The Rhinelander High School boys' swim team finished 5th at the WIAA Division 2 sectionals held at UW-Stevens Point on Saturday, and qualified for state in four events. The top 12 fastest times in each event excluding the first-place automatic state berth punched their ticket to the WIAA state meet. The Hodags were able to advance six swimmers in four events.
Rhinelander also finished as the third best Great Northern Conference school at the UWSP sectionals, coming in behind champions Lakeland and Shawano (3rd). Antigo finished in sixth overall, Tomahawk placed eighth, and Medford charted 11th.
Sophomore Nolan Francis earned is way in two individual events; the 200-yard individual medley as well as the 100 butterfly. The Hodag team of Francis, Thaddeus Heck, Martin Hoger, and David King set a school record in the 200-yard IM to advance. And Russell Benoy, Hoger, Devon Gaber, and Francis made it state in the 200-freestyle relay.
Earning Rhinelander's first state ticket was Francis who charted his lifetime best in the 200 IM, with a winning time of 1 minute, 59.89 seconds. The biggest difference in the IM for Francis was the breaststroke and butterfly legs of the race, where he made up time and was able to beat his seeded time by 6.84 seconds and also beat Griffin Rades (Shawano) by 3.32 seconds.
And later in the day, Francis was able to edge Jacob Hamerla (Lakeland) to the wall by 0.64 seconds, with the winning time of 54.27 seconds in the 100 butterfly for his second automatic state-birth. Francis qualified for state as a freshman in four events, marking his second straight year heading to the state meet.
Although it was not an automatic ticket, RHS felt comfortable with their second-place finish in the 200-medley relay to move on. And they were correct, the time of 1:45.28, which was just under three-seconds better than their seeded time was enough to advance.
But in one of the Hodag's closest calls was in the 200-freestyle relay. Rhinelander finished fifth with a time of 1:45.01, with the top-five teams separated by approximately a-half of a second. But the Hodags found out the good news well after the meet, that they made the cutoff by 0.09 seconds and would add another event to their 2017 WIAA state list.
Even with qualifying for four events, Rhinelander just missed the state cutoff line in several individual events. Benoy finished fourth place in the 50 freestyle with a time of 23.33 seconds, and third in the 100 free at 51.60, both just missing the cutoff.
In the 100 breast, Heck had a lifetime best time of 1:07.57 where he finished third, but was 1.7 seconds away from making the state cut. RHS also added a few top-10 finishes on the day including King in the butterfly (7th), and the backstroke (8th). Heck also charted eighth in the IM.
So despite the bumps the RHS boys' swim has encountered this season, including postponing their training for over two-weeks due to whooping cough, Coach Lindsay Byrka and the Hodags were able to push through and beat their see time in 18 of 20 entries on the day, enough to advance four events.
Entering Friday's state meet, Francis is seeded fourth in the IM and sixth in the butterfly, as the Hodags look to make the podium. It will be a great experience for the five Hodag swimmers that will be taking part in their first WIAA State meet. The timed finals will begin at 6:30PM on Friday and will be held at the UW Natatorium in Madison.