Soccer Cardinals have high hopes

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Tyler Wilson and Middleton's girls soccer team have the ingredients for a terrific season./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Mary Duffy understands more than many coaches that sports are about far more than wins and losses.

Oh, Duffy — Middleton’s girls soccer coach — has experienced more than her share of winning. Duffy, who’s beginning her ninth season as the Cardinals’ boss, has helped Middleton remain one of the state’s elite outfits.

But Duffy also understands the big picture, something she watched unfold before her eyes at an open gym in December.

“We had a few alumni from last year's team stop by during their winter break to say ‘Hi’ and instantly, the returning team flocked to them like they were still on the same team,” Duffy said. “They were thrilled to see their old teammates and spent the next 30 to 60 minutes catching up.

“I want them to look back at this time with this team and remember the friends, the hard work, the sweat, the tears and want to do it all over again.”

Middleton begins its season Friday and Saturday with games each day at the Madison Memorial Invite held at Madison Area Technical College. And this could be a season where the Cardinals heed Duffy’s advice and savor ever moment.

Middleton, which won the Big Eight Conference last season, but lost to Janesville Craig in the sectional semifinals, returns a terrific senior class and has 17 returnees in all. The Cardinals also welcome a handful of gifted newcomers and could be poised for a special season.

“Our seniors will be our leaders once again this year,” Duffy said. “They are smart, tough, compassionate, competitive and look poised to make it a strong year.”

Middleton junior midfielder Tyler Wilson was a first-team all-conference player last season and figures to be one of the Cardinals’ top performers again. Wilson finished the 2018 season with 14 goals, two game-winning goals and eight assists for a team-high 36 points.

Wilson finished first among midfielders in the all-Big Eight voting last year, which put her in the running for league Player of the Year honors that eventually went to Verona’s Chandler Bainbridge.

“Tyler is often a game changer in her play and she has the ability to make other defenders and teams look silly in how they are defending her,” Duffy said of Wilson. “Tyler has the best foot skills in tight situations of anyone else in the Big Eight Conference.”

Senior defender Emily Raisleger is another returning first-team all-conference player. Raisleger helped Middleton allow just three goals in nine league games last year and will anchor the defense once again.

“Raisleger will be a force like last year to be reckoned with as our holding defensive midfielder or stopper,” Duffy said. “She is smart, competitive and nothing gets past her.”

Senior midfielder Danielle Martin was a second-team all-league player last season after finishing the year with five goals and two assists.

“Martin will shore in our midfield with calm, resolute, smart play,” Duffy said. “She leads by example and is one of our thinkers on the field that helps us make in the moment adjustments to opponent’s strengths.”

Sophomore forward Victoria Bunz was named honorable mention all-conference last season after a sensational first season in which she scored 13 goals and added seven assists. Bunz also had five game-winning goals, including one against Sun Prairie in the conference title game.

Middleton’s defense should be a huge strength. In addition to Raisleger, senior sweeper Caitlynn Owens — a UW-Milwaukee recruit —  and senior defender Taylor Rough seem ready for big years.

Senior defender Lauren Hendricks plays with both speed and tenacity, while juniors Emma Schuster and Lauren Hafeman and sophomore Anna Mintz will be in the mix for playing time, as well.

Senior midfielder McKenzie Zocher has an extremely high soccer I.Q., while junior midfielder Cami Malak provides a scoring force. Those two will join Wilson and Martin to give Middleton plenty of firepower in the center of the field.

Senior forward Hailey Kowalski joins Bunz up top and could be ready a big year.

“Kowalski will be a strong presence in the air for corners and has a long range rocket of shot that will be extremely dangerous,” Duffy said.

Junior Kendall Roquet, sophomore Alaina Malak and junior Maeve Gonter give the Cardinals three more potentially dangerous forwards.

Middleton lost senior keeper Caroline Powers, a second-team all-league player, to graduation. But junior Emilie Gehrke-Kallstromer seems ready to step in.

“We are excited to have her start there and look for her to make a big impact on the team confidence and build up our solid defense,” Duffy said of Gehrke-Kallstromer.

With so many returnees, Middleton’s newcomers will have to fight hard to earn playing time.

“The newcomers have big shoes to fill from last year, but we feel that they are all up to the task and that they will add their own strengths to this year's team to give us a boost in our play,” Duffy said. “With such a strong group returning to the field, newcomers and returnees will be working hard for a spot on the field. 

“We are an extremely balanced group, and similar to last year, when subs come in, there will be no drop in our play or style of play. We are not sure what positions the newcomers will slide into once the season begins or even as it unfolds. We will adjust formations and style to match what we need and to exemplify the strengths that we have.”

The Cardinals began the year ranked No. 10 in the first Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association poll. Middleton, Sun Prairie and Janesville Craig are expected to battle for the top spot in the league, while Waunakee, Kettle Moraine and Oconomowoc could be tough foes inside Middleton’s sectional.

Duffy wants great things for her team. But she also wants the Cardinals to enjoy every minute of the ride — no matter what happens on the field.

“There is more to a successful season than just the results on the field,” Duffy said. “I contend that last year we didn't finish where we wanted, didn't make it to state, but we had such a successful year, one of the best I have experienced. It was the best cohesive group I have seen in a long time. These seniors will continue that value this year, and if we are all on the same page, work hard, compete, push ourselves, challenge ourselves, we will have a successful year.  

“I expect that we will do well in the rankings, in conference, but at the end of the day, I want them to recognize, to own their hard work, their determination in the face of adversity on a competitive team, their teammates, their perseverance, the laughter, tears, joy or disappointments, all of it, and see it as an experience that they will never forget. I know that it doesn't always happen that way or even happen for everyone each year, but I can see this team being THAT team this year, as a carryover from last year's cohesion.”

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