Rhinelander High School girls’ tennis coach Bob Heideman shrugs his shoulders while addressing his varsity players during practice at the RHS tennis courts Wednesday, Aug. 9. After winning seven straight Great Northern Conference titles, Heideman said he’s not sure how this year will play out, considering the number of seniors who graduated from last year’s Hodag squad. “It’s going to be very close,” he said regarding this year’s conference race. (Photos by Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Belinda Weddle hits a return during Rhinelander High School girls’ tennis practice at the RHS tennis courts Wednesday, Aug. 9. Weddle, the two-time defending Great Northern Conference No. 3 singles champion, will likely ascend to No. 1 singles this season following the graduation of top singles players from last year, Ivy Packard and Kristina Jacobson.
Date Opponent/Event Time
8/12 Wausau West (scrimmage) 9 a.m.
8/14 Wausau West Invite 9 a.m.
8/15 Wausau West Invite 9 a.m.
8/17 at Marshfield Columbus* (doubleheader) 2 p.m.
8/18 Hodag Quadrangular 9 a.m.
8/22 Medford* 5 p.m.
8/24 Phillips* 5 p.m.
8/29 at Lakeland* 5 p.m.
8/31 Antigo* 5 p.m.
9/2 GB Southwest Invite 9 a.m.
9/5 at Antigo* 5 p.m.
9/7 at Medford* 5 p.m.
9/12 at Phillips* 5 p.m.
9/14 Lakeland 5 p.m.
9/23 GNC Meet at Antigo 9 a.m.
9/26 D.C. Everest 4:30 p.m.
TBD WIAA Subsectionals at Wisconsin Rapids TBD
10/4 WIAA Sectionals at Wausau West 9 a.m.
* Conference matches
8/12/2017 7:30:00 AM Team Preview: RHS girls' tennis Young Hodag roster seeks to reload, claim 8th GNC title
The Rhinelander High School girls' tennis team has dominated the Great Northern Conference since crashing the party in 2010. The Hodags have won every conference championship - most in dominating fashion - and have registered only two conference dual meet losses in that span.
But major question marks surround the Hodags' quest for an eighth-straight GNC title - a feat that only Lakeland boys' cross country and Mosinee softball can boast.
The Hodags graduated seven seniors from last year's championship team, including all six of the players who were in the Nos. 1 and 2 flights at singles and doubles.
"I don't think this is an earth-shattering observation, but it's going to be very close," Hodag tennis coach Bob Heideman said of this fall's conference race.
Not that Heideman is counting his team out by any stretch of imagination, but for the Hodags to win another conference title, the few holdovers from last year's team will need to assume much larger roles, and a core of underclassmen will have to fill some big shoes.
In singles, the Hodags graduated their top two players - Ivy Packard and Kristina Jacobson - but bring back senior Belinda Weddle, who was the conference champion in the third flight each of the last two seasons. Rhinelander also returns last year's conference runner-up at No. 4 singles, sophomore Alex Oestreich. Both will have much larger roles to fill as Rhinelander's presumptive No. 1 and 2 singles players to start the season.
"I think Belinda has an idea of what she might be in for at No. 1. I think Alex is going to have to see what No. 2 is like," Heideman said, noting that Oestreich is hitting the ball much harder than she did last season following a summer of work on her stroke.
In doubles, the Hodags graduated No. 1 tandem Ali Schickert and Erica Counter, along with their No. 2 team of Katie Krueger and Hannah Stroede.
Senior Livi Roberts and junior Haley Seefeldt are back after taking the conference title in the third flight a season ago and are likely to figure into the starting lineup somewhere.
"After that, it's new and, gosh, who knows," Heideman said, adding other players in the mix for the remaining varsity spots include juniors Savannah Chartier, Alexis Pyrchalla and Emma Roberts, along with sophomores Izzy Haverkampf, Madi Losch, Jaiden Thiel, Kenedy Van Zile, Jackie Wells and Lisa White.
The Hodags have been trying to solve the lineup puzzle during the first four days of practice. Today's scrimmage against Wausau West at the RHS tennis courts should help provide some clarity.
Rhinelander hasn't had a roster with this many question marks since 2013, when last year's group of outgoing seniors were incoming freshmen. The Hodags won all six matches they played in the opening week and went on to beat Antigo by 43 points for the conference title that season.
Heideman is hoping for an equally hot start for this year's team.
"If those matches had gone different, it might have been a different script at the end too," Heideman said, looking back at 2013. "We're hoping that we'll do well and build from there."
Competition begins with a two-day invitational at Wausau West Monday and Tuesday, continues with a GNC doubleheader at Marshfield Columbus Thursday and concludes with the annual Hodag Quadrangular against Ashland, Ironwood and Merrill Friday at the RHS tennis courts.
Heideman said he expects Antigo and Lakeland to once again pose the biggest threat to his team's title run. Rhinelander faces Lakeland and Antigo in back-to-back matches Aug. 29 and 31.
"I think they're moving up," Heideman said of Antigo. "I don't know if we're going to be as good as last year, so that looks like it will be an even match. You throw in that Lakeland has a new coach (Tom Oestreich), so you don't know how that's going to turn out."
The GNC meet will be held Sept. 23 in Antigo. Unlike their boys' tennis counterparts, the Rhinelander girls remain in Division 1 this year and will travel to Wisconsin Rapids for subsectional play in early October.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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