Middleton's set to chase a gold ball

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s Gavyn Hurley was the Big Eight Conference’s Player of the Year last season./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

To some, it still seems like yesterday.

Amazingly, though, it was 25 years ago that Middleton’s boys basketball team made its unforgettable run to the WIAA Division 1 state championship game. Those Cardinals dropped a heartbreaker to Milwaukee Vincent in the state finals, but left the community with enough feel-good moments to last a lifetime.

Middleton’s program has been a model of consistency since that time. But the Cardinals haven’t earned a return trip to the UW Kohl Center.

Perhaps this is the season.

Middleton — which begins its season with a trip to Madison Memorial Thursday — returns arguably it’s most talented team since that 1998 squad left the state tournament with a silver ball.

The Cardinals have the size of most college programs. They bring back a deep and experienced group. And they welcome a handful of newcomers that appear ready to make an immediate splash.

Middleton, which went 17-10 last year, finished second in the Big Eight Conference and reached the sectional semifinals, is ranked No. 4 in the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook preseason poll. And most publications and outlets have tabbed the Cardinals as favorites to win the Big Eight.

While Middleton veteran coach Kevin Bavery knows expectations are sky high, he’s doing everything possible to keep this group hungry and humble.

“Every team in this league has potential on any given night to beat you,” said Bavery, whose complied a 214-151 record during his first 16 years at MHS. “We have to be the wolf climbing the hill. We have to have an attitude of loving the work every day. We cannot have a finish line.

“We are 'never there' has to be our mantra, always wanting to get better and better. We can preach that all day every day, but 95% of it has to come from within. Our team leaders, both verbal and by example, need to set a tone every day both on and off the court. And if we ever go get to the top of the hill we need to understand that there are always others making that climb. It takes as much if not more to stay there as it does to get there.”

Middleton has a tremendous starting point in 6-foot-6 senior point guard Gavyn Hurley, who captured Player of the Year honors in the Big Eight last season.

Hurley, a Winona State recruit, led the Cardinals in scoring last season at 15.7 points per game and in rebounding (6.9). Hurley was also first on the team in assists (3.0) and steals (1.9), shot 42% from the floor and 64% from the free throw line.

Now, here’s a scary thought for the rest of the league. Bavery says Hurley is much better than he was a year ago.

“He's bigger, stronger, and better than he was last season,” Bavery said of Hurley. “Above all he's an intense leader and competitor who is a team first guy.”

Senior Kaden Fosdick, a four-year varsity player, is also back to fill several key roles.

The 6-foot-6 Fosdick is Middleton’s jack-of-all-trades, someone capable of defending guards or post players. Fosdick, who averaged 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds last season, also plays with a passion and desire that few others can match.

“Kaden is our motor on both ends,” Bavery said. “His skill set has jumped way up, and with his 6-foot-6 length he can play and guard multiple positions.”

Senior shooting guard Will Comerford, another 6-foot-6 player, improved greatly as last season progressed. Comerford is one of the Cardinals’ top shooters and has the size to shoot over most defenders. He’s also improved on the defensive end and will be counted on for big things.

“Will stepped up during the latter part of the season into our tournament run,” Bavery said. “He's always been a shooter, but at 6-foot-6 has become much more complete with the ability to play inside and to guard bigs.”

Senior forward Owen Cooney, who’s also 6-foot-6, has made major strides from a year ago and will be a vital piece of the Cardinals’ puzzle.

“Owen Cooney is another long senior who made a tremendous weight room commitment,” Bavery said. “He can bully people down low and also has a great mid-range game, which really benefits our zone attack.” 

And senior guard Joe Schwartz — fresh off a tremendous cross country season — returns and hopes to find a spot in the rotation.

“Joe is that bulldog scrapper that everyone needs,” Bavery said. “Good things always seem to happen because of how hard he plays and his skilled set has also improved.”

While Middleton’s senior class is rock solid, there are a handful of younger players that could be poised for breakout seasons.

