The Rhinelander High School girls' swim team made a big splash at the 50th WIAA Division 2 girls' state meet on Friday night. The Hodags finished fifth overall in the 38-team field at the UW Natatorium in Madson. Sophomore Malia Francis led the night for RHS and cruised to a pair of individual state titles.
Madison Edgewood would cruise to their fifth straight D2 title in a convincing fashion with 290 points, which was 126.5 points ahead of runner-up McFarland. The Crusaders also became only the second girls' swim and dive team to win five consecutive championships and won five events on the night including three all three relays. After Edgewood and McFarland was Ashwaubenon (141.50 points), Shorewood (125 points), and Rhinelander (118 points).
Francis had a standout night for the Hodags and would win D2 state titles in both the 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke. Bu Rhinelander started the night podium finish in the 200-yard medley relay. The team of junior Lisa Kennedy, Francis, junior Makenna Winnicki, and sophomore Noelle St. Pierre finished 5th with a time of 1:49.08, bettering their seed time by 0.57 seconds. Edgewood would win the 200-medley relay with a blistering time of 1:44.51 which was 3.76 seconds better than their seeded time and set new D2 state record.
Francis led from start to finish in the 100-fly with an opening the first 50-yards at 26.35 seconds and clocked in with a winning time of 56.23 seconds. She beat out Ashwaubenon junior Hallory Domnick by 1.38 seconds. Francis finished 1.31 better than her seeded time and only 0.6 seconds off the current D2 record set in 2014 by Autumn Haebig of Grafton.
Than later in the meet Francis added her second D2 title in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 54.72 seconds, which was only 0.07 seconds off the state record. She cruised passed defending state champion Mara Freeman of McFarland by 0.96 seconds. It also marked RHS girls' swimming ninth title in school history. The last time girls' swimming clenched first in a state event was back in 2016 when Kiah Francis won the 200-IM and 100-breaststroke.
Winnicki would reach the podium again for Rhinelander after finishing fourth overall in the 500-yard freestyle. She shaved off 4.16 seconds off her seeded time, clocking at 5:15.55, a lifetime best. Winnicki also placed ninth in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2:13.42.
In the 200-yard freestyle relay the Rhinelander group of Winnicki, Francis, Kennedy, and St. Pierre finished eighth overall with a time of 1:41.27. Lakeland finished sixth in the 200-yard freestyle relay, 0.77 seconds ahead of the Hodag's relay. Kennedy also added a 13th place finish in the 100-yard backstroke.
Rhinelander sat at second in the team standings with two events left, but was leaped after not having any entries in the 100-yard breaststroke and 400-freestyle relay.
The Hodags will look to have another successful season next year and will have a big advantage with returning all four state qualifiers. RHS will continue to train hard in the off season and will strive to add another GNC title as well as get back to the D2 WIAA state meet.
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.
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