Last year Rhinelander and Shawano battled to the finish in last year's Great Northern Conference boys' swimming championship. The two teams met again Tuesday in this year's GNC opener with different results.
The Hawks took eight of the 11 events to defeat Rhinelander 109-61 in Shawano.
Rhinelander and Shawano finished 1-2 in the conference last year, with Rhinelander edging out Shawano by nine points for the title. Both teams experienced plenty of turnover from last year, but the Hawks' depth proved to be greater than the Hodags.
"Shawano's team is a little bit bigger than ours, but they have a lot of new guys as well. We had some really good swims," noted Rhinelander High School boys' swim coach Amber Laggis. "We're a pretty small team this year and we were down two guys. We didn't have Kreig Padley or Sam Hurlburt. They would have helped us out in the lineup for sure."
Rhinelander's top returning swimmers factored in the team's three victories Monday. Senior Mik Kuczmarski took first in the 50-yard freestyle and sophomore Jake Zalewski won the 100 butterfly. Zalewski and senior Conar Labelle were part of the winning 200 freestyle relay team with Marshall Kieffer and Sam Olson.
Individual runner-up finishes went to freshman Kirby Kuehn (100 backstroke), Zalewski (100 breaststroke), Kuczmarski (500 freestyle) and Labelle (200 freestyle).
The Hodags lost eight swimmers from last year's conference championship team. Laggis said prior to the meet that she planned to rely heavily on the team's returning swimmers. That proved to be the case Tuesday.
"The new guys are working to improve, so I don't have a lot of flexibility in the lineup for those tougher events," Laggis said. "I think as we keep getting better and I have more flexibility with where people are going to swim, we'll definitely do better."
Laggis noted she was pleased with how the rookies performed as a whole.
"I was really pleased with all the new swimmers," she said. "I thought they did a good job. I was pleased overall. Just to see how much we have improved (since) the first few weeks of the season, it's nice to have a meet and see where we stack up."
The Hodags will see Shawano again. The GNC adopted a double round-robin format for the conference dual portion of the schedule this year, meaning every team in the conference will swim every other team twice. The good news for Rhinelander is, like last year, only the results from the GNC meet Feb. 1 at Medford will determine the conference champion.
"I think we'll get better and the next time we swim Shawano it will be a closer meet," Laggis said.
Rhinelander travels to Stevens Point this evening for a non-conference dual meet.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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