The Rhinelander High School girls' tennis team lost several close matches and sets on Monday and only advanced their No. 1 doubles flight to sectionals. The Hodags finished fifth overall in the nine-team Stevens Point subsectional with seniors Jackie Wells and Alex Oestreich the only two netters to advance. The RHS seniors went on to battled at the Eau Claire Memorial sectionals and would fall in straight sets.
"It was not the day we had hoped for," said Coach Bob Heideman. "We lost too many of the close matches and sets, that made the difference. We had four three-setters and a tie break set and we lost them all. We gave it a solid effort but came up a little short, regrettably at this point of the season, that sends you home."
After the WIAA Division 1 sections, Rhinelander ended the careers of six seniors; Oestreich, Wells, Kenedy Van Zile, Izzy Haverkampf, Jaiden Thiel, and Lisa White. Wells and Oestreich extended their season and moved to Wednesday's sectionals at Eau Claire Memorial.
Rhinelander's No. 1 double of Wells/Oestreich only needed one win at subsectionals to advance and they earned a straight set win over Marshfield to move on. Oestreich/Wells started strong with a 6-0 first set win over Emily Weis and Lauren Weigel. RHS was ahead 5-1 in the second set and Weis/Weigel rallied off three straight game wins. The Hodags kept their composure and would win 6-4 to complete the straight set win.
"Even that match had its drama, after winning the first set easily they had scored an early lead 5-1 but at that conjecture Marshfield launched a comeback running three games," noted Heideman. "What created the tension was recently, Jackie and Alex have had trouble holding on to similar leads. But at 5-4 they closed out the game and the match. They earned the right to play the No. 1 seed from the Menominee subsectional, Eau Claire Memorial."
In a tough sectional on Wednesday morning, Oestreich/Wells had to face top seeded double team of Kim Harvey and Katie Rentzepis of Eau Claire Memorial (22-9). Harvey/Rentzepis cruised to a 6-1, 6-0 win over the Hodag seniors. Despite what was on paper, the match was closer than it appeared with several deuce games.
Rhinelander came up short by one match of qualifying for sectionals in five more flights on Monday. One of the biggest upsets for the Hodags came at No. 3 singles where Kaylee Pontell was defeated by Margo Kelly of Antigo. Pontell finished second at sectionals last season at No. 4 singles. Kelly defeated Pontell 7-6 (4), 6-2. Pontell finished her season 26-4 after beating Kelly twice earlier this season.
"Kaylee had to overcome early Antigo leads in those matches," Hedieman said. "It seems the momentum of winning the first set is critical in this match up and after losing a close tiebreak. Kaylee found herself quickly down 1-5 and couldn't dig herself out. This is the second year she has led the team in wins."
At the top singles flight, Rhinelander's Annika Johnson was the five seed and faced Avery Nicholsen of Antigo. Johnon had a commanding lead to start and cruised to a 6-2 first set win, but from there could not keep up that momentum. Nicholson rallied back to win the next two sets 6-3, 6-0 to win the match.
Van Zile finished 22-5 this season and would fall to second-seed Claire Peterson of Wausau East in the second match of the day. In the first match Van Zile made short work of Bellah Vinter of Wisconsin Rapids. Peterson cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 win in the second match.
"Kenedy was the three seed and served well in her first match," stated Heideman. "The easy points off serve discouraged her opponent. You could tell by her body language. In the second match, East had similar games but more often (Peterson) was on the winning end of points."
At No. 4 singles, Kat Metropulos couldn't pull out a three-setter in her only match of the day and fell to Kelly Alenka of Wisconsin Rapids. Metropulos had the early momentum and would win the first set 6-3 but faded in the final two sets and fell 6-2, 6-2.
"Kat ended her season on a three-setter," Heideman said. "Kat worked her into the four spot with some close wins and it seemed that three-setters were the trademark of her season. She's a persistent hard worker on the court."
Rhinelander's No. 2 double team of Lisa White and Kathryn Borski would also end their season on a three-set loss. The Hodag duo started the day strong and earned a 6-4, 6-4 win over Madeleine Bizjak and Mia Hoehn of Wausau West. But than had another tough match to follow against Wausau East. White/Borski started with a 6-2 first set win, but lost some ground in the second set and fell 6-5 to Lillie Grace Faulkner and Elizabeth Boulanger. In the third set Borski/White battle strong but would drop 7-5 to lose the match.
"Lisa and Kathryn (21-9) had a tough first match and then had a long tougher second match," said Heideman. "I give them credit for coming back in the second set. They were within a couple of points of pulling the comeback off."
