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WIAA state girls basketball: Junior Sitori Tanin blossoms into a leadership role for state-bound Middleton

March 7, 2019

After 27 years as the girls basketball coach at Middleton, Jeff Kind often is able to tell at a glance what is going on in the minds of his young athletes.

When he looks at junior guard Sitori Tanin, he knows exactly what’s happening. The 16-year-old is beginning to realize her own blue-chip potential.

“Sitori really had a breakout year last year,” Kind said. “This season, she’s recognizing some of the abilities that she has, and is evolving her power game around her finesse game.

“The fact that she knows she can touch the rim (and) go around and past people is so huge.”

Last year, Tanin quietly led the Cardinals in scoring and rebounds. This year, she has upped her averages to 12.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, leading Middleton (21-5) to its second state tournament trip in the last three years.

The Cardinals will take on top-seeded Mukwonago (24-1) at 6:35 p.m. Friday in a semifinal, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s 8:15 p.m. championship game.

“I’d like to say I’m a player who likes to get stuff done and go to the next play,” Tanin said. “If I make a mistake, I’m thinking that we’ve just got to keep going. I keep my intensity and control.”

That intensity helped Middleton claw its way past Big Eight Conference champion Sun Prairie in a sectional final on Saturday — giving the season series to Middleton, two victories to one.

“Going into the game, we just felt good. We had the mindset of ‘play to win the game,’ but we were prepared enough not to lose it, either,” Tanin said.

That forged-under-pressure mindset has grown invaluable as the season has progressed.

“This team has been more of a journey,” Kind said. “They’ve come so far this year that if you would have looked back at some of our first games, (you’d think) they would have been hard-pressed to get to state.

“But they kept working at it and getting better. They’re starting to play some of their best basketball right now, and it’s really gratifying to see them improve.”

Tanin has undoubtedly left her thumbprint on the team, and her committed presence is evident in the Cardinals’ success.

“She’s a real tough defender out in our 1-3-1 go-to defense, and she just does so much more for us,” Kind said. “She leads us in scoring and rebounding and is just a great building block to structure this team around.”

Off the court, the energetic Tanin is more reserved. Still, she lends her personality to the camaraderie that Kind believes has been important to the team’s growth.

“She’s just a great person. She has a pretty quiet demeanor, and a terrific sense of humor. She has some funny blogs every week that are quite hilarious. She’s an excellent student, a selfless leader and just a fun girl to be around,” Kind says.

It’s fitting, then, that Sitori’s favorite moment came from one of her teammates’ in-game triumphs.

“My favorite moment this season had to be when my friend, Josie Lemirande, hit a half-court shot (prior to the halftime buzzer, putting Middleton ahead 28-16) against Waunakee -- to win regionals (60-38). It was such an incredible feeling that I’ll never forget,” Tanin said.

Tanin credits the two seniors she has played alongside — forward Hannah Flottmeyer and guard Charlotte Dunn — as huge factors in her evolution.

“Going into this season, I wanted more of that leadership role,” Tanin said. “I’ve always found it easier to lead by example in a game, because it’s more natural to hold myself accountable and check assignments to make sure we’re all on the same page.

“It’s a big task, but the two seniors we have are such a big help in me holding to that.”

So as the Cardinals press forward, Tanin knows the strength of the team, and not individual effort, will be the key.

“Our whole team, we play as a unit. We pass really well and we all want to win for each other,” Tanin said. “I’m out there to win for them and the coaches, and I know everyone else feels the same way.

“That’s my favorite part about playing here, and we’re excited to take that to state.”