The Rhinelander High School girls' basketball will be returning to the 2019-2020 season as defending Great Northern Conference champions and have plenty to look forward to this season. The Hodags lost three seniors to graduation but will bring back several of their top offensive and defensive players from a season ago. RHS will look to earn their second straight GNC title as well as advance further in the playoffs as they look ahead.
Rhinelander finished with a 17-6 record and went perfect in the conference at 12-0. The Hodags will have to replace two starters; Brooke Mork and Payton Van Zile this season as well as Erica Jorgenson who graduated but did not play her senior year due to a knee injury. The Hodags defense allowed the least amount of points last season in the GNC at 41.3. And their press and fast tempo offense put them second in scoring, averaging 62.7 points per game.
Ryan Clark was awarded GNC coach of the year after leading the Hodags to their first ever conference title in school history. The Hodags will return senior Kenedy Van Zile, the GNC player of the year. Van Zile is not only RHS's top scoring threat but also one of their top defenders. Senior first-team all-conference player Cynthia Beavers will also be back for Rhinelander. Van Zile averaged 26.5 points, 4.4 steals,4 rebounds, and 3.8 three-pointers per GNC game. While Beavers was the teams' second top scorer and had 9.2 points per game as well as 7.7 rebounds, 2.9 steals, and the GNC’s second best field goal percentage of 56.0%.
The Hodags will have to replace the voids of second team all-conference player Mork and honorable mention player Payton Van Zile. Mork averaged 8.9 points and 2.0 triples per GNC game, while Payton averaged 2.9 points per contest. RHS will return junior Rebecca Lawrence who also earned all-conference recognition and averaged 8.3 points per game as well as 5.2 rebounds and 3.25 steals.
After Van Zile, Beavers, and Lawrence, Rhinelander brings back several returning players including senior Sophia McGinnis, junior Ella Schiek, sophomores Annika Johnson, Brynn Brzycki, Audrey Schiek, and Megan Brown. Johnson had 39 rebounds, 19 assists, and 11 steals last year in GNC action. While McGinnis recorded 51 boards, 16 assists, and 11 steals.
RHS started practice last Monday and held two-a-day practices with a morning session for four days before they competed in a scrimmage in Wisconsin Dells on Saturday. The Hodags faced Eau Claire North, Holmen, Melrose-Mindoro, and Wisconsin Dells at JustAgame Fieldhouse. RHS unofficially fell in three of their four 30-miniute running clock sessions with their only win coming over Eau Claire by three-points. Rhinelander was a little rusty on the court and their two biggest struggles were field goal percentage and taking care of the basketball.
Van Zile led the Hodags' offense on the day and averaged just under nine points per session. Johnson was Rhinelander's second top scorer on the day and closesly followed by Lawrence, Ella Schiek, Brzycki, and freshman Ava Lamers.
Looking ahead to the Great Northern Conference competition, several teams lost players to graduation. The most notable in conference rival Lakeland, who lost first team all-conference player Melissa Bruckner. Mosinee also lost first team all-GNC post player Megan Priest. But Rhinelander will look to take advantage of returning three starts for the 2019-2020 season.
Rhinelander will open their season on Thursday when they host Merrill at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium at 7:15PM. Last season RHS fell to the Bluejays by two-points on the road despite a 40-point game from Van Zile. The Hodags than will compete in the two-day Tom Kislow Memorial Tournament held at UW-Stevens Point starting on Friday and will face Menomonie and Wausau Newman.