The Rhinelander High School wrestling team will look to have a rebuilding 2018-2019 season after not only losing seven athletes to graduation, but also will have a new head coach after Paul Ellenbecker stepped down at the end of the season. But new coach Nathan Piasecki and the coaching staff are optimistic about the young upcoming squad despite the losses.
Piasecki graduated from Lakeland Union High School and is a former USA Wrestling national champion and will bring plenty of his experience to a solid program Ellenbecker built. Along with Piasecki, the Hodags will also have Jake Hairrell join the coaching staff. Hairrell also wrestled and graduated from LUHS and has plenty of wrestling experience to bring to the table.
The Hodags have big shoes to fill this season, as they lost five grapplers who qualified for the WIAA State Tournament last season; Jacob DeMeyer, Alex Kurtz, Reuben Guzik, Colton Krueger, and Tyler Olson. The other two graduates were Scott Fox and Alex Monk. DeMeyer left Rhinelander's all-time win leader while Kurtz left as the all-tie pin leader, both finished third in their weight class at state.
Rhinelander will have a young varsity lineup this season as they only have one senior on the roster, Eric Grulke. Last season Grulke along with Tim Fox and Walker Hartman all qualified for sectionals and will be back in action. While the Hodags also return all-conference wrestlers Hunter Greyhair and Trevor Knapp.
Fox earned runner-up at 106 pounds at the Great Northern Conference meet as a freshman and is expected to be one of the teams' top returning wrestlers for his sophomore year. While Hartman, Greyhair, and Knapp all placed third last season in the GNC in their weight classes.
The team will look to have a solid squad in the middle and heavyweight classes, but their main holes in their lineup appears to be at 106 and 138 pounds if Fox moves up to 113 this season. RHS will bring in several wrestlers without varsity experience.
Freshman Gavin Osterman comes to the program after several state appearances at the youth level and will look fill in the lower weight lineup. Also they bring in two new wrestlers who both excelled in alternate RHS varsity sports; Hugh Weise and Alex Olson who both show great promise and growth.
Looking ahead to the competition within the GNC, Medford will likely be Rhinelander’s toughest conference opponents. Last season RHS regained the GNC title earning their fourth crown in the past five seasons. While the Raiders bring back a majority of their lineup that finished runner-up at the GNC tournament held in Lakeland.
This season another rival matchup will be against the Thunderbirds when RHS will square of in the inaugural Handrick Hammer. The new tradition trophy is named after Tom Handrick who passed away last spring and longtime assistant coach for both Rhinelander and Lakeland.
The Hodags will kick of their 2018-2019 season on Thursday when they travel to Crandon for a non-conference dual beginning at 7:00PM. RHS will then compete in a tournament at Wausau West on Saturday. RHS will again take part in the Battle of the Bay on Saturday December 8th and will be their final tuneup before their open their GNC schedule. The Hodags will be put to the test early in their season as they host Medford on Thursday, December 13th.