Perry Hibner looks up and down his Middleton softball roster and loves what he sees.
There are two experienced pitchers returning to anchor the Cardinals’ staff.
There are five returnees that earned some form of all-Big Eight Conference honors in 2016. And the newcomers are bursting with potential.
But Hibner fully understands that no matter how good things look now, nothing is promised over the next three months.
“On paper, we have a really good returning nucleus,” said Hibner, whose team begins its Big Eight Conference season April 3 against Sun Prairie. “But you don’t win games on paper.”
Middleton found that out the hard way a year ago.
The Cardinals went 16-9 overall and finished fourth in the Big Eight Conference at 11-7. Middleton defeated each of the three teams that finished above it in the league, but also lost to several teams that finished below it.
Now, Middleton’s boys track and field coach hopes the encore is just as exciting.
The Cardinals won their fourth straight Big Eight Conference title last year. Middleton followed that up with a second place finish at the WIAA Division 1 state meet, the best finish in school history.
As a new season begins, the Cardinals have a bevy of goals. Among them is to capture a fifth straight conference title and shine at state once again.
“The Big Eight is very strong with Verona, (Madison) La Follette, and Madison Memorial,” said Middleton coach Joe Line, whose team begins its season April 1 at the Madison West Relays. “These teams always have very talented squads and their coaches put them in the right positions.
Middleton’s girls track and field coach knows the Big Eight Conference is loaded once again. Christnovich understands teams like Sun Prairie and Madison Memorial bring back talented, experienced rosters.
But Christnovich fully expects his Cardinals to be the Big Eight’s best outfit for a second straight season.
“I fully expect to compete for the conference title again and to keep it for a second straight year,” Christnovich said.
Middleton did exactly that last season in Christnovich’s first year taking over for long-time coach Tara Franklin. The Cardinals won the Big Eight Conference meet, finished first at regionals, second at sectionals and fifth at state.
Middleton’s girls basketball team saw its season end with a 49-47 overtime loss to DePere in the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals last Friday. And with it, the careers of seniors Bria Lemirande, Alyssa Lemirande, Carlee Lemirande, Alexis Thomas and Katrina Anderson came to a close.
That group played a large role in Middleton reaching the state tournament two of the past three years. And in the four years the quintet was in the program, the Cardinals won three Big Eight Conference titles and went 86-17 overall (.835).
This season, Middleton went 23-4 overall and shared the Big Eight Conference title with Sun Prairie at 16-2.
“It was a special class,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said. “Beyond the obvious statistical contributions, they were a joy to coach. They had a passion for the game and really enjoyed playing and competing.
ASHWAUBENON — Bria Lemirande, in control of so many games throughout her career at Middleton, found one thing she couldn’t control on Friday night.
Lemirande, one of five seniors on the roster and the team’s four-year starting point guard, saw her career end after a 49-47 overtime loss to De Pere in a WIAA Division 1 girls basketball state semifinal game at the Resch Center.
“It’s a really bad feeling,” she said through tears that rendered her speechless earlier in the postgame press conference. “I just feel like we had the potential to go all the way this year. Falling short, it’s not how I wanted it to end.”
Middleton had a chance to win the game in regulation and tie the game in overtime, but couldn’t connect. With the game knotted, 41-41, with 9.1 seconds left in regulation, Bria Lemirande couldn’t score in the lane and Alyssa Lemirande’s runner just before the buzzer bounced off the front of the rim.
SUN PRAIRIE — For nearly 50 minutes late Thursday night, Middleton’s boys basketball team sat inside their locker room at Sun Prairie High School.
The Cardinals didn’t discuss the details of their season-ending, 57-51, loss to Madison Memorial in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal.
Instead, Middleton’s players and coaches took turns talking about what this team — and this season — had meant to them. Some were brief. Others broke down in tears and couldn’t finish.
In the end, the messages were similar.
“This is just a bunch of guys that love each other,” Middleton senior post Jack Smith said. “You know, we’re just a family. At the beginning of the year, I don’t know if it would have been like that. We just really gelled as the year went on, became a family and really love each other. Love is the only word for it.”
A chance for redemption. An opportunity to silence the doubters.
Middleton’s boys basketball team lost a pair of games to Madison Memorial this season. But the Cardinals were hoping to get another crack at the mighty Spartans.
That chance will come Thursday when Middleton and Memorial meet in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal at Sun Prairie High School at 7 p.m. The winner advances to the sectional finals at Sun Prairie on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We can’t wait to get them a third time,” Middleton senior forward Myron Ashford Jr. said. “They’ve got us twice this year and we wanted this chance for a long time. So I’m glad it’s them.”
Madison Memorial, the No. 2 seed in the sectional, won a share of its 14th straight Big Eight Conference championship this season. The Spartans (21-3) have won 17 of their last 18 games and routed their two regional opponents by an average of 22.0 points.
Visiting Janesville Craig had pulled even for just second time in the second half. And suddenly, Middleton’s boys basketball season was dangerously close to being over.
So, was Cardinals’ head coach Kevin Bavery worried?
“Yeah,” Bavery admitted. “Yeah, I was.”
The veteran Cardinals, though, made a bevy of key plays down the stretch of their WIAA Division 1 regional final last Saturday and edged the Cougars, 80-77, in an instant classic.
In the final 42 seconds, senior wing Myron Ashford Jr. and senior forward Ben Jackson — a pair of reserves — made some of the biggest plays of the night. Ashford Jr. drilled an enormous three-pointer to break a 75-all tie and Jackson hit a pair of free throws, then deflected a Cougars’ inbounds pass.
The concept has a glorious ring to it, which was music to Bria Lemirande’s ears.
“The greatest team in the history of girls basketball at Middleton.”
That’s what Lemirande and the Cardinals will be gunning for this weekend.
Middleton advanced to the state tournament for the 10th time in school history and will meet DePere in a WIAA Division 1 semifinal game Friday at 8:15 p.m. at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
The first nine Middleton teams to reach the state tournament fell short of winning a championship. These Cardinals know with a win Friday — and another in Saturday’s title game — they’ll be remembered as the greatest team in school history.
“I think definitely that’s a good push, something to talk about,” said Lemirande, whose team brings a 23-3 record to state. “It’s like, ‘Guys, we have a chance here to be the first team to win state.’ That’s exciting.”
JANESVILLE — For the 10th time in school history, Middleton’s girls basketball team is headed to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament. And to the surprise of many, the Cardinals’ final test was much easier than anticipated.
Middleton advanced to state by rolling over Madison East, 65-38, in a sectional final played at Janesville Craig High School last Saturday.
The Cardinals and Purgolders had split their previous two meetings, with each team winning on the road. This time, though, fourth-seeded Middleton forced 21 turnovers and held East to 33% shooting for the game.
Middleton improved to 23-3 and now meets DePere (24-2) in a state semifinal at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon Friday at 8:15 p.m. The state championship game would be Saturday at approximately 8:15 p.m.