Going into Saturday's Great Northern Conference tournament, the Rhinelander High School boys' tennis team had a convincing 28-point advantage. The Hodags batled through several close matches on the day and would set a new GNC single scoring record in the process of earning their sixth straight conference title at Lakeland Union High Shcool.
RHS would win GNC titles in six of the seven flights and recorded a runner-up finish in the remaining flight. Rhinelander scored 40 points on the day, which was two points ahead of their scoring record they set last season and finished with 162 total points which was also a conference record.
Antigo finished runner-up in the GNC charted 26 conference tournament points, 14 behind Rhinelander. The Robins scored 120 total GNC points and were followed by Medford, Pacelli, Lakeland, and Newman Catholic.
All three doubles flights for the Hodags earned GNC titles. Starting at the top flight, seniors Logan Oestreich and Conner Young had a pair of tough matches they won to secure first place. In the semifinals Young and Oestreich jumped out to 6-4 first set win against Antigo's Brett Farmer and Jared McFarlane before dropping the second set 3-6. The Hodag duo rallied back to win the tiebreaker 6-0.
And in the finals Oestreich and Young earned a straight set win over Lakeland's Anthony Holmes and Zach Kane. Once again Rhinelander started strong. Rhinelander started strong again and raced out to a 6-2 win in the first set. But quickly fell behind 5-2 in the second set before winning five straight games to win the match 7-5.
At No. 2 doubles, Rhinelander freshmen Luke Ring and Elijah Evers had to to win a pair of three-set matches to win the GNC title. Against Sam Bretl and Simon McPhail of Antigo, Rhinelander won the three-setter 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
In similar fashion in the finals, Evers and Ring battled back against Luis Silva and Tahtankka of Medford after falling in the second set 6-0. Rhinelander edged the Raiders 7-6 in the first set and would grind out the 7-5 third-set win to earn the title at the second doubles flight.
And at No. 3 doubles senior Bridger Flory and sophomore William Berwig won a pair of straight-set matches to win the conference title. First Berwig and Flory beat Kevin Damm and Cooper Wild of Medford 6-4 7-5. And closed the day with a 6-2, 6-3 win in the championship match against Frank McKenna and Ben Morris of Antigo.
In singles action, sophomore Jacob Weddle had an impressive accomplishment by earning GNC player of the year after finishing first in the top flight. Weddle cruised to a 6-0, 6-1 win over Charlie Kulick of Pacelli. And in the finals Weddle defeated Antigo's Brody Bunnell 6-2, 6-2 to win the title.
Senior Russell Benoy earned the GNC title at No. 2 singles after earning a pair of upset match wins on the day. Benoy was seeded third to start the tournament after going 4-5 in the GNC dual schedule, but had an strong finish and knocked off the top two seeds in the bracket.
In the quarterfinals round, Benoy downed Zac Muenzner of Lakeland 6-1, 6-1. Following suite in the semifinals, Benoy downed Antigo's Joe Bartletti and second-seed, 6-2, 6-2. And in the championship match Benoy closed with a 7-6, 6-3 upset win over top-seed Sterling Reilly of Medford to win the title at the second singles flight.
Senior Ian Conkey at No. 4 singles won both his matches on the day including a tough three-setter in the finals to win the title. Conkey started in the semifinals by defeating Nathan Boedecker of Lakeland 6-1, 6-0. But the finals proved to be more of challenge. Conkey won the first set 7-4 against Logan Searles of Medford before falling 5-7 in the second set. And would close the match with 10-1 win the tiebreaker.
At No. 3 singles, senior Freddy Wisner split a pair of matches to finish runner-up in the GNC. First in the semifinals, Wisner defeated Carson Kleist of Medford 6-1, 7-6. But Wisner would fall in straight sets in the championship match to Antigo's Garrett Husnick.
Rhinelander will close out their regular season on Tuesday when they host a triangular against Ashland and D.C. Everest at the RHS tennis courts. The Hodags will then return to Lakeland next Monday for the nine-team WIAA Division 2 subsectionals, where they face several of the GNC rivals including Antigo, Lakeland and Pacelli. Fox Valley Lutheran, Notre Dame, Shawano, St. Mary Catholic, and Xavier will also compete in the subsectional.
