Even with a small roster and a new coaching staff, the Rhinelander High School boys' swimming team battled the odds and were able to push through for the 2017-2018 season. The Hodags not only were with one of their top swimmers from the year before, but still found a way to have a successful year and ended the season sending a number of swimmers to the WIAA Division 2 State Swimming Meet in Madison. Here is look back at their Great Northern Conference season, sectional success, state run, and what to look forward to for next season under co-head coaches Marna Winnicki and Jenny Heck.
The Hodags finished in the middle of the GNC season in fourth place with 223 points and a 3-6-1 record. Lakeland earned the conference title and went undefeated at 10-0 in the GNC for 322 points. While RHS was two swimmers shy of full dual meet lineup with 10 swimmers, they had a strong group and we able to send six of them to the WIAA state meet.
Rhinelander also had a number of close conference duals including an 80-80 tie with runner-up Tomahawk. RHS also was able tie for first place with Lakeland in Marshfield in the Hodag Relays held back on December, 10th.
In the GNC meet, Rhinelander also reached the podium in every event except the 500-yard freestyle which included the top-three earning all-conference honors. Lakeland won their second consecutive GNC title and cruised to eight even wins including five new conference records. It also marked the first time only the GNC meet results determined the final conference results.
Rhinelander's 200-yard medley relay team of junior Martin Hoger, sophomore Thaddeus Heck, sophomore David King, and junior Russell Benoy won with a time of 1 minute, 47.13 seconds after Lakeland's A relay was disqualified. Benoy anchored the Hodags' A relay and was able to pull past Antigo's Holden Meidl in the final 50-yards to give RHS the win.
Freshman Joseph Heck, Hoger, sophomore Devon Gaber, and Benoy also earned a runner-up finish in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:34.29.
On top of their top relay finishes, RHS also had a number of top-three finishes in the individual events. Cousins and teammates Joseph Heck and Thaddeus Heck battled for runner-up in the 100-yard breaststroke. Joseph Heck would edge Thaddeus by only 0.06 seconds with a time of 1:05.19.
Benoy also had a pair of individual all-conference finishes, placing third in both the 500 and 100-yard freestyles. He clocked in at 22.80 seconds in the 500 and 51.26 seconds in the 100. King also finished third in the 100-fly at 58.00 seconds.
Just over a week after finishing four in the Great Northern Conference meet, the Hodags continue to drop times and their training left them in the position to have a very successful WIAA Division 2 sectional held in Hudson. The Hodags finished third in the 11-team field and would be the second best GNC team. Lakeland went to earn the WIAA sectional title.
Rhinelander would improve their seeded times in 19 of their 20 entries and would qualify for state in seven entries in six different events and in the process would win two sectional championship titles.
RHS earned two automatic state-berths including the opening 200-yard medley relay. The team of Hoger, Thaddeus Heck, David King, and Russell Benoy finished first with a time of 1:44.62 and was able to shave 2.5 seconds of their seeded time and edged River Falls by 0.13 seconds.
And the team of Joseph Heck, Hoger, Gaber, and Benoy also added a runner-up finish in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:31.62. It also proved to be the fourth fastest time in the state in the Division 2 times.
The second automatic berth came later in sectionals after Joseph Heck would win the 100-breast with a time of 1:04.07 and would edge his cousin Thaddeus by 0.43 seconds, and both improved their seeded times.
Benoy was not only part of the state qualifying 200-yard free relay and 200-yard medley relay team he also qualified for state in two individual events. Benoy finished third in both the 50 and 100-yard freestyles. He clocked in at 22.41 seconds in the 50 and 49.83 seconds in the 100. King finished second at sectionals in the 100-fly with a time of 55.64 seconds to also advance to state.
WIAA State Meet
Although Rhinelander did not see large time drops at the WIAA Division 2 State Meet like they seen at sectionals, they still were able to finish one position better in the final standings then they did in 2017.
RHS finished 15th out of 35 teams at the UW-Natatorium in Madison. Monona Grove easily cruised to their fourth straight D2 team title. GNC rival, Lakeland finished fourth overall at state with 143.50 points.
In the 200-yard freestyle relay, Rhinelander was only one spot shy off reaching the podium and finished seventh. They also placed 12th in the 200-yard medley relay.
Individually, Benoy finished 10th in the state in the 50-free and added a 14th place finish in the 100-free. Thaddeus Heck would beat out his cousin Joseph Heck, clocking in at 1:04.81 to finish 13th overall in the 100-breast. Joseph Heck placed 15th at 1:04.90. King also would finish 14th in the 100-fly at 56.15 seconds.
Rhinelander graduates a pair of first-year senior swimmers; Matthew Herman and Jack Kovac. Although the Hodag seniors did not make it state they filled valuable roles throughout the season. Even with the losing two swimmers, RHS is projected to return eight of their swimmers including six state qualifiers.
RHS remains optimistic despite facing challenges including lack of depth especially throughout regular season and will look to continue to improve and add another state appearance next season.