The Rhinelander High School boys' swimming team remains optimistic about their 2017-2018 season despite their varsity roster only having nine swimmers and a new coaching staff, they will be without one of their top swimmers from last season. Although Rhinelander's numbers are low, they proved in the past they can overcome these challenges.
Co-head coaches Jenny Heck and Marna Winnicki will take over the lead for RHS boys' swimming, after closing the fall season coaching the RHS girls' swim team after RHS did not extend former coach Lindsay Byrka's contract. Brent Olson, Dan Jesse, and Jon Koch will also be assistant coaches this season.
One of Rhinelander's most difficult challenges going into the season, will be trying to compete for a GNC title with only nine swimmers. Without a full-varsity lineup, the Hodags will already be one step behind in their dual meets, which will count toward the teams' final conference standings, unlike the varsity girls'.
Another obstacle Rhinelander will face for the 2017-2018 will be competing with junior Nolan Francis, who decided not to go out for swimming this season. Francis played a hand in all four events that RHS qualified for state last season. He not only set the 200-yard individual medley record last season, he earned a sixth-place finish at state. Francis also finished sixth in the 100-butterfly at state and was part of the Hodags' state 200-freestyle and 200-medley relay teams.
Even without one of the teams' top swimmers from last year and a nine-man roster, the Hodags return several quality swimmers which include five who competed at state one season ago. Junior Russell Benoy will be back for the Hodags and was part of both the state relay teams as well as second team all-conference swimmer in the 100 freestyle.
Sophomores Thaddeus Heck and David King are also set to return and both swam the state medley. Heck earned a third-place finish in the GNC meet and sectionals in the 100 breaststroke. King also recorded a third-place finish in the GNC in the 200 IM. Sophomore Devon Gaber and junior Martin Hoger also return and were part of the state freestyle relay.
The Hodags will also have four first-year varsity swimmers to their lineup including freshmen Joseph Heck and Hugh Wiese as well seniors Matt Herman and Jack Kovac.
Rhineland finished fifth last season in the GNC standings, but with only nine swimmers their focus will mainly be on the WIAA sectionals and state meet, as competing for the conference title may be out of reach without a full-lineup.
Three years ago, RHS finally made their way back to the WIAA state swimming meet, after not sending anyone for seven consecutive years. While in 2015-2016, the Hodags' used an 11-man lineup to earn the Great Northern Conference title over rival Lakeland. And in 2016-2017 even after a nearly three-week delay in their season, they still qualified for state in four different events.
The Hodags will kick off their season with two straight conference duals. First the Hodags will travel to Tomahawk on Tuesday night and will then be on the road Thursday night at Medford. Rhinelander’s home opener will not be until December 7th, when they host Antigo. RHS will then host the Hodag Relays at the Heck Family Community Pool on Saturday December, 9th.