Will Garlock, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, played sparingly as a freshman last year. But Garlock took a major leap this summer and is rated as the No. 14 player in the Class of 2025 by Wissports.net.

“Will has changed as much as anyone since the end of last season,” Bavery said. “His skill set and athleticism has improved and he has been practicing with an attack mode mentality.”

Junior Carter Kadow, who stands 6-foot-8, missed all of last season with a torn ACL. But Kadow just finished a terrific football season and seems ready to have a big winter on the hardwood, as well.

“Carter has a strong inside presence and has been picking up things he missed quickly,” Bavery said of Kadow.

Freshman point guard Isaiah Oliver, whose father Dean was a standout at the University of Iowa and is now an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin, could crack the rotation. Oliver is listed among the top players in the Class of 2026 by wissports.net, and could allow Bavery to move Hurley to off guard at times.

“Isaiah brings a high skill set along with a physical and instinctive defensive presence,” Bavery said of Oliver.

Senior Parker Huff will battle for playing time, while juniors Mason Roquet and Vince Passelo are both sharp shooters that can stretch a defense. Juniors Avery Houden and Dante Passelo are both athletic and skilled, while 6-foot-6 sophomore power forward Torin Pettaway is strong and explosive.

Junior Charlie Determan, another physical 6-foot-6 post player, will fight for minutes. Junior guards Bryce Hodson, Whittaker Peters and Kash Hoye will add depth on the perimeter.

“We have a lot of pieces and there isn't anyone who can't play,” Bavery said. “Who will get and stay in our rotation as the season plays out is always a book being written.”

Middleton’s rare size will give Bavery countless options on both ends of the floor.

For example, as last season unfolded, Middleton began experimenting with a 1-3-1 zone defense. That move paid enormous dividends as the Cardinals posted regional wins over state powers Wauwatosa East and Hartland Arrowhead, and held the Warhawks to 25.4% shooting.

Bavery knows Middleton’s size and versatility will give him more cards to play than most coaches.

“We are a legit 6-foot-10, 6-foot-8, then have several players in the 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-6 range who can all play,” Bavery said. “Our taller players can all move and have solid skill sets.

“We think we can be multiple defensively, including pressing at times, going smaller at times. There might be bigger lineups that give us an offensive advantage, but can't match up at every position defensively, so an ability to play zone with our length is a solid option.

“But we can also go smaller while still being big overall and get after people in man-to-man defense and even extending. Regardless, length is negated without tremendous effort, so the ability to play hard and with depth will be a big key on the defensive end.”

Madison La Follette won the Big Eight Conference a year ago and returns dynamic backcourt players in Arhman Lewis and Quinton Lomack. Madison Memorial is a team on the rise after the Spartans finished fifth in the league last year. And Sun Prairie West appears to have emerged with a gifted roster after that district split into two schools this season.

Bavery knows that navigating through the Big Eight is always a grind. Middleton is also in the state’s deepest sectional, one that includes preseason No. 2 Brookfield East, No. 6 Arrowhead, No. 7 Milwaukee Hamilton, No. 8 Madison La Follette and defending state runners-up Brookfield Central.

Bavery and the Cardinals will worry about those teams come late February. For now, they’re just trying to develop chemistry and improve daily so they can be at their best when the postseason arrives.

“There is no truer adage than the ultimate coaching cliché, ‘We just want to get better every day,’ ” Bavery said. “The only thing that matters isn't our next game, or even the next practice. It's answering the question of ‘what's important next?’

“It's the next drill. It's the detail in the drill or the set. It's learning to make the correct read, taking the correct path to beat a screen, it's talking on both ends of the court so everyone in the gym can hear you. It's getting through that same screen the wrong way, but with extreme effort and getting the same results. It's being genuinely happy for any and all of your teammate’s successes. 

“If you can do all of those things consistently at a high level, and you have some talent and size to go along with it, then you've given yourself every opportunity to realize bigger goals.”

Like making it back to state for the first time in a quarter century.

Let the journey begin.

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