Tom Cabalka, Middleton’s ultra-successful boys golf coach, pictured the scenario before it even took place.
Cabalka, like most golf coaches, drives his team to their meets. And Cabalka knew this year rides would be substantially different than recent seasons.
“I think I’m going to get in the Suburban and look in the rearview mirror,” Cabalka said. “And then I’m going to say, ‘Who are you guys?’ ”
That’s a fair question.
Middleton lost more firepower than any team in the state. And Cabalka can be forgiven if he begins feeling nostalgic from time to time.
Gone are the trio of Emmet Herb, Joey Levin and Brady Thomas, who left an indelible stamp on the program. That threesome played varsity four straight seasons and led Middleton to top-five finishes at state each of the past three years, including a second place finish in 2016.
Lineup positioning will be determined in the days ahead.
When that happens, Middleton’s boys tennis team believes big things are in store in 2017.
Middleton begins its season Tuesday at Sun Prairie. And the Cardinals have high hopes that great things await.
“This team has a strong tennis background, with players who train year-round and work on their games in the offseason,” Middleton first-year coach Kalla Schaefer said. “They are coachable and enthusiastic. My main concern right now is getting a lineup set.”
Middleton returns seven players who were part of last year’s team that reached the semifinals of the WIAA Division 1 state team tournament.
In a perfect world, Middleton baseball manager Tom Schmitt would welcome back nine starters this spring.
He’d have a pitching staff loaded with experience, a lineup packed with proven hitters and a team jam-packed with proven commodities.
But that’s not the world Schmitt and his Cardinals live in.
Middleton will be one of the most inexperienced teams in the Big Eight Conference, and perhaps the area. But don’t expect that to discourage the Cardinals one bit.
While Middleton’s group is green, Schmitt and the Cardinals always have great expectations. And Middleton — which opened its season this week with a pair of games in Florida — will have high hopes again in 2017.
“It’s always good to have some definites,” Schmitt said. “It’s a good challenge, too. We know we might have some early bumps, but I expect to see them progress a lot this year.
One of the finest senior classes in school history is gone.
A group that helped produce back-to-back 19-win seasons. A class that included two all-state players in Tyree Eady and Storm Murphy and a four-year varsity contributor in C.J. Fermanich.
So, the 2017-’18 season will undoubtedly be a challenging one for Middleton’s boys basketball team, right?
Don’t tell that to Cardinals’ head coach Kevin Bavery.
“I think we’re going to be the surprise of the Big Eight,” Bavery said. “No one will expect us to be in the mix of top teams with all the players we graduate.”
Before we look ahead at a group Bavery believes will surprise, let’s take a final look on the gifted group that’s exiting the program.
Middleton finished the year 19-6 overall and was third in the Big Eight Conference at 13-5. The Cardinals lost to just three teams all season: Madison Memorial (three times), Beloit Memorial (twice) and Sun Prairie.
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.”