The Rhinelander High School girls' soccer team may have a new head coach this season, but they still have high expectations as they enter the spring 2019 season. Longtime assistant coach Richard Kotula took over for Dan Millot and will also be assisted but Hodag alumni Lucas Wegehaupt. Despite Rhinelander losing several seniors including their top two-scorers from last season, they bring back plenty of talent experience as they push to regain the Great Northern Conference title and push for another WIAA State tournament appearance.
Millot resigned as head coach for both girls' and boys' soccer after leading the program for more than two decades. Kotula has been working hand and hand with Millot for over a decade starting with the girls' program back in 2007. Prior to assistant in Rhinelander, Kotula was head Three Lakes boys’ soccer coach in 2008-2009. Assistant Wegehaupt played under Millot and also has college experience at Hawaii Pacific University as well as Rajabhat University.
Looking at the team, the biggest question for the 2019 squad is what players are going to step up to fill the scoring void they lost. The Hodgas graduated Alayna Franson and Anna Sturzl who accounted or exactly 50% of the teams’ conference goals last season and just over half of the assists as well. Franson finished with nine goals, seven assists and Sturzl charted eight goals, two assists in the GNC.
Rhinelander will return junior Izzy Haverkampf as their top scorer fro last season. Haverkampf finished the year with 14 total goals, half of those coming in GNC action. RHS will also return sophomore Ella Schiek to their offensive line, who scored 11 goals last season. RHS will also look to to move junior Kenedy an Zile to more of an attacking position after primarily playing a defensive-mid last year. The Hodags had the second best scoring offense in the GNC, averaging 5.1 goals a match.
While on the defensive side of action, Rhinelander returns a majority of the lineup starting with sophomore goalie Kahlie Arneson. Graduate Jada Appling and Arneson split time in goal last season after Arneson was out twice due to concussion protocol. Arneson went 1-1 in the GNC and 6-4 overall with a 1.50 goals against average and .809 save percentage last season. After Arneson, junior Lisa White will be the Hodags’ backup goalie.
Rhinelander returns most of their defensive line including three all-conference players; senior Brooke Mork, sophomore Gwyneth Lowry, and senior Payton Van Zile. Along with the three conference defenders, RHS also brings back Grace Heck, Emma Hjelle, and Madi Losch. Last season GNC winners Ashland and Rhinelander each only allowed on goal in conference action. While the Hodags' goals against average went up to 1.6 overall compared to 0.1 in the GNC.
Looking ahead to the GNC competition, Ashland is still the team to beat, but several other teams can not be overlooked. Also many of the conference teams are in the same position filling voids in their lineup for the 2019 season. The Oredockers lost five first and second-team all conference players including the GNC offensive player and defensive player of the year to graduation; Kaylee McPeak and Sam Stegmann. Ashland also snapped the Hodags’ six-year streak on top of the GNC last season, but are looking to regain the title this season.
The Hodags are back to competing in the WIAA Divison 2 bracket that consists of 15-teams. RHS will also get a chance to play several of their sectional opponents during the regular season, along with a number of tough non-conference matches. Rhinelander will be put to the test early tonight at Hartford and will follow that up Saturday afternoon against Pewaukee. It also marks the first chance the team was able to practice or play outside this spring.
Rhinelander's first home game and GNC opener is slated for Tuesday April, 16th if weather and field conditions permit it. This season the GNC girls’ soccer will also have a new format to their conference schedule. Instead of a double round-robin tournament, each team will play a 10-match schedule. The first seven games will be single round robin and the final three will split the conference into two divisions. The top four teams will play each other and then the bottom four will play each other for the final three matches.