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Rhinelander High School girls' basketball coach Mark Jacobson addresses his team at the start of Monday morning's practice at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium. It was Jacobson's first practice as head coach. He takes over for Anita Mattek, who resigned in June. Monday was the first day of practice for high school girls' basketball, boys' swimming and wrestling teams in Wisconsin. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Rhinelander High School girls' basketball coach Mark Jacobson addresses his team at the start of Monday morning's practice at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium. It was Jacobson's first practice as head coach. He takes over for Anita Mattek, who resigned in June. Monday was the first day of practice for high school girls' basketball, boys' swimming and wrestling teams in Wisconsin. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
11/12/2012 10:30:00 AM
Winter practice begins for three more sports

Jeremy Mayo
Sports Editor

Monday marked the start of practice for three more Rhinelander High School winter sports teams. The RHS girls' basketball team began practice with a new coaching staff and without one of its top players. The RHS wrestling team is eager to build on last year's improvement and the RHS boys' swim team is looking for more athletes to help replicate last year's run to the Great Northern Conference championship.

The RHS Alpine/Ski snowboard team, which began its preseason training last week, was busy in the weight room Monday. The team is spending the time before the snow flies building their bodies for competition.

Jacobson's tenure begins for Lady Hodags

The RHS girls' basketball team hit the hardwood bright and early at 5:30 a.m. Monday with new head coach Mark Jacobson at the helm.

Jacobson was the RHS freshman girls' basketball coach before taking over for Anita Mattek, who resigned in June. Jacobson admitted to having some first-practice jitters Monday.

"I'm both excited and nervous at the same time," he said. "It's a big responsibility, but the girls' seem ready to go. We've got eight or nine practices (before our first game) to get everything together and get it moving from there."

Jacobson was named the head coach in August, which did not give him much time to implement his systems for offense and defense.

"We've got a big learning curve in a short amount of time coming up now," he said. "We're going to try to get our offenses and defenses in and go into breakdown drills from there."

Even though his players were on the floor before sunrise Monday, Jacobson said it would likely be the only two-a-day practice session he would run during the preseason.

"As of now, this is the only two-a-day I have planned. We have nine days before our first game, so I felt it necessary to do at least one two-a-day," he said.

Compounding the challenges for the Hodags will be the loss of forward Brianna Jorgensen. The 6-2 senior and two-time All-Great Northern Conference selection, tore her ACL during an open gym in October and will miss the entire 2012-13 season.

"With the loss of someone like Brianna, who scores, we're all going to have to ratchet up our defensive intensity," Jacobson said. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a huge impact on the team, but at the same time injuries are a part of the game. Everybody's going to have to step up. We don't have to have one person replace her, but we're going to need everybody to step up a little more in order to deal with it."

Rhinelander will take part in the "Blow the Whistle on Cancer" tournament Nov. 23 and 24 at D.C. Everest.

Wrestlers seek more aggression

The Hodag grapplers hit the mats Monday afternoon in preparation for their upcoming season. Second-year Hodag head coach Paul Ellenbecker said the anticipation is palpable in the wrestling room.

"I'm real excited," he said. "I know the kids are super excited. When you see the enthusiasm the kids have around the school and around the hallways, it's gets you even more excited, if that's possible. I think our whole town is excited and ready to get after it."

Ellenbecker said his team will focus on the offensive side of wrestling over the next few weeks.

"We've got to get better offensively," he said. "This year, I think we need to pin people more. Last year, we worked on a lot of defense - staying off of our backs. This year, I want to be more aggressive, go after people (and) pin people. As a program, we need to get better on the bottom, getting away and getting some five-point (reversal/near fall combination) moves."

Ellenbecker added several of his athletes have improved their overall fitness over the offseason, which was clearly apparent Monday.

"One of the things I'm most excited about is seeing how physically more ready we are this year," he said. "We have a lot of kids who worked hard and changed their bodies. We're going to matchup with some of the better teams in our conference this year. Physically, we look so much better."

Participation in the sport is also on the rise. Ellenbecker estimated his roster will increase to over 30 student-athletes this winter.

