Photo By * Team photos: SubmittedAdditional photos: HodagSports staff
The Rhinelander High School girls' swim team pulled out a thriller on Saturday evening as they won the Wisconsin Rapids WIAA Division 2 Sectional title by only one point over Rice Lake. RHS won five events and it marked the girls' first sectional title in 15 years and set three varsity records in the process.
The meet went right down to the wire, as the Hodags had a nine-point advantage going into the final event of the night, the 400-yard freestyle relay. The Hodags relay team finished in seventh as they had to wait about five minutes to hear the news and celebrate earning the sectional crown as well as sending seven entries on to state.
It was a close battle throughout the night, with Rice Lake and River Falls holding early leads after the results of the diving competition the night prior. The top four finishers; Rhinelander, Rice Lake, Wausau East, and River Falls were only separated by seven points in the 14-team field. GNC rivals Lakeland placed sixth and Ladysmith Co-op finished seventh. Medford, Wittenberg-Birnamwood, Tomahawk, Colby/Abbotsford, Antigo, and Mosinee finished the last six spots (9th-14th).
Rhinelander had a strong start to the night and kicked off the opening swimming event, winning the 200-yard medley relay. The team of junior Lisa Kennedy, sophomore Malia Francis, junior Makenna Winnicki, and sophomore Noelle St. Pierre edged Merrill by 1.84 seconds. The Hodags also set a new varsity record by 2.43 seconds with a time of 1:49.65 that dated back to 1995.
Winnicki also added a pair of individual wins on the day in the 200- individual medley and the 500-freestyle, in both events she was able to better her seed time. First in the 200-IM beat out River Falls senior Sydney Fleming by 1.03 seconds to touch the wall first at 2:13.60 and bettered her seeded time by 4.07 seconds. Teammate Kennedy took fourth in the IM at 2:19.94 but missed the state cutoff pace.
Then in the 500 free, Winnicki shaved off 11.25 seconds off her seeded time to pull passed Merrill senior Trinity Kanitz with a winning time of 5:19.71. In another automatic state berth, Winnicki finished 2.46 seconds ahead of Kanitz. Sophomore Maria Heck finished seventh in the 500 for the Hodags as well.
Francis also charted a pair of individual wins to earn automatic berths to state and beat her own school records in both the 100-buttefly and the 100-backstroke. First in the 100-fly, Francis beat out Wausau junior Emma Clifford by 1.05 seconds to finish at 57.54 seconds, 0.19 seconds better than her seeded time.
And in the 100-back, Francis beat out Medford junior Erin Bergman by 2.45 second, winning with a time of 56.43 seconds (0.57 seconds quicker than her seeded time). Kennedy finished fourth in the 100-back (1:00.18) and will also head back to state for RHS with 11th-quickest time in the state.
The the 200-freestyle relay proved to be one of the most competitive in D2 with the top-seven finishers at Rapids making the cutoff to advance to state out of four sectionals (D2). The Hodag team of Winnicki, Francis, Kennedy, and St. Pierre placed fourth on the day at 1:41.27 but proved to be the eighth fastest in the state. Rice Lake finished first at 1:40.24 followed by Lakeland and Merrill.
Rhinelander's first lead of the night came after a 3-8 finish in the 100-yard breaststroke. St. Pierre placed third at 1:10.94 but missed the state cutoff by one sport and only 0.18 seconds. McGuire recorded an eighth place finish which help give the Hodags the lead going into the final event of the night.
The Hodags' 400-free relay team of Heck, freshman Genna Fugle, sophomore Sierra Woodford, and McGuire maintained their seed and finished seventh which proved to be crucial in the final event. RHS clocked in at 4:01.38 and would hold on to earn the one-point victory at the Rapids Sectional. Wausau East was seeded fourth but one the 400-free followed by Lakeland, Rice Lake, and River Falls.
The top four teams at the Rapids sectional were only separated by seven points with Rhinelander ahead with 264 points. Rice Lake was runner-up with 263 points followed by Wausau East (257.5), and River Falls (257 points). RHS will now shift their focus to the state meet where they have seven entries. It also marks the sixth consecutive year that Hodags sent at least one swimmer on to state. Winnicki will be making her third straight appearance. The D2 state finals will begin at 6:30PM at the Natatorium at UW-Madison campus. Rhinelander is seeded in the top eight in six of their events and will need a top-six finish to reach the podium.
