A typical Middleton boys soccer match includes two components: A victory for the Cardinals, and a goal (or two) from Derek Waleffe.
“He’s a special player,” Middleton coach Ben Kollasch said of his standout senior midfielder. “It’s gotten to the point that every time he touches the ball, you sort of hold your breath.”
Waleffe led the Cardinals to a 6-1-2 record in the Big Eight Conference, missing out on a chance to win the league title when they lost at Madison East on Thursday.
The Cardinals take a 12-4-4 overall record into regional postseason play, which begins this week. Waleffe and his teammates would like nothing more than to earn a return trip to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament.
“We had a really good team last year, and by making it (to state), it showed us how to get back there this season,” Waleffe said. “A lot of the returners know what it’s like to lose in the playoffs. We are really driven to do as much as we can to avoid that again.”
This class of seniors suffered the fate of losing in overtime to Green Bay Preble in a state semifinal last season after falling to Madison West by one goal in a 2015 sectional semifinal.
“Losing to Green Bay Preble was tough, but it was a good experience,” Waleffe said. “Now we know how to get there. We just have to replicate that same work ethic from last year.”
Said Kollasch: “You can see the sense of urgency setting in within the team at this point. We’ve gotten to a place where the seniors are expecting (to make a deep playoff run) and are ready to seize the opportunity.
“Our two captains, Derek and Drake (Vandermause), have taken it a step further than just leading by example. They have really put it on themselves to push us to another level.”
The two have scored a combined 46 goals this season. Vandermause’s 14 rank among the best in the conference, but Waleffe has netted 32 in only 20 matches.
“I try to just play my game, every game. If the goals come, it’s nice to see. But at the end of the day, if we win it’s better than me scoring a goal,” Waleffe said.
“He has really excelled in what we call an ‘attacking midfielder’ role,” Kollasch said.
“And it’s not just the scoring — he’s a great assist man as well.”
Waleffe has 11 assists, second only to Vandermause on the team.
“It’s about being smart and finding the gaps,” Waleffe said. “Exploiting space is something that I try to do a lot, and make a run up the field so my teammates can find me.”
Although this hybrid attacking role seems like a perfect way to utilize Waleffe’s abilities, he wasn’t always deployed in that position.
“We had a lot of talent up front when he came up to varsity as a sophomore,” Kollasch said. “So I initially put him in a defensive role, because it was clear that he needed to be on the field.”
“It was interesting,” Waleffe acknowledged. “It was kind of fun, but we changed it pretty quickly — within, like, three games of the season.”
Said Kollasch: “I take the blame on that one. The other kids thought I was crazy putting Derek back there, but we figured it out.”
Soon after, Waleffe delivered a sequence that has become standard over the past few years. During a 14-0 thrashing of Janesville Parker in 2015, he scored a pair of goals within a short period of time and added an assist.
But it’s a testament to Waleffe that his favorite memory over the past three years wasn’t even about him.
“Two years ago, when we played Madison Memorial, we beat them on Bradan Allen’s penalty kick with 30 seconds left. It was pretty cool.”
Waleffe will attend Brown University next fall, and aims to continue playing soccer.
“It’s been a fun journey to watch him progress over the years,” Kollasch said. “He’s a quiet kid, but he’s really developed a killer instinct out there.”
But before he begins his next step, Waleffe is enjoying his last few moments in a Middleton jersey.
“There’s something different about high school soccer. You play for your school and you take pride in every game,” Waleffe said. “It will be the end of an era.”