Rhinelander’s Anna Sturzl (18) dribbles around Ashland’s Emma Johnson during a Great Northern Conference girls’ soccer game Tuesday, May 16 at Ponzio Stadium in Ashland. Sturzl scored twice in a 4-1 victory that clinched a sixth-straight Great Northern Conference championship for the Hodags. (Jake Brown/Ashland Daily Press)
5/18/2017 7:30:00 AM Hodags rule GNC again RHS soccer downs Ashland 4-1 to clinch 6th straight conference title
The Rhinelander High School girls' soccer team is proof that lightning can strike more than once. In fact it's now struck six times in a row for the Hodags.
Anna Sturzl and Alayna Franson each scored twice Tuesday as the Hodags clinched their sixth consecutive Great Northern Conference championship with a 4-1 win over Ashland at Ponzio Stadium on the Northland College campus in Ashland.
There was plenty of lightning - literally and figuratively - in Tuesday's match. The Hodags scored three times in a five-minute span midway through the first half to take control of the match and thunderstorms halted the game on three separate occasions in the second half. The third stoppage ended the contest for good in the 83rd minute.
"It was a really nice win for us tonight. We approached the game looking at it as a one-game season - win and you're conference champions, lose and we have to wait to another day," RHS girls' soccer coach Dan Millot said. "The girls played well from the opening whistle in the first half and made things difficult for Ashland."
Rhinelander lit up Ashland in a flash beginning in the 20th minute when Anna Sturzl scored off a Sydney Zettler assist. Alayna Franson got behind the Oredocker defense for a goal in the 23rd minute, and again in the 25th to give the Hodags a commanding 3-0 lead.
"All three goals came within a five- or six-minute period," Millot said. "Alayna, the second and third goals of the first half was simply Alayna beating the defense with well-timed passes. Sydney Zettler and two assists as well tonight and Anna Sturzl had her two goals. The people up top did their job."
Sturzl scored once more in the 79th minute. Ashland's score came in the 58th minute on a own goal as a shot into the box deflected off a Rhinelander player and into the back of the net.
That was the only real blemish for a Hodag defense that kept Ashland speedster Kaylee McPeak in check. Millot credited Lauren Fabich - who's worked her way back into the starting lineup following an early season knee injury - and Albiona Sabani for putting the breaks on the Ashland offense.
"(Fabich) played significant minutes tonight at defensive mid for us and, in exchange of her going into the midfield, Albiona Sabani did a phenomenal job for us back on defense just to neutralize McPeak's speed. She had one heck of a game for us," Millot said.
Rhinelander outshot Ashland 26-5 in the match. The Hodags also finished with an 11-4 edge in shots on goal. Abby Oettinger recorded three saves for the Hodags, all in the second half, including a leaping save on a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box moments before the weather rolled in again.
For the Hodags, the string of dominance in the GNC continues. Rhinelander has lost only one conference game the last six seasons - a home defeat to Ashland last May - and shows few signs of slowing down any time soon.
"It is an accomplishment and I think you have to give a lot of credit to the girls and their confidence in how they play," Millot said. "I think that we continue to have girls that do try to get better, improve and work in the offseason. The one thing nice about our conference championships is that our whole philosophy within the soccer program is that this is a championship for the whole program. It's not a championship for the varsity, the JV or any particular group of individuals. This is a reflection upon our program. We have JV players that push our varsity to be better. We have varsity players pushing varsity. For us to be successful, every piece of the machine needs to do their job. If we can continue to do that, we should continue to have success, but everybody needs to buy into what they need to do to make the entire program better."
The Hodags host Wausau West at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Hanson Lake Soccer Complex as part of the annual Hodag Invitational. It's Rhinelander's only game in the weekend event after another school withdrew from the invite this week. The Hodags close the regular season with home games against Medford, Wausau Newman and Antigo next week. While Millot said the Hodags want to complete a perfect 14-0-0 season in the GNC, one eye will be on getting the team ready for the playoffs mentally and physically.
"We want to stay health for the postseason and we need to make sure as we move into our game Saturday against Wausau West and three games next week that we stay healthy as well," Millot said. "That's going to be my primary concern, is to get a lot of kids playing time in the next four games. You never know when you're going to need them and they've got to perform."
Jeremy Mayo 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