The Rhinelander High School boys' started the week off strong and charted back-to-back Great Northern Conference wins to take a 14-point lead in the standings. On Monday the Hodags picked up a 5-2 victory at Antigo and followed that up sweeping Lakeland 7-0 at home on Tuesday. RHS will have one more GNC dual on Thursday at Lakeland that could push their lead to more going into the conference tournament on Saturday. Antigo
Rhinelander was put to the test on Monday when the Robins mixed up their lineups to stack their singles lineup. Antigo's only GNC loss this season was to the Hodags. RHS was up for the challenge and easily swept doubles action and would add two more wins the singles flights to cruise to a 5-2 victory.
"Jacob won another close three-set match," noted Coach Bob Heideman. "A telling indiction of where Jacob is s a tennis player is the fact that throughout the season he has not lost to a player of equal skills. He has consistently beaten players he should beat, pulled out the close ones against equals, and lost to his betters. The key is time after time winning those close ones."
The only flight of the day to be determined by a three-setter was at the top singles flight were sophomore Jacob Weddle rallied back after falling in the first set 4-6 to winning the next two 6-4, 6-1 over Brody Bunnell. Rhinelander's only other singles victory game at the fourth flight were senior Ian Conkey earned a 6-3, 6-4 straight set victory over Jared Mcfarlane.
"Antigo decided they would go with a strong singles lineup, put their four best players in singles," said Heideman. "This resulted in McFarlane who played No. 1 singles in our previous meeting played No. 4 singles. Much to Ian's credi he stayed within his game and forced Jared into a lot of errors and ground out the match. It was Ian’s biggest win of the season."
Seniors Russell Benoy and Freddy Wisner fell at the second and third singles flights or Rhinelander. Joe Bartletti at No. 2 singles beat Benoy 6-0, 6-4. And Garrett Hasnick of the Robins rallied 6-7, 6-2 at No. 3 singles over Wisner. Those would be the only two match victories Antigo would pick up on the evening.
In doubles action, Rhinelander top flight of seniors Conner Young and Logan Oestreich won a convincing 6-2, 6-0 win against Brett Farmer and Calvin Jansen. While the remaining two doubles flights proved to have a little bit more of a challenge but still picked up straight-set wins.
Freshman Elijah Evers and Luke Ring of the Hodags defeated Antigo's Sam Bretl and Simon Mcphail 6-2, 6-4. And sophomore William Berwig and senior Bridger Flory won 6-4, 6-1 against Jerome Jones and Ben Morris at No. 3 doubles.
"Connor, Logan, Luke, Elijah, Bridger, and Billy handled their doubles in quick fashion which set the stage for the longer singles matches," said Heideman.
Then on Tuesday the Hodags hosted Lakeland at the RHS Tennis courts and advanced to 9-0 in the GNC after blanking them 7-0. RHS advanced to 12-8 overall this season and earned straight set wins in six of the seven flights.
Starting in singles action, Conkey at No. 4 singles recorded a golden set, marking the teams’ second of the season. Conkey blanked Lakeland's Zander Amershek 6-0, 6-0.
"Ian Conkey had a golden set against Lakeland," Heideman said. "He scored the first 24 points of the match, very rare. In my first 35 years we never had a golden set, this is the second this year. You've got to be playing a high level of tennis to achieve it. Congratulations to Ian."
The remaining three flights of singles action only dropped one game combined and easily cruised to straight-set wins. Weddle shutout Dylan Harmelink 6-0, 6-0 at No.1 spot and Benoy downed Josh Kakuschke 6-0, 6-0 in the second flight. Freddy Wisner at No. 3 singles defeated Zac Muenzner 6-0, 6-1. Heidean noted it was good to see Russell and Freddy rebound after losses at Antigo.
Rhinelander's only three-set match of the day came at the top doubles flight where Oestreich and Young battled back after losing 3-6 in teh first set. The Hodag duo pulled out a close second set 7-6 before finding their rytheme and closing the match with a 6-3 win over Anthony Holmes and Zach Kane.
"Connor and Logan played a Lakeland team that loved to lob and they could get a lot of balls back," Heideman said. "That took away our aggressiveness. They stuck at it long enough to pull out a three-set win. I give them credit. They weren't playing their best, and mentally they had to get through their mistakes. It helped that they closed the net better and hit with ore pace as the match went on."
Ring and Evers at No. 2 doubles would earn a 6-1, 6-2 win over Aidan Graf and Alex Tucker. And Flory and Berwig defeated Daniel Nimsgern and Trevor Wortruba 6-1, 6-0 at No. 3 doubles.
Rhinelander will get their rematch against the Thunderbirds this evening when they travel to Minocqua. RHS is looking to increase their total point lead in the GNC standings and have the potential to double their lead to 28-points with a sweep. Saturday's conference tournament will be held at Lakeland Union High School and begin at 9:00AM.
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