TOMAHAWK - Miserable weather and illness appeared to hamper the Rhinelander High School cross country team as it finished toward the back of the pack Saturday in the Hatchet Invite at Edgewater Country Club in Tomahawk.
The Hodags finished seventh out of 10 teams on the girls' side and eighth of 11 teams in the boys' division.
Steady rain, breezy conditions and a race-time temperature of around 60 degrees greeted the runners on Saturday.
"It was the same for everyone though and that's what we just talked about," coach M.J. Laggis said afterward. "Everyone ran in the same conditions. That's the mental part of running ... The wind was kicking up, driving rain at points and just a lot of water on the course. You get tougher when you go through that."
Daniel Ritchie became visibly ill less than 300 meters from the finish line and walked the rest of the way, finishing 56th in a field of 70 varsity runners. Valerie Dalka finished 42nd on the girls' side despite coughing most of the way down the final stretch.
"We've had stuff going around," Laggis said, referring to the team's overall health.
Hodag senior Alayna Franson was the first bridesmaid for the fifth time this season, finishing runner-up to Lakeland's Ashley Peterson. Franson stalked Peterson in the opening mile, but the Lakeland sophomore opened up a gap in the second mile, and poured it on down the stretch. Peterson finished in a time of 19 minutes, 12.39 seconds, nearly 44 seconds ahead of Franson (19:56.12).
"We really thought that the girls would be a clear two-horse race and it was," Laggis said. "Credit to Ashley, what a great finish and what a great runner. Alayna was right there. Those are just two top-level runners. Ashley had a great race but I don't want to minimize what Alayna's doing. She's running her guts out and she's going to keep getting better right to the end."
Anna Sturzl also cracked the top 10 for the Hodag girls, placing eighth (21:12.49).
"Anna really shows herself in the last quarter of a race," Laggis said. "I don't think she's the best I've ever seen her in the last part today, but definitely strong and she needs to carry that to the conference meet."
Abbie Henrichs (34th, 23:04.90), Dalka (23:46.99) Allie Fugle (53rd, 24:31.11) and Jenna Younker (54th, 24:40.83) rounded out the varsity contingent for the Hodag girls.
Markus Johnson again paced the Hodag boys, placing 13th with a time of 18:10.72.
Sophomore Abe Laggis (41st, 19:27.76) and freshman JC Adams (44th, 19:29.67) were the next runners across the line for Rhinelander.
"Markus, again he finished and picked up a couple of spots at the end," M.J. Laggis noted. "Abe and JC Adams, they were tough today. They have their better races. That's exactly what we were hoping those guys could bring to the table here by the end of the year."
Jacob Weddle (49th, 19:51.99), Ritchie (20:35.72), Mathew Herman (60th, 21:01.72) and Levi Smith (64th (21:48.12) rounded out the Hodag varsity.
Rhinelander returns to action this coming Saturday in the Great Northern Conference meet at Northland Pines High School in Eagle River.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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