It marked the first time in eight seasons that the Rhinelander High School girls' soccer team did not earn the Great Northern Conference title and were only one-win shy of advancing to the WIAA State Tournament in Division 3. The Hodags finished 6-1 in the GNC and 12-7 overall for the 2018.
Despite not completing a pair of their team goals, Rhinelander still had plenty to look back on and to measure their success. Here is a look back at their downfalls, successes, seniors, and what to look forward to for the 2019 season.
With the late start to their outdoor season due to the weather and the first half of the GNC cancelled, it proved to be a make or break season. The conference turned into a single-round robin schedule verses playing each team twice. And the only conference goal the Hodags would concede would prove to be the difference between first place and second place in the GNC.
In the middle of May, Rhinelander hosted Ashland their top conference rival this year at the RHS soccer field and couldn't find a way to contain GNC offensive player of the year, Kaylee McPeak. The only goal of the match came in the 21st minute from McPeak and proved to be enough to earn the 1-0 win and knocked Rhinelander off and the Oredockers would go on to finish with a perfect 7-0 conference record and earned the title. Not only was it a tough loss on their home pitch but marked the first time since 2011 that the GNC trophy went to another team other than Rhinelander.
Although the Hodags would still have a shot to make it through the Division 3 bracket and would have a good chance at heading to state. But in a defining loss, the Hodags would fall 2-1 to Rice Lake in the sectional final match.
Rhinelander would lead all statistics on the match against the Warriors except goals scored and came down to not finishing their opportunities. Rice Lake went on to advance to state for the second straight year after a pair of goals from Callie McCullough and Sarah Weber in the first half. Freshman Ella Schiek would cut Rice Lake's lead in half after a goal early in the first half, but RHS was unable to find the equalizer from there despite a number of quality chances.
Starting the season, the Hodags had a few voids to fill including goalkeeper. There were four Rhinelander players who battled for that starting position and senior Jada Appling and freshman Kahlie Arneson split time in goal and proved to be the top two to get the job done. Arneson was 6-4 with a 1.50 goals against average and had a .809 save percentage. While Appling went 6-3 with a 1.85 goals against average and also earned honorable mention conference honors as a goalie.
Rhinelander had a large senior class, but only had three of them make-up the starting 11; Appling and their top scoring threats Alayna Franson and Anna Sturzl. Both Sturzl and Franson earned first-team unanimous GNC honors and would combine to score 47 goals and 35 assists on the year. Franson had 25 points in the conference including nine goals and seven assists. While Sturzl had eight goals and two assists for 18 points in the conference. Franson and Sturzl would score 50% of Rhinelander's goals throughout the GNC and would be just under 60% of the teams' assists in conference action as well.
Looking at next season, the Hodags have several voids to fill including their top scorers Sturzl and Franson along with keeper Appling. Arneson will likely take over in goal while sophomore Izzy Haverkampf and freshman Ella Schiek will be the top scorers to return next season. Haverkampf recorded 14 goals, 1 assist and Schiek charted 11 goals, 2 assists throughout the year.
Rhinelander will also return Brooke Mork and Payton VanZile for their senior season. Both primarly were defenders but have Mork played striker on a few occasions this season as well as VanZile moving to a midfielder. Defender Gwen Lowry will return to Rhinelander's back line. And Kenedy Van Zile will be back for her junior year. Kenedy Van Zile scored 3 goals, 3 assists throughout the season and proved be one of the teams' top versatile players after seeing time as a defender, midfielder, and striker. Van Zile will likely take over Franson's position as an attacking-mid.
Although the Hodags will lose their top two scorers and one of their top keepers to graduation, and they know if they put in the work they will continue to see success. One of their top goals for next season is to regain the Great Northern Conference title, from there after moving to Division 3, they look to make a deep playoff run and have another shot at making it to Milwaukee for the WIAA state tournament.