The Rhinelander High School boys' swim team broke a 25 year drought on Friday night, by earning a pair of first place finishes at the WIAA Division 2 state meet. The Hodags earned six podium finishes on the night in their 10 event entries at the UW-Natatorium in Madison and tied for third place overall in the team standings, marking a stellar finish to their 2018-2019 season.
The last time RHS boys' swim had a first-place finish at state went back to 1994. Rhinelander’s broke the streak in the eighth event, the 200-yard freestyle relay but had a number of close races prior. The team of Joseph Heck, Nolan Francis, Devon Gaber, and Russell Benoy would earn a school-record clocking in with the fastest time in the event at 1 minute, 27.76 seconds. There finish was also 0.59 seconds faster than their seeded tie as the beat out Edgewood by 0.39 seconds.
Sophomore Joseph Heck led off the race with a 22.94-split that but RHS in fourth. Senior Nolan Francis followed with a 21.34-split, which was the second-fastest split in the event which gave RHS a 0.3 lead. Junior Devon Gaber was the third leg for the Hodags and kept them in first with a 21.91-split. And senior Russell Benoy anchored RHS with a time of 21.57 to give Rhinelander a 0.39 second victory.
Francis would swim in the very next event, the 100-yard backstroke and continued the momentum for Rhinelander and added another first-place finish and was the only swimmer to crack the 50-second mark. Francis led the entire race to beat out top-seeded junior Aidan Lohr or Baraboo by 0.83 seconds. He also broke his previous school record, clocking in at 49.91 seconds.
Rhinelander set the tone of the night in the opening event, the 200-yard medley relay in which they were seeded first. The Hodags reached the podium with a runner-up finish with a time of 1:37.61 and set a new school record which was 0.81 seconds better than their seeeded time. But Edgewood dropped 4.37 seconds off their seed time to win the event by 2.54 seconds (1:35.07).
Francis led off for the Hodags and had an opening split o 23.09 to put RHS in the lead but Edgewood turned up the heat for the next split to take a 1.4 second lead over Rhinelander. Junior Thaddeus Heck was second for RHS with a 27.86, junior David King followed with a 25.14-split, and Benoy closed the race with an impressive 21.52-split which was the fastest of the race and the Hodags edged Baraboo by 0.39 seconds.
A very similar situation happened in the the 100-yard butterfly where Francis was top-seed in the event but despite shaving 1.43 off his qualifying but fell to Berlin/Green Lake senior Sam Ryf by 0.75 seconds. Ryf finished with a winning time of 50.13 seconds which was an astonishing 3.28 seconds faster than his seeded time. Francis earned second at 50.88 seconds for another school record.
Benoy also added a pair of individual podium finishes for Rhinelander in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle races. In the 50-free Benoy finished fourth (21.97 seconds) in a close race that separated the top five by only 0.08 seconds. Benoy would reach the podium later in the 100-free, finishing fifth overall with a time of 49.01 seconds.
Gaber added two top-10 finishes in both the sprint races behind teammate Benoy. In the 50-free, Gaber placed eight winning the opening heat with a time of 22.48, which was 0.40 seconds faster than his seeded time. He followed up an impressive 50 race, and finished eighth in the 100-free. Gaber won the opening heat again and clocked in at 49.51 seconds, which was 0.59 seconds faster than his qualifying time.
In the 100-fly, King finished 12th with a time 55.24 seconds and Thaddeus Heck placed 15th in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1:02.74 seconds.
Rhinelander went into the final event in second place as a team, but did not have an entry in the event and was surpassed by Monona Grove and tied for third place with Elkhorn. Edgewood would win the team title with 289 points, winning six of the 12 events o the night. Monona Grove finished 15 points ahead of Rhinelander/Elkhorn (169 points) for runner-up. Baraboo finished fifth, McFarland placed sixth, and Lakeland charted seventh.
The Rhinelander High School boys' swim team came into the Great Northern Conference championship with a perfect 10-0 dual record and earned the conference title with 350 points. The Hodags had a dominate performance and won six events on the night and also set four GNC records in the process on Friday night in Medford.
Along with their six event wins, Rhinelander had swimmers reach the podium with top six finishes in 10 of the 11 events on the night. It also marked the teams' first GNC title since 2016 with a number of all-conference honors by finishing top-three. RHS finished with a 96-point win over runner-up Tomahawk (254 points). Lakeland finished third with 241 points and Shawano placed fourth with 218 points.
The Hodags set the tone early and started the night setting a new GNC record in the opening 200 medley relay. The team of Nolan Francis, Thaddeus Heck, David King, and Martin Hoger clocked with a time of 1 minute, 42.92 seconds. They surpassed the previous record by Lakeland in 2017 of 1:43.66.
Then in the third event of the night, Francis would set the Hodags' second record by roughly two seconds of the night in the 200 individual medley. It was a convincing nearly 10 second win over Tyler Teichmiller (2:11.04) of Lakeland with a winning time of 2:01.33.
Rhinelander's third record breaking performance came later in the night in the 200 freestyle relay where they edge Lakeland by 0.21 seconds. The team of Joseph Heck, Devon Gaber, Martin Hoger, and Russell Benoy clocked in with the quickest time of 1:31.52 while the Thunderbirds finished at 1:31.73. Both teams beat out the previous GNC record set by Lakeland in 2018.
Francis set the Hodags' fourth conference record of the night in the 100 yard backstroke beating the five-year record set by Zach Sopher (Shawano) by 1.64 seconds. He clocked in with a time of 54.13 seconds to beat Brett Farmer of Antigo who finished at 58.67 seconds.
Another Rhinelander win came in the 100-yard freestyle that Benoy claimed. After Liam Hogan edged Benoy by 0.12 seconds in the 50 freestyle for the win, Benoy turned the tables to earn a 1.06 second victory in the 200 with a time of 50.40 seconds to beat out Brandon Boh of Lakeland.
The Hodags cashed in on another close win in the 100-yard breaststroke that Thaddeus Heck claimed with a time of 1:05.32. He edged Teichmiller by 0.44 seconds. Joseph Heck was only 0.20 seconds from the runner-up position at 1:05.98.
Rhinelander was just shy of collecting another win the 400 freestyle relay where they were edged by Lakeland by 0.7 seconds. The Thunderbird team of Boh, Alex Tucker, Teichmiller, and Hogan won with a time of 3:22.17. The Hodag team of Benoy, Gaber, J. Heck, and Francis finished runner-up at 3:22.87. Again both RHS and Lakeland beat the previous GNC record in 400-free relay.
Rhinelander scored four runner-up finishes on the night. Besides the 400-free relay and Benoy (100-free), King earned second in the 100-yard butterfly butterfly with a time of 56.72 seconds. Farmer won the 100 fly at 55.62 seconds.
The remaining all-conference swims and third place finishes for Rhinelander were from; Jacob Schoppe (200 IM), J. Heck (50 free, 100 breast), Gaber (100 free), and Hoger (100 back).
The Hodags also added a few fourth-place finishes on the night. Gaber (50 free), Schoppe (100 fly), King (100 back), and T. Heck (200 free) for individual events. While RHS B relays placed fifth in the 200 free relay (King, Cooper Kovac, Ashton Cole, and Schoppe) and 400 free relay (Schoppe, Cole, Kovac, and T. Heck).
Rhinelander will now prepare for the upcoming WIAA Division 2 sectional meet held Saturday at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point. The Hodags have high expectations and will look to send several events onto to the state meet. The timed finals will begin at 1:00PM.
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