The Rhinelander High School girls’ swim team has had plenty of achievements the last several years and got to add a Great Northern Conference title to their resume. The Hodags used four event wins and three GNC records to earn their first conference title since 2002 on Friday night at the conference meet held at UW-Stevens Point.
Rhinelander was the only team to finish with a perfect 7-0 in GNC duals and would have only needed to finish third or better to earn a share of the title. RHS set the tone early and used their depth to edge Lakeland by 21 points and win with 309 points on the night. The Tridents were third (226 points) followed by five-time defending GNC champs Tomahawk (161 points).Medford, Colby/Abbotsford, Antigo, and Mosinee rounded out the remaining GNC teams. The Hodags also took home 12 all-conference swims by placing in the top three in individual events or relays with seven different swimmers.
In the opening 200-yard medley relay, Rhinelander had a strong start with setting a conference record time of 1 minute, 53.37 seconds by junior Lisa Kennedy, sophomore Malia Francis, junior Makenna Winnicki, and senior Marisa McGuire. The Hodag’s A relay beat Medford’s A relay to the wall by 5.99 seconds.
In addition to being part of the winning 200-medley relay team, Francis also recorded a pair of individual event wins and smashed two conference records in the 100-back and 200-individual medley. While teammate Winnicki earned Rhinelander’s other victory on the night in the 100-yard butterfly.
Francis would take down the GNC record by 6.69 seconds in the third event of the night, the 200-IM. She clocked in with the record time of 2:09.98 with teammate Kennedy taking the runner-up spot (2:21.06). Again in the 100-backstroke Francis set another GNC record by 2.96 seconds to also finish 1-2 with Kennedy. Francis won with a time 57.21 seconds and Kennedy clocked in at 1:00.91.
In the fifth event, Winnicki won the 100-yard butterfly and set the pace at 1:01.49 to edge Naomi Hamerla of Lakeland by 0.66 seconds. The first 50-yards Winnicki and Hamerla were neck and neck and only separated by 0.13 seconds. And in the final 50-yards Winnicki used a 32.46 split to inch passed Hamerla. Winnicki also added a runner-up finish in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 2:01.26, finishing 4.03 seconds behind Tomahawk senior Kylee Theiler.
Sophomore Maria Heck would finished second in the 500-yard freestyle, where Madeline Bunton of the Tridents won only 3.61 seconds ahead. In the 100-yard breaststroke sophomore Noelle St. Pierre and McGuire went 2-3 to earn all-conference honors. St. Pierre finished at 1:11.34 and McGuire clocked in at 1:15.24.
Rhinelander also added a pair of runner-up finishes in the final two relays; the 200-free and 400-free. The team of McGuire, Francis, Winnicki, and St. Pierre finished 2.12 seconds behind Lakeland, who set a new conference record in the 200-freestyle relay with a time of 1:40.71. And in the final event, the 400-freestyle relay, RHS team of Heck, sophomore Sierra Woodford, Kennedy, and St. Pierre were runner-up behind Lakeland.
The Hodags also had a number of other podium finishes including a fourth place finish in the 200-freestyle by Heck and a fourth-place finish in the 100-free by Woodford. In the 200 IM, Woodford also added a sixth place finish. And senior captain Riley Miller was back in action for Rhinelander after missing most of the season due to an injury. Miller recorded a pair of podium finishes; one in the 100-fly by finishing eighth overall the other in the 200-medley relay.
Rhinelander’s B relay teams also all earned top-eight finishes. The team of Woodford, freshman Genna Fugle, freshman Abigale Johnson, and Heck finished sixth in the 200-freestyle relay. And freshman Augusta Gruett, freshman Ella Cordy, Miller, and senior Jaylen Janssen finished eighth in the 200-medley relay. In the 400-free relay, Johnson, Fugle, Janssen, and Gruett placed eighth.
The Hodags will compete in the WIAA Division 2 Sectionals at Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday, where they will battle to send swimmers to state. In the past four seasons, RHS has sent at least one swimmer to state. Sectionals will begin at 1:00PM.
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