The Rhinelander High School softball team is looking to rebuild for the 2019 season after losing several players to graduation. Not only will the Hodags have several voids to fill on the field, but they also will get a late start like most of the spring RHS sports due to the late snow and field conditions. Despite the challenges the Hodags and Coach D.J. DeMeyer are up for the challenges that arise for the upcoming season.
The first official official practice for softball was Monday March, 11th with the earliest scheduled game set for March, 19th. Unfortunately the Hodags have been confined to indoor practices, and have not able to get the field for over a month now. Not only has the weather been an issue but they have a young and small squad for 2019 with only 14 players mainly consisting of juniors and sophomores.
Rhinelander only returns one senior to the lineup after finishing 13-10 last season and 6-6 in the Great Northern Conference with losses to Tomahawk, Lakeland, and Northland Pines. Senior Mikayla Evenstad has been preparing to come back after a knee injury last year. Evenstad started in centerfield for RHS in 2018, but it is still unknown exactly when she will be back in action.
The Hodags lost six seniors off their roster due to graduation, yet only have one incoming freshman out. The biggest questions mark defensively is who will be pitching for Rhinelander after losing both top pitchers Stephanie Kuester and Molly Wagler.
Filling in the circle, Rhinelander has a trio of three juniors looking to step into that position; Alex Oestreich, Sophia McGinnis, and Brylee Ridderbusch. All three juniors have not had varsity experience pitching yet. Last season McGinnis and Ridderbusch both sustained arm injuries and Oestreich primarily pitching on JV. But with the likelihood of doubleheaders due to early cancellations, RHS will need all three to stay healthy and on deck.
Offensively, the Hodags' top returning threat will be junior Ella Mullikin who will return behind the plate. Mullikin had a 0.275 batting average with 11 hits in GNC action that included nine RBI’s and three doubles.
RHS will also return junior Jaiden Thiel and sophomore Worachek but both only played in one GNC contest last year. Thiel missed most of 2018 with an injury. But Rhinelander will need to have some players to step up to fill the shoes at the plate left by sisters Makayla and Stephanie Kuester. Makayla won the GNC triple crown in 2017 but her numbers dropped her senior season after many teams pitch around her. Makayla had 10 GNC hits and two doubles last season while Stephanie hit a 0.439 average that include seven RBI's and one homer.
Looking ahead to the GNC competition, Mosinee is projected to finish at the top of the conference again after advancing to the WIAA D2 state championship game, finishing runner-up to Whitnall. But teams like Tomahawk, Antigo, Medford, Lakeland, and Northland Pines can’t be overlooked. The Hatchets advanced to state in D3 but lost several of their top players including GNC player of the year Rachel Dallman.
The Hodags first nine games of the season have now been postponed or canceled due to the weather and poor field conditions. RHS is slated to host Mosinee at Pioneer Park tomorrow if field conditions allow. From there, Rhinelander will be at Wausau East on Monday for a non-conference contest.