There was no question that the Rhinelander High School boys' track team had an incredible 2019 season, and they capped off the year by reaching the podium at the Division 2 WIAA State meet in a pair of relay events. The Hodags placed 5th in the 4x100 relay and added a sixth place finish in the 4x200 relay to earn medals in each event at UW-La Crosse on Saturday.
The temperature reaching the high 80's it did not affect the times, if anything helped as both the boys' 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams would break their won school records in the preliminaries on Friday and would advance to Saturday's championship races.
Junior Nick Kriesel, senior Josh Francisco, freshman Caleb Olckias, and senior Anthony Kowalski would race in the second heat in prelims on Friday where they finished fifth in their heat and sixth overall to advance to the finals on Saturday. The Hodags 4x200 squad was seeded 16th in the field, but finished with a blistering fast time of 1 minute 30.98 seconds beating the school record they sets just weeks prior at the Otto Bacher Invite by 1.35 seconds.
In Saturday's championship races, there numbers proved to be slightly down and the temperature was about 20 degrees cooler. Although they didn’t set another record, Kriesel, Francisco, Olckias, and Kowalski picked up a position to finish fifth with a time of 1:31.08 in the finals to reach the podium. Freedom finished first in the 4x200 with a time of 1:27.52 followed by Whitewater (1:29.27) and Milwaukee Lutheran (1:30.58).
And in very similar fashion the Hodags 4x100 relay team consisting of Kriesel, Francisco, senior AJ Kopplin, and Kowalski would also reach the podium, finishing sixth in the finals. In the prelims the Hodags clocked in a 43.40 seconds beating their own record by 0.38 seconds and finished fourth in their heat and sixth overall.
Once again with the lower temps overall times were slightly up and the Hodags 4x100 team would finish at 43.71 seconds to earn sixth place overall and reach the podium in their final event. Rice Lake won the 4x100 with a time of 42.64 seconds followed by Freedom (43.07), and Catholic Memorial (43.10).
All three of the RHS track entries that advanced to state reached the podium, including sophomore Rebecca Lawerence who was the only girl to represent the Hodags at UW-La Crosse. The Hodag track seniors including Francisco, Kopplin, Kowalski, and Kriesel as well as several underclassman set the bar high for years. The RHS track team under Coach Aaron Kraemer are excited about the future of the program and will continue to train hard in the off-season in hopes of advancing to state for the 2020 season.
Rhinelander sophomore Rebecca Lawrence was the lone female for the Hodags to advance to the 2019 Division 2 WIAA State Track meet at UW- La Crosse and would tie for second overall as a special qualifier in the girls’ high jump.
It was a roller coaster ride on her journey to state after Lawrence missed the top-four at sectionals in Mosinee which were automatic berths to state. There was confusion with the tie-breaking criteria and she was originally told she took fourth and would advance but found out that was not the case after another coach challenged the outcome.
She did not find out until the next day when the WIAA released the qualifiers that she made it as as special qualifier for having one of the top eight best heights in Division 2 sectionals state-wide with a personal-best of 5'2".
Lawrence made the most out of her second opportunity at state and would clear her first three heights (4-10, 5-0, 5-2) to land in a three-way tie for the state tie with senior Maddy Weisensel (Wautoma) and junior Nicole Johnson (Dodgeville). All three jumpers cleared 5'2" and would have a jump-off for the title.
Out of the 17 girls' high jumpers, 12 of them advanced when the bar moved to 5'4". All missed at that height and also missed 5'3" and would all clear 5'2" again. Johnson cleared 5'2" on her second attempt to win while Lawrence and Weisensel did not clear the same height on their second attempts and would tie for runner-up.
Lawrence as a sophomore tied her personal best height but will keep pushing and will look to break the school record set by Taylor Wissbroeker at 5'4" as well as seek the state title. The Division 2 girls' state record was set in 2007 at 5'9".
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