And in the third doubles flight, Haverkampf and Thiel split their matches on the day. In their first match Thiel/Haverkampf started with a three-set win over Wisconsin Rapids. The Hodag seniors battled to a 7-5 win over Sophia Wardour and Kiara Coombs before dropping the second set 6-1. Haverkampf/Thiel finished strong to close the three-set match 6-1. In their second match, Thiel/Haverkampf faced top-seed Marshfield and fell in straight sets.
"Izzy and Jaiden (23-7) began the day with one of their usual roller coaster three set wins," noted Heideman. "They ran into the No. 1 seed from Marshfield. They responded with their best effort of the season. They were moving well with energy but Marshfield was just too athletic and ran down a lot of shots."
Despite only advancing only one flight to the WIAA sectionals, the Rhinelander girls tennis team had another successful season. The Hodags were able to clench their ninth GNC title in the past 10 season to edge Antigo and sent six flights to the championships matches. The Hodags lose six senior to graduation for next season and will return four varsity starters.
"Their was plenty of sting in that yesterday but I hope they can focus on what they accomplished this year," Heideman said. "They will be sorely missed and that hole will be very very very hard to fill."
For the ninth time in the past 10 seasons, the Rhinelander High School girls' tennis team won the Great Northern Conference title. This season the Hodags finished top three in all seven flights including three first place finishes in singles action. RHS finished with 125 total conference points to edge Antigo by 18 points on Saturday at the RHS Tennis Courts.
Rhinelander would hold a 10-point lead over the Robins going into the GNC tournament and would add another eight points and would defeat Antigo 33-25 on the day. RHS even was able to clench the title before the final round of play with the help of Antigo being upset in the first round at No. 1 doubles. The Hodags would end up making it to the championship match in six flights on the day.
Becky Larrain of Wausau Newman would win singles' player of the year honors after a straight set win over Avery Nicholson (Antigo) at No. 1 singles. And Marissa Stolt and Ella Schroeder of Pacelli won doubles play of the year after beating Rhinelander seniors Alex Oestreich and Jackie Wells in a three-setter in the finals. Coach Bob Heidman also won GNC coach of the year.
At No. 2 singles, senior Kenedy Van Zile would cruise to her third straight GNC title after three straight sets wins on the day. Van Zile beat Antigo’s Ellie Kelly 7-5, 6-3 in the championship match. Sophomore Kaylee Pontell also joined Van Zile as conference champion at No. 3 singles, where she made short work of Margo Kelly of Antigo and won 6-4, 6-1 in the title match.
While Rhinelander got a third conference title at No. 4 singles from junior Kat Metropulos. In the finals Metropulos faced Antigo's Brechlyn Flannery and would make a statement with a 6-4, 7-6 (6) win this time around. On September 13th, Flannery rallied back from being down to steal a three-setter from Metropulos, but would be stopped with the title on the line.
Sophomore Annika Johnson at the top singles flight for Rhinelander finished third overall. Johnson would fall 4-6, 2-6 to Nicholson of Antigo before rallying back to sweep Kiah Gauthier (Lakeland) 6-0, 6-0 for the third-place match.
Despite going 21-0 in doubles matches in conference duals this season, and earning the top flight in all three flights, RHS was unable to match their seeds and fell and all the championship matches.
The Hodags were looking to wrap up play of the year honors, but were stopped short at No. 1 doubles. Wells and Oestreich dropped the first set 6-2 in the finals to M. Stolt and Schroeder of Pacelli. But Oestreich/Wells battled back to force a third by winning 7-3. And in the final set the senior Hodags would take a 4-2 before Pacelli rallied back to win the final three games and win the match and finish with player of the year honors at the top doubles flight.
Rhinelander's second and third doubles flights also made it the championship match, but would come up short to finish runner-up. Lisa White and Kathryn Borski at No. 2 doubles would fall 6-1, 6-4 to Brooke Sommer and Kailee Mann of Medford. The Raider duo also knocked out Antigo in the semifinal match, and they were able to win the GNC title.
And at No. 3 doubles seniors Izzy Haverkampf and Jaiden Thiel were up 6-4 in the first set of the finals against Elli Stank and Ellie Preboski of Antigo. But couldn't keep the momentum going, as Preboski/Stank won the second set 7-6 (1) to force the tie break and would close the set 6-0 for the title.
The RHS will now shift their focus on the WIAA Division 1 subsectional that will be held on Monday, October 7th in Stevens Point. The Hodags and Robins will join all the Wisconsin Valley Conference teams in the subsectionals that includes, Wausau East, Wausau West, Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, Marshield, Merrill, and D.C. Everest. Rhinelander faced all their subsectional opponents this season and went 7-1 against them in duals with their only loss coming in the beginning of the season against Wausau West (3-4).
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