Senior Isaac Wendt is one of several returning runners for the Rhinelander High School boys’ cross country team this fall. The Hodags open their season Aug. 26 in the Ted Voigt Invitational, hosted by Lakeland at Minocqua Winter Park. (File photo by Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Date Event Time
8/26 Lakeland Invite 4:30 p.m.
8/28 HODAG INVITIE 10 a.m.
9/2 Mosinee Invite 5 p.m.
9/9 Wittenberg-Birnamwood Invite 4:45 p.m.
9/16 D.C. Everest Invite 4:30 p.m.
9/20 Bill Smiley Invite at Wausau 8:30 a.m.
9/25 Three Lakes Invite 4 p.m.
10/4 Merrill Invite 9 a.m.
10/7 Northland Pines Invite 4 p.m.
10/11 Tomahawk Invite 10 a.m.
1018 GNC Meet at Lakeland 10 a.m.
TBD WIAA Sectionals at Wausau West TBD
8/22/2014 3:50:00 PM Team Preview: RHS cross country Cross country runners in competition for top spots
If early practices are any indication, it's going to be a very interesting season for the 2014 Rhinelander High School cross country team.
After a 2013 season that saw many young runners thrust into important roles, this year's group is poised to benefit from that extra experience.
Head coach M.J. Laggis is entering his second season at the helm of the program. He said last year was on-the-job training, but now he has a much better understanding of what it's going to take to succeed.
"The whole deal is trying to get the kids in good shape and ready to run races," he said. "We want them to peak at the right time of year. Last year, there was some trial and error to figure out what the best strategy is for pre-race workouts and post-race workouts. We need to know when to run them hard and when to ease off so they peak at the right time. We toyed around with that and that's our goal. We want to improve our speed and peak at the time of regionals and sectionals."
On the boys' side, last year's senior standouts Sam O'Melia and Lou Bassette have graduated from the program and have left some varsity spots wide open. So far in the 2014 season's infancy, Laggis has been impressed with the amount of parity he's seen. The competition for varsity spots has been too close to call, he said.
"We're really a different looking team this year," he said. "We have some new faces and some old faces as well. On the boys' side, there's a lot of unknowns."
"Over our workouts in the last two days, I don't know if I could give you our top five runners," Laggis added. "They're all over the place. There seems to be a good amount of depth and the guys are pushing each other. It's really up in the air and wide open."
Although it's still early, Laggis said several runners on the boys' side have already made an impact.
"Issac Wendt is a really strong returning runner," he said. "Tyler Kolasa looks really good. He found himself in that variety role around the middle of last season. Brendan McGuire is playing both soccer and cross country. We won't have him full-time but he's looked really strong at practice as well. Kurt Zuiker is another guy. He ran JV all last year, but at the conference meet, he had a good enough time to qualify for sectionals. There's a lot of good competition."
The story on the girls' side of the ledger is much the same.
"On the girls' side, we have that same type of feeling," Laggis said. "The incoming freshmen have looked really nice at practice. Maddie Meyer is someone I haven't watched run very much, but has really impressed me over the last couple days. Alexa Paddock and Cheyenne Stafford have been excellent. Amelia Fehlen is returning and she's been impressive. I think you're going to see that same type of fluctuating lineup on both sides this year."
That fluctuation is something that surprised Laggis during his first year coaching cross country. He was expecting to identify his top runners and run them all season, but he soon found that's not the case.
"I'm not counting anyone out," he said. "One thing I learned last year was that you can have a kid that you think is going to run JV all year, and then all of a sudden he breaks out. That's what Tyler Kolasa did last year. He came out of nowhere and emerged."
This year, a WIAA rule change has increased the previous girls' distance from 4-kilometers to 5-kilometers, matching the boys' distance. Laggis supports the change.
"It's going to have a big effect," he said. "At our home meet on the 28th, we're still running the 4K. That's the old distance. In some of the earlier meets, coaches have requested we keep the girls at that distance so we can ease them into the season with what we know. By midseason though, they'll be running the boys' distance and that's great. I'm excited for the girls and we'll get them ready. I think it's a mental thing more than anything."
The cross country team will kick off its 2014 season Tuesday at the Ted Voigt Invite hosted by Lakeland Union High School at Minocqua Winter Park.
Rhinelander will host the Hodag Invite on Aug. 28. Ten teams are slated to take part in the event, which will begin at 10 a.m. in front of Rhinelander High School.
By the time those races ends, Laggis should have a better understanding of what he has, but even then, the parity will likely continue throughout the year. That means tough, competitive practices and, hopefully, fast times.
Andy Hildebrand may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce