The Rhinelander High School cross country team has continued to improve and 2016 marked the second time in the last three years they were able to send a harrier to the WIAA state meet.
This season was highlighted by junior Alayna Franson, who paced the RHS girls’ harriers all season and was able to finish 14th in the Division 2 girls’ state meet at the end of October held at The Ridges in Wisconsin Rapids. As a sophomore, when the Hodags were in Division 1, Franson also made it to state and finished 49th.
Franson established herself at the top of the Great Northern Conference, and was able to earn five race wins throughout the session, including the opening Ted Voigt Invite held in Minocqua. She also earned first at Three Lakes, Northland Pines, and Tomahawk.
And marking her fifth win, Franson earned first at the Great Northern Conference meet in the middle of October at Nine Mile Forest in Rib Mountain. At the GNC meet, Franson pushed ahead early, and wouldn't trail from there. Franson clocked in with a winning time of 20 minutes, 11.8 seconds, which 10.9 seconds ahead of Lauren Schilling of Lakeland who earned the GNC title two seasons ago.
But Franson wasn’t satisfied with just a GNC title and runner of the year, she was pushing for another trip to state. And from that point, Franson recorded a fifth-place finish at the Waupaca Sectionals on October, 22nd and would punch her ticket to state.
And with one week to prepare, Franson was the GNC standout runner for the Division 2 girls’ race placing 14th. The next highest GNC girl harrier to finish was freshman Franny Seidel of Medford who finished 34th. Sophomore Annalise Callaghan of Northland Pines was right behind in 35th, and Lauren Schilling placed 44th.
While Franson would set the pace for the lady harriers all season, the Hodags also had a core group of runners in their top five including junior Anna Sturzl. Throughout the season Sturzl was Rhinelander's second runner a majority of the season and she recorded a top-10 finish in the GNC meet. Sturzl earned seventh and also earned all-conference first team with teammate Franson.
The RHS girls also took home a first-place finish as team at the Northland Pines Invitational and was able to place five runners in the top-14. The Hodags with 32 points finished ahead of Antigo, Northland Pines, Three Lakes, and Crandon.
At the Pines Invite, Franson captured first followed by Sturzl in fourth place. Senior Payton Hartman earned a top-10 finish in eighth. And senior Carmen Incha earned 14th to round RHS’s top-five. Rounding out the varsity lineup for Rhinelander was Claire Bowman (15th) and Abby Krueger (17th.)
Senior Gracie Quinn also made an impact for the RHS girls' lineup as well and was a consistent number three runner for the Hodags. Unfortunately, Quinn suffered a knee injury at the end of the season and was unable to run in the GNC meet.
Rhinelander also had several girls' battling for varsity positions towards the end of the season which included Bowman, Krueger, Lauryn Roberts, and Valerie Dalka.
Overall the lady Hodags finished in the middle of the GNC in fourth place with 99 and finished ahead of Tomahawk, Northland Pines, and Antigo. Lakeland girls' and guys' each finished at top of the conference.
Although the RHS guys' had several notable finishes on the year with several harriers finishing in tight groups they finished second to last in the GNC with 130 points and only finished ahead of Antigo.
Bridger Flory established himself as the top Hodags harrier on the guys' side of action and had several top-10 finishes for the 2016 season, including a seventh-place finish at the Northland Pines Invite where RHS boys' finished fourth as a team. Flory also finished in eight at the Hodag Invite with a time of 18:21.7.
Markus Johnson also showed he was a top runner for the Rhinelander varsity lineup and would crack the top-10 in Northland Pines as well. Johnson finished in ninth with senior teammate Tyler Kolasa right behind in 10th.
Fellow senior Robert Ritchie also was consistent for the RHS boys' and finished in 20th at the Pines Invite. Ritchie, Kolasa, and Johnson established themselves as the Hodags’ top runners for 2016, and would consistently finish within a minute and half of Flory's pace.
Daniel Ritchie also would establish himself as a top-five runner when he was available after splitting two fall sports; cross country and soccer. Rounding out the RHS boys' varsity was Anthony Gaudioso, Konnor Kennedy, and Levi Smith.
Flory had a good chance at an all-conference team run at the GNC meet, but suffered an upper respiratory infection on race day and fell behind and finished 33rd. Last season Flory finished 12th in the GNC and earned second team all-conference. Overall the Hodag boys finished sixth in the GNC standings.
Rhinelander has plenty to look forward to for the 2017 cross country season as they return leaders Franson and Sturzl on the girls' side as well as Flory and Johnson on the guys' side. The Hodags will continue to work hard in the off season to drop times and make improvements individually and as a team in the GNC, as well as try and get their overall numbers up in their program to continue to improve in the conference.
Rhinelander High School junior Alayna Franson punched her second ticket to the WIAA State cross country meet in the past three years, and ran a solid race to notch a top-15 finish at the Ridges in Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday.
"It feels great that all of the hard work and commitment put into this season paid off," said Franson. "I worked really hard this entire season to get to state and it was such a great way to end the season."
Franson charted a 14th place finish out of a field of 158 Division 2 participants at the 2016 WIAA state meet. Although Franson had a quicker time at state two years ago, she improved from her 49th place in 2014 at the Division 1 race to take 14th with a time of 19 minutes, 53.8 seconds in the 5K course.
Starting strong, Franson pushed ahead and was in 17th place after the first mile of action, with a time just under six minutes. At the second mile mark, Franson picked up one spot before her final kick at the end.
"I had a goal coming into the state meet to get top-20, and during the race I just kept that goal in the back of my head," Franson said. " I continued to improve places throughout the race and just got stronger. I was mentally and physically ready for this race and wanted to do well; so I was super excited with the results."
Franson was able to finish the final mile strong and gained two positions to take 14th place and just four spots shy of earning a medal.
Dana Feyen of Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau won the girls' Division 2 race, clocking in with a time of 18:21.5, and was over 12 seconds ahead of the runner up. Kara Pyatskowit, the Waupaca sectional winner led after the first mile and half, but couldn't maintain that momentum and dropped back to fifth place.
Out of the Great Northern Conference harriers, Franson easily out-ran her rivals including freshman Franny Seidel of Medford who placed 34th. Sophomore Annalise Callaghan of Northland Pines finished 35th and senior Lauren Schilling of Lakeland placed 44th.
"Another goal I had coming into the meet was to beat my 'rivals' in the GNC who beat me at sectionals," noted Franson. "That race was motivation to do well in the race and beat them."
The Lakeland boys' also had an exceptional day for the GNC, and earned the WIAA Division 2 title with 105 points, edging Valders by seven points.
Looking ahead to her senior season, Franson has her goals set high, and there is no doubt she will be able to accomplish those goals.
"And now that state is over, I have already made a lot of goals for senior year," said Franson. "I want to medal next year at state, and I want to keep improving my time, which won't be easy, but I'm excited to see what I can do!"
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