The Rhinelander High School Wrestling under new coach Nathan Piasecki finished in the middle of Great Northern Conference for 2018-2019 season. The Hodags sent eight wrestlers to sectionals but were unable to send anyone back to state after they had five state qualifiers last season. Even with a rebuilding season, RHS had plenty of highlights this season and a lot to look forward to next season.
Starting with a new coach, Piasecki is a Lakeland alumni and 2010 U.S. National Champion and Greco-Roman National champion are just two of his many accomplishments. Piasecki also had plenty of coaching experience including at the collegiate level at Florida Gulf Coast Universal. Jake Hairrell, also a Lakeland alumni joined Piasecki as an assistant coach this season as well.
Rhinelander only had one senior on their roster this season, Eric Grulke and proved to have a young squad with several sophomores and juniors. RHS finished in the middle of the GNC at 2-3, but lost a pair of duals that each came down to the last bout. Rhinelander also had some gaps in this roster this season in their lower/middle classes which results in 11 forfeits.
One of the highlight wins for the Hodags was the inaugural Hammer match against Lakeland at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium, which was also senior night. Grulke had a stellar pin to lead the Hodags to a 45-36 victory over the Thunderbirds. RHS had an early 27-6 lead in the GNC dual but Lakeland went for 30 unanswered points. But the Hodags capped the dual off with three straight pins to secure the win.
"He has shown me he has the will and want to be a true champion," said Coach Nathan Piasecki while honoring Grulke. "He's been through ups and downs this year, but most of them I've seen have been ups. I can't say enough about Eric's character as well; he's a great student and will never say a mean word to you. I wish him great luck the rest of the season, and I expect great things. The sky is the limit for him."
It was a special night for both teams as Handrick assisted coaching both teams in the past. Lakeland alumni and head Coach Nathan Piasecki honored Handrick and Grulke before the match. Handrick unexpectedly passed away last spring. Most of Tom's family was also present at the match, each Hodag wrestler shaking Mrs. Handrick's (Kelly) hand after.
"I have to give Tommy credit for the successes I have had, he was the type of guy that was always there for you, whether up or down," Piasecki said. "He was the greatest cheerleader when you were up and when you were down he always found a positive. I respected Tommy and his hard work and how much of a fan he was of wrestling."
The Hodags finished fifth at the WIAA Division 1 regional in Merrill where they competed against seven Wisconsin Valley opponents. Rhinelander advanced eight of their 11 wrestlers on to sectionals. Sophomore Walker Hartman had the Hodags’ best finish at regionals and placed runner-up at 152 pounds. Tim Fox (106), Grulke (160), Gavin Ostermann (170), Ben Sinclair (182), and Trevor Knapp (220) all placed third to move on. And Hugh Wiese and Connor Lund each finished fourth and earned the final qualifying positions.
The WIAA Division 1 sectional was held in Menominee, where sophomores Hartman and Fox both were only one win shy of advancing to state. Fox fell in a 7-6 decision in the second-place match at 106. While Hartman placed third in a tough 152-pound bracket.
Rhinelander will only lose one wrestler to graduation and will return a core of young wrestlers and will look to send several to state next season and will again push to be at top of the GNC.
The Rhinelander High School wrestling team under head Coach Nathan Piasecki battle through a tough WIAA Division 1 regional against Wisconsin Valley Conference opponents in Merrill on Saturday. The Hodags finished fifth out of eight teams and were able to advance eight of 11 of their wrestlers on to sectionals.
Marshfield won the regional with 237 points followed by Wisconsin Rapids and D.C. Everest. The Hodags in 5th finished with 118 points to edge Wausau West by 0.5 points. Merrill (7th) and Wausau East (8th) rounded out the eight-team regional.
Rhinelander's best finish of the day was from sophomore Walker Hartman who earned runner-up at 152 pounds. Teammates Tim Fox (106), Eric Grulke (160), Gavin Ostermann (170), Ben Sinclair (182), and Trevor Knapp (220) all also moved on for RHS, placing third in their weight classes. And Hugh Wiese and Connor Lund finished in the final qualifying position of fourth place.
The Hodags started the first round strong going 8-2 as a team putting nine wrestlers in the semifinals but would go 1-10 in round two. Rhinelander bounced back in the placement rounds, going 5-5.
One of the strong matches for Rhineander proved to be Hartman’s upset over seventh-ranked Gabe Carter of D.C. Everest. In the semi's Hartman was able to take Carter down and pin him with only 11 seconds left in final period. Eventually Hartman fell to second-ranked Nolan Hertel of Marshfield in the finals to finish runner-up.
Although Fox, Grulke, Ostermannm, Sinclair, and Knapp all won their third-place matches, they eventually were rewarded second by ruling after the wrestlers they lost to were defeated in the championship.
At 195 Lund earned a 4-3 decision in the first around over Fred Van Tiem of Stevens Point after an escape in the third. Lund would then face back-to-back ranked opponents, falling to top-ranked Sam Mitchell of Marshfield and 11th ranked Orion Boe of D.C. Everest. Lund was awarded fourth after Van Tiem made it to the wrestleback to finish fifth.
While Wiese at 113 was awarded fourth in a similar situation as teammate Lundt. Wiese pinned senior Allister Greenings (Wisconsin Rapids) at 4:57 in the first round. Wiese was rewarded fourth after Greening made the wrestleback and finished fifth.
Alex Olson won his first match of the day but fell in his final three matches and finished one position shy of advancing. Will Swanson and Tyler Olson lost both of their regional matches.
The eight Hodag wrestlers will compete in sectionals in Menomonie which will combine the Chippewa Fall and Merrill regionals. The top two in each weight class in sectionals will advance to the WIAA State Tournament February 21st-23rd at the Kohl Center in Madison.
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