Jeff Kind just can't catch a break

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton Hall of Fame coach Jeff Kind was gunning for his first-ever girls state basketball championship last week. Instead, the tournament was canceled due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Jeff Kind, Middleton’s girls basketball coach, insists you shouldn’t shed a tear for him.

Kind has taken 11 different teams to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament.

He’s helped the Cardinals win at least a share of 11 Big Eight Conference titles since the 2006-’07 season.

And he’s had a large hand in making countless girls better basketball players — and human beings — during his more than four decades in coaching.

But it’s hard not to have a bit of sympathy for Kind these days.

The one thing that has eluded Kind — his white whale, if you will — is a state championship. Middleton’s 2020 team seemed poised to change all of that, to capture the first state title in school history and reward Kind with his first-ever gold ball.

Amazingly, though, this year’s tournament was cancelled on March 19 due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

If it wasn’t for bad luck at the state tournament, Kind wouldn’t have any.

“I think we had a great chance to win it, but how can I feel sorry for myself,” Kind said. “There are so many great coaches that never even make it to the state tournament.”

While Kind refused to wallow in self-pity, many of his players were devastated for him as much themselves.

“One of my goals my whole career was to get a state championship for Coach,” senior point guard Josie Lemirande said. “To have that chance taken away is horrible.”

Senior forward Sitori Tanin felt the same way.

“We really wanted to win this year for Coach,” Tanin said. “And after winning against Memorial (in the sectional final), we felt like we had a lot of momentum. We felt it was our year.”

It just might have been, as this Middleton group had it all.

Tanin and fellow senior Karina Bursac formed a dynamic inside duo that most foes had no answers for. Senior Kendall Roquet was one of the top on-ball defenders around.

Lemirande, a natural shooting guard, moved to point guard this season out of necessity and handled the switch with aplomb. And senior Evie Coleman and sophomore McKenna Monogue provided terrific outside shooting, at times.

With that group leading the way, the Cardinals didn’t just beat people. They hammered them.

Middleton finished the year 25-1 and on a 20-game winning streak. Seventeen of the Cardinals’ wins were by double digits and 12 were by at least 20 points.

“It’s certainly one of the best teams we’ve ever had,” Kind said.

There are far more pressing issues in the world right now than who wins and loses a basketball game. But these Cardinals desperately wanted to show they were the best team in school history and give Kind his first gold ball.

Hoisting gold is about the only thing missing from Kind’s lengthy résumé.

Kind coached the girls varsity at both Cuba City and Kohler for five seasons before coming to Middleton in 1992. In Kind’s 39 years as a varsity coach, he’s compiled a stellar 578-256 record (.693) and ranks sixth in state history in career wins.

Kind led Middleton to runner-up finishes at state in 1992, 2003 and 2011. Prior to Kind’s arrival, the Cardinals had never reached a state tournament.

Then in 2018, Kind was inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“I’ve been pretty lucky,” Kind said.

Not this year, though.

While a state title doesn’t make you a better coach, it does provide validation. And these Cardinals were more than equipped to make that happen.

“The hard thing was dealing with the disappointment the girls had,” Kind said. “It was disappointing for all of us, but for them, it’s over.”

It might have been over for Kind, too, had Middleton won the state championship. Kind will retire from teaching at the end of the school year, and was also thinking about making this his last year on the hardwood.

Kind said Sunday that if Middleton had won state, there was about a 25% chance he would have stepped away. Now, as long as the district approves his return in 2020-’21, Kind will be back.

“I really like the challenge we’re going to have next year,” Kind said. “We’re going to have a lot of new kids, which will make it a new challenge.

“At the same time, it’s going to be tough saying goodbye to this group. But one thing I’ve always looked forward to is putting all my time and my full effort into coaching — not just teaching.”

Maybe, just maybe, that — combined with some better luck — will help Kind eventually capture that elusive gold ball.

 

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