News and notes from the first days of practice for the Rhinelander High School volleyball and cross country teams. Both teams started practice on Monday.
Volleyball: Kathy's back, freshman numbers high
A familiar face is leading practice for the Rhinelander High School volleyball team.
Kathy Wawrzynowicz is back at the helm after taking a brief leave of absence last fall to attend to a personal family matter. The start of practice is always a special time for coaches, but for Wawrzynowicz this year it's even more so.
"Actually, I wanted to start in the beginning of June with the girls," she said. "We ran a bunch of open gyms and stuff and I'm just real excited to be back. It's a great group of girls to work with and, even though I was around last year, I really missed being in the gym full-time and working with them."
Wawrzynowicz and her coaching staff will have plenty of girls to evaluate as the season begins, including one of the largest freshman classes in recent memory.
"We have a great group right now," she said. "I've got 56 girls in the gym, a couple were gone today. Freshmen is a huge number, which is great. I love to see them out and hopefully we can get two teams going with them, just to help improve their skills."
The freshmen have a new coach, Gretta Layman, and will soon have another coach as the Rhinelander school board approved another coaching position, given the high number of freshmen entering the program.
Wawrzynowicz said the team will focus on skill work, passing and communication during the first week of practice. The Hodags will scrimmage on Saturday at Merrill, where Wawrzynowicz said she will get a stronger sense of which players will fill out her varsity roster.
The varsity kicks off the regular season Aug. 28 with a two-day tournament at Wisconsin Dells.
Cross country: Strong numbers, equal distances
Coach M.J. Laggis said he pleased with the turnout for the RHS cross country practice Tuesday. The team trained on the fields at the Nicolet College campus.
"We have about 30-plus kids and more girls this year so that's really a good thing," he said. "I think kids know a little bit more about what to expect and, like any sport, it's a fine line between keeping everything fun and active and kids engaged, but still working hard and making (technical) improvements so they improve on their race times."
Laggis said he's seen a mix of skill and fitness levels so far at practice.
"Like any sport, you've got varying levels," he said. "You've got kids that were running 5K and I saw them over the summer and getting mileage in and doing morning workouts. Then you've got other kids who are a little bit behind and doing other things - traveling, working or whatever. That's always a challenge as a coach. You've got kids coming in at different skill levels and, in this case, different levels of conditioning. We've got to try to get everyone up to speed, try to make practice competitive and get kids to understand that a coach just doesn't randomly decide who (will be on varsity). It's really just what your time is. They all have a chance to earn that spot with that time. That's the great thing about this sport."
A major change at the high school level this year involves the distance of races. Over the winter, the WIAA Board of Control added an extra 1,000 meters to the girls' competition in the WIAA tournament series, making it a 5-kilometer competition - the same distance the boys run. Some regular season meets will make the switch to a 5K as well in preparation for the tournament, a change Laggis said was long overdue.
"I'm only in my second year of cross country but, to me, saying girls can't run the same distance as guys really bothers me," he said. "I'm glad to see it's equal because they are equal and it's a great opportunity for the girls to run the same courses. It makes setting up races easier. It's the way it should be. I'm very happy they did this."
Rhinelander will travel to Lakeland for an invite on Tuesday and host the Hodag Invitational at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 28.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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