The Rhinelander High School boys' basketball team was unable to clench their fifth straight Great Northern Conference title last season, but are coming back strong and have the chance to get back on top for 2017-2018. The Hodags' lost primarily guards to graduation, but return several talented veteran players for the upcoming season.
After a 17-day break from all games and practices due to a whooping cough outbreak in late December, Rhinelander was unable to bounce back and finished second in the GNC at 8-4 and went 14-9 overall. Medford finished first in the conference at 10-2 and the Raiders were 20-5 overall.
Looking at GNC opponents, the Raiders and GNC champions lost several of their top players to graduation including all-conference player of the year Osy Ekwueme. Lakeland looked as if they would have a top team to contend for a title, but lost two top-players to injuries; first team all-conference player Connor Evenhouse and Michael Oiumette. While third-place Antigo also took hits their lineup and lost all-GNC players Matt Arndt and Drew Schwarz to graduation.
Rhinelander returns three of their five starters and seven total varsity players from 2016-2017's varsity lineup. One of the most notable returns is all-conference 6'5 forward Owen White, who recently signed to play college at Michigan Tech. Even after White missed the first five games due to a knee injury sustained during football, he averaged a double-double which included 22.2 points and 11.5 rebounds in conference action.
One of the biggest voids the Hodags' will have to replace is at the point guard position, where they lost Reeve Craig to graduation. Craig averaged 4.8 points, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals in conference action. But Rhinelander has several guards returning to are able fill that position including Junior Howard, Reese Flores, and Brad Quade.
Along with losing Craig, RHS also lost forward Matt Reinthaler to graduation. Reinthaler averaged 9.7 points per game and was the Hodags' second top rebounder, averaging 4.2 rebounds in the GNC. Rhinelander also return shooting guards Brad Comer and Markus Johnson along with forwards Brock Lieder and Bryce Schickert.
The Hodags' will be put to the test early in the 2017-2018 season which include back-to-back games against Wisconsin Valley Conference opponents. Rhinelander will open their season on the road against defending WIAA Division 1 State champions, Stevens Point. And then will host Wisconsin Rapids at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium on Tuesday, November 28th.
Having to play quality opponents early in the season will expose what Rhinelander will need to improve upon before they open their Great Northern Conference schedule. The Hodags will opener their conference schedule on Friday, December 8th when they host Lakeland as part of a girls'/guys' varsity doubleheader.
Rhinelander is looking to use not only their talent but experience to strive to get back on top of the Great Northern Conference for 2017-2018. The Hodags' are also looking to break a four-year streak of not going to the WIAA Division 2 sectionals and have a good shot at reaching both goals.