, a 2018 Middleton graduate and standout swimmer. “She basically saw me take my first stroke and she’s going to see me take my last stroke with her, which is pretty remarkable.

“I’ve gotten to know her on a personal level and she has obviously made this a great program. She has a lot of talent to work with, but she knows exactly what to do with us. She personalizes our training, which is why I think we are so successful.”

Cabalka led the Cardinals to their most successful season ever in 2017.

The Cardinals competed in four star-studded invitationals across the state and won them all.

Middleton went 9-0 in the Big Eight Conference, which was by far the state’s strongest and deepest league. That gave the Cardinals a remarkable eight straight league titles.

Middleton followed that up by winning the conference meet by nearly 300 points, a stunning gap against some of the best competition in the state.

“I don’t think there are many teams that could have done what we did at conference,” Hippen said.

Middleton then rolled to a sectional title, and captured its second straight state title, as well.

“It’s awesome how much depth we have and just how talented the whole team is,” Middleton standout Chiara Pierobon Mays said.

For the Cardinals, it was also pretty awesome how well they were coached.

Honorable mention: Becky Halverson (golf), Kari Steck (gymnastics), Mary Duffy (soccer).

 

Girls performance of the year: Karina Sabol, gymnastics

Karina Sabol was been one of the state’s newest and brightest gymnastics stars last winter.

Sabol, a lifetime club gymnast, joined the program at Middleton High School for the first time in 2017-‘18. And Sabol, a junior, had a year to remember.

In March, Sabol capped her first season with the Cardinals in style.

At the WIAA Division 1 individual state meet held at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln Fieldhouse, Sabol tied for the state championship on the vault with a score of 9.60. Sabol also finished third on the floor exercise (9.383) and 12th on the balance beam (9.033).

This marked the second consecutive year that Middleton had an individual state champion. Madeline Pflasterer-Jennerjohn won the uneven bars last season.

“There are many emotions that came along with winning a state title,” Sabol said. “First, there was surprise because I never thought I was going to win vault. So I went into it just having fun and it could not have turned out in a better way. I was not only thrilled about accomplishing that for myself, but I also had the chance to represent Middleton High School, which I haven’t been able to do in the past. 

“Secondly, I personally feel like all the work paid off. I had worked a lot for that vault over the past year and receiving that was just icing on the cake.”

Sabol and Tyra Turner of Madison East/La Follette both posted scores of 9.60 on the vault and tied for the title.

Sabol was also third on the floor exercise with a 9.383. That was just 0.17 points behind co-champions Allayah Lane of Sun Prairie and Lexi Romero of Brookfield East/Central, who both scored 9.40.

“The competition was physically demanding,” Sabol said. “But I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friends and family, as well as all my teammates from Middleton and other schools.”

 

Girls senior athlete of the year: Jen McGinnis, volleyball/track and field

McGinnis was a standout in both volleyball and track and field.

In volleyball, McGinnis led Middleton in both aces (63) and serves received (577). McGinnis also finished second in digs (312) and kills (295).

“Jennifer played all three positions in the front row,” Middleton coach Franco Marcos said. “She was called upon to play in the middle, on the right side and mostly as an outside hitter. 

“She was the leaper on the team and did it effortlessly. Jennifer was one of our tri-captains. She did a great job leading the team on and off the court. We will miss Jennifer.”

Then in track and field, McGinnis finished fourth at state in the triple jump with a leap of 37 feet, 5 inches.

“This was my third time coming to state, and it was definitely the best,” said McGinnis, who was also part of Middleton’s state qualifying 400- and 1,600-meter relay teams. “I'm just really happy with the results and the friends I've made over the years. I've really been happy with track this year.”

 

Girls breakthrough athlete: Sitori Tanin, basketball/track and field

Tanin, a sophomore forward, was named honorable-mention all-conference during basketball season.

Tanin led the Cardinals in scoring at 9.0 points per game and tied for the team rebounding lead (5.3). Tanin also led Middleton in blocks (1.2) and steals (2.5).

“Sitori may have been our most improved player,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said. “She was just starting to come into her own at the end of the season, starting to realize that she could be a dominant force. We’re looking forward to seeing her improvement over the summer.”

In track and field, Tanin was sixth in the triple jump with a leap of 36-11. Tanin also placed 12th in the high jump with a mark of 5-2.

“I have two more years, but this one was one (meet) to remember,” Tanin said. “Especially to get on the podium on the team with someone else was a great experience.”

 

Games of the year:

Middleton 51, Madison East 50; Middleton 65, Madison East 64

The Purgolders had one of their best teams in years. Middleton had an up and down season.

But the Cardinals found a way to notch a pair of dramatic wins over East.

In the first game, MHS sophomore forward Sitori Tanin drilled a pair of free throws with 1.5 seconds left to give the Cardinals a thrilling win at Madison East.

“Our East game was a big win,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said. “The biggest thing is we found a way to get it done.

“We did a good job of competing in a tough environment and keeping the game close. At the end we were able to make enough free throws and enough stops to pull off an upset.”

East’s Justice Filip made a lay-up with six seconds remaining to give the Purgolders a 50-49 advantage.

Middleton called timeout and Haley Dunn drove hard to the basket, but her lay-up was deflected out of bounds under the basket with 1.5 seconds remaining. The Cardinals took another timeout, then set up a lob to Tanin going to the basket. 

Tanin was grabbed before the clock started and made both free throws to win it. 

“We weren't clean handling the ball down the stretch and made it tough on ourselves with some key turnovers in the last few minutes, but each of these situations is a learning experience and will help us in the end,” Kind said.

In the second game, Middleton went the length of the court in 4.2 seconds and Haley Dunn drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Cardinals an improbable 65-64 win over East.

“It was a great example of ‘it ain’t over till it’s over,’ ” Kind said.

Leading by two, East missed the second of two free throws with 4.2 seconds left. Halle White grabbed the rebound, took one dribble and fired ahead to Dunn.

Dunn took a dribble, then hit a runner from just outside the three-point line at the buzzer to give the Cardinals their second dramatic win over the Purgolders this season. Middleton also won at East, 51-50, on Jan. 9.

“We didn’t want to use a timeout after the miss to let them set their defense,” Kind said. “They had pulled everyone off the lane and were all back but didn’t really defend anyone. Great win and great momentum builder going into the tourney.”

 

Comeback Athlete of the Year: Sophie Schafer, softball

Schafer tore her ACL as a freshman, then re-tore the same ACL, along with her MCL, before Middleton’s regional semifinal.

In between Schafer had a terrific comeback highlighted by a season in which she earned honorable-mention all-conference honors.

“It's not easy to come back from an ACL injury, especially as a middle infielder where lateral movement is so important,'” Middleton coach Perry Hibner said. “Sophie made some unbelievable plays at second base this year and covered so much ground. She was an inspiration to her teammates.'”

Schafer had a big senior year, batting .357 with two home runs, 12 RBI, 12 runs scored and a .985 fielding percentage.

“Sophie had an incredible senior season,” Hibner said. “It's always rewarding to see a senior get an opportunity and run with it. She did that. We're going to miss all that she brought to the team.”

 

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