"We had 43 sign up," he said. "I don't anticipate us having 43. We skinfolded around 30 the other night. I think we're going to end up with around 35 kids when it's all said and done. We return a lot of experience, so we're pretty happy with where we are at number-wise."

Rhinelander will open the season Dec. 1 at the John Roberts Duals in Antigo and will jump into the deep-end of the pool Dec. 6 with a trip to perennial Division 1 powerhouse Wisconsin Rapids.

Boys' swim team seeks numbers

The good news is the RHS boys' swim team is the defending Great Northern Conference champion. The bad news, nearly half of last year's championship team is gone and there are not many swimmers in the pipeline to replace them.

That means the Hodags are actively recruiting inside the school for potential new team members. Rhinelander had 12 swimmers show up for Monday's first practice and coach Amber Laggis said there is still time for boys to join, regardless of their past swimming experience.

"A lot of kids don't realize the success they can have swimming," she said. "They think if they haven't been doing it for a long time, they won't do well enough to contribute. The exact opposite is what's true. Even if you are a halfway decent athlete and can swim, we're going to help you improve and you are going to be amazed how much you improve. I guarantee that in a lot of meets, you are going to score some varsity points for the team."

The team was able to recruit some more swimmers in the offseason. Laggis said only a handful of swimmers were on the team last year. The rest are either freshmen or first-year swimmers.

"I'm was worried that our numbers were going to be really, really low," she said. "It would be nice, still, if we could get a couple more boys out. At least, for right now, once everybody starts swimming, we'll be able to fill a lineup. Some of the tougher events, it's going to be a little more challenging, but I'm hopeful with the number that we have."

The team only has a handful of practices before it jumps right into the Great Northern Conference schedule Nov. 27 at Shawano. Laggis said the team will spend that time giving the rookies a crash course on swimming while rounding the returning swimmers into form.

"We're definitely going to be working on all of the strokes, starts and turns for sure," she said. "We'll be getting the returning swimmers back in shape and helping them get confidence in the water."

Dry land training under way for Alpine skiers/snowboarders

As a non-sanctioned sport, the RHS Alpine ski/snowboard team is not bound to a specific start date mandated by the WIAA.

The team began dry land training - consisting of exercises in and out of the weight room - last week and is practicing every other day this week.

"Basically the first couple days of dry land, we just looked at where the kids were, athletically," coach Rod Olson said. "We're trying to see what goals we had to reach as individuals and as a team. We did a lot of stuff where I was testing that. (Monday) was our first workout where we were just building a base with some aerobic stuff. Wednesday we started heavier training and started to specialize (training for skiers and snowboarders)."

Olson said he was pleased with where his team stands at the start of the season, from an athletic standpoint.

"I think they're doing pretty good," he said. "A coach's ideals and a kid's reality are usually two worlds apart. It's never enough for us, but that's why we're here to help them. Some of them were in a fall sport, so that helped. We've got a lot of work to do, but as far as the kids' work ethic and accountability, it's pretty good."

Olson noted that the numbers for his team are solid again.

"Numbers are really good. We've got 31 to 32 consistently," he said. "I don't know where we'll be a month from now, but usually if they make it through the first week and a half, they'll stick around."

Above all, Mother Nature mandates when the team can practice. Olson said the team's home hill, Ski Brule in Iron River, Mich., has one run open, but November weather can always throw a curveball, as was the case Sunday when steady rains and a temperature in the mid-50s blanketed the Northwoods.

The team's first scheduled training trip to Ski Brule is Dec. 1. In the meantime, Olson said the trick is to do enough training to prepare for the season, but not too much to wear on the team.

"We try to space it out and do a little video (of racing technique), but we try not to do too much video too soon because it does not pertain to anything until we actually get on the snow," he said. "It's hard to manage sometimes, with the weather, but once we hit Dec. 1, we'll be doing all right."

The team has plenty of time to prepare for competition. The team will train at Brule on weekends through the month of December. Its first competition will be Jan. 8 at Indianhead Mountain in Wakefield, Mich.

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012
Article comment by: Dave Dart

Good luck to Coach Jacobson and the lady Hodags this season and in the future. This is a program with a bright future. Go Hodags!

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