The Rhinelander High School girls' soccer team used a strong second-half on Saturday evening to defeat Merrill 4-0 and earn the Division 2 WIAA Regional Title and will advance to sectionals. The Hodags only held a 1-0 advantage at halftime but would tally an early goal in the final 45 minutes and added two more in the final 13 minutes to secure the victory at the RHS Soccer Field.
Rhinelander generated plenty of opportunities on the night, but struggled to capitalize in the first half. Junior Izzy Haverkampf had back-to-back looks starting in the 10th minute. Her first shot was wide right while the second deflected off the top left goal post. Sophomore Gwyn Lowry also rocketed a shot 25 yards back that sailed up and over the cross bar.
RHS finally was able to find the back of the net in the 31st minute when sophomore Ella Schiek sent a cross into the box. Lowry was there to win the loose ball battle and took a few dribbles just inside the penalty kick area and connected to the bottom left corner to put the Hodags on the board.
Closing the first half, Rhinelander had several more chances on goal. In the 36th minute sophomore Kat Metropulos had a chance off of Schiek's cross but missed wide of the bottom right corner. A few minutes later senior defender Emma Hjelle took a corner kick and Lowry had a chance to add another goal but senior keeper Kaylee Bowe stopped the middle level shot just inside the left post. And with two minutes left in the first-half Haverkampf missed a shot just outside the 18 that was high left.
The Hodags controlled the tempo for a majority of the second half and also got some help with the wind. Sophomore Rachel Steffen fired a shot near half-field in the 51st minute while goalie Bowe was out near the 18-yard box line. Steffen's shot took one high bounce that went up and over Bowe and tucked inside the top goal post to give RHS a 2-0 advantage.
Rhinelander tacked on two more goals in the final 13 minutes including freshman Eleanor Steffen's first varsity goal in the 78th minute. Steffen, a RHS freshman crashed a rebound on the back post to score the Hodags’ third goal of the night. Haverkampf would connect on Rhinelander's final goal of the night in the 84th minute after dribbling passed a few defenders and scoring to the bottom right corner.
Merrill only produced five shots on the night, two on frame that sophomore goalie Kahlie Arneson recorded a pair of saves in the shutout win.. The Bluejays best look came in the 76th minute when senior forward Journey Smith got a breakaway and fired a shot inside the 18 that was right at Arneson. Overall RHS held a 28-5 advantage on total shots and 14-2 on shots on frame.
Rhinelander now focuses on a rematch against Marshfield in the Division 2 WIAA Sectional semifinals on Thursday. RHS beat the Tigers 2-0 in early May this season. Kick off is set or 5:00PM at the RHS Soccer Fields. The winner will advance to the sectionals finals that will be played at Eau Claire Memorial on Saturday and will be against the winner of the River Falls/ Onalaska match.