In this May 22, 2018 file photo, Rhinelander’s Nick Twite chips onto the green of the par 3 eighth hole at Merrill Golf Club during at WIAA Division 1 regional golf tournament. Twite, a sectional qualifier last season, is one of only two returning starters for the Hodags this spring. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
RHS GOLF SCHEDULE
Date Event Time
4/23 GNC-1 at Tomahawk* 3 p.m.
4/25 GNC-2 at Northland Pines* 3 p.m.
4/30 GNC-3 at Medford* 3 p.m.
5/1 Green Lake Invite 9:30 a.m.
5/2 GNC-4 at Mosinee* 3 p.m.
5/3 HODAG INVITE 9:30 a.m.
5/7 GNC-5 at Lakeland* 3 p.m.
5/10 GNC-5 at RHINELANDER* 3 p.m.
5/11 Merrill Invite 9 a.m.
5/14 GNC-7 at Antigo* 3 p.m.
5/17 GNC Fun Event at Tomahawk 3 p.m.
5/21 WIAA Regionals at Antigo 9 a.m.
5/28 WIAA Sectionals at New Richmond 9 a.m.
* Conference meets | HOME MEETS IN CAPS
4/20/2019 7:30:00 AM Team preview: RHS golf Hampered by weather, Hodag golfers enter season with plenty of unknowns
Coach Adam Schmidt admits he doesn't quite know what he has in terms of talent on this year's Rhinelander High School golf team.
He likely won't find out until the Hodags tee it up in the first Great Northern Conference meet of the season.
Last week's snowstorm has set golf courses in the Northwoods back at least a week, if not more, when it comes to opening day. It also canceled what was to be a non-conference tune-up this past Tuesday at RiverEdge Golf Course in Marshfield.
All told, the Hodags are not scheduled to put a tee in the ground until the GNC opener April 23 at Inshalla Country Club in Tomahawk - or possibly later than that.
"There are a lot of unknowns," Schmidt told the River News earlier this month. "We've got a younger team. There are lots of new kids that are out. Especially with not having them play, potentially, before the first match, it's going to be interesting."
The reason there are a number of holes to fill in the lineup is because last year's squad, which finished fifth in the GNC was headlined by a number of seniors.
The Hodags lost their No. 1 player from a season ago, Zach Olds, who was a steady presence in the Great Northern Conference. He placed in the top 10 in six of the seven GNC matches a season ago with a scoring average of 82.3 strokes per 18 holes.
Rhinelander also graduated Will England, Joseph Schmitz, and Jacob Mahner from the varsity rotation. Schmitz and Mahner traded off playing Rhinelander's fifth varsity position last year while England was Rhinelander's No. 3 player.
That sets the stage for senior Nick Twite to take a leadership role on the team. Though he failed to break 80 in a conference match last year, he still placed 13th overall in the final conference standings and averaged 84.2 strokes per 18 holes.
He broke through with a round of 78 at regionals to qualify for sectionals as an individual, and was in contention for an individual state tournament berth until he was derailed by a second-nine 48 (and round of 86 overall) at Stevens Point Country Club.
"Going through the sectional Nick definitely learned a lot. I talked to him a little bit about that. He definitely wants to fix that a little bit," Schmidt said.
Devon Gaber, who averaged 94.2 per 18 last year, is the only other returning member of the varsity squad and Schmidt said he expects the junior's game to take a step forward this season.
"Devon's definitely been improving every year," he said. "There's a lot of things we expect out of him. I think the older he gets, the stronger he gets, the more confidence he'll have. I think that helps out a lot."
Beyond that, it's a bit of an unknown. Junior Nick Schiek is the only other player with varsity experience, having played Rhinelander's No. 5 spot in the GNC opener at Medford last spring. Harlan Wojtusik, Neil Mathews and Cooper Kovac played in some JV matches for the Hodags last spring and Schmidt said he's interested to see what freshmen Garrett Kulhanek, Koldyn Gechas and Tucker Frederickson bring to the table.
"I've only seen some of the freshmen, like Garrett and Koldyn, last fall," Schmidt noted. "We did a meet and said anyone who wants to come out and play can come out and play. They went out and played pretty good. It will be interesting to find out what they can shoot in a match with a little more stress."
As for what that all means for the team once it gets out on to the golf course, Schmidt said he hopes the team can find a way to match its performance in the GNC from a season ago.
"We have a young team, but to finish middle of the conference - fourth, fifth - would be awesome," he said. "If we could finish in the middle, that would be good for a young team. We only have one senior. We are a pretty young team. It could be a building year. That's OK."
Lakeland, which returns four starters from a squad that won the GNC and placed third at the WIAA Division 2 state meet last season, is the odds-on favorite to repeat as conference champions. Antigo and Mosinee return most of their squads from last season and though Medford graduated its top four players from last year, Schmidt noted that Medford usually has a strong JV program and reloads well under head coach Dave Vaara.
Regardless of what happens, Schmidt said he wants to see improvement from the time the Hodags put the tee in the ground for the first time in competition, until the last putt is holed in WIAA tournament play.
"Definitely improvement from match one and I hope they're all not all in a three-week period. That's what it's going to take," he said.
It might not be a three-week period but, as it stands, Rhinelander is staring at a 29-day stretch from its first match to WIAA regionals, which this year will be hosted by Antigo at Bass Lake Golf Club in Deerbrook.
Rhinelander will play twice at home this year, hosting the Hodag Invite May 3 and the sixth leg of the GNC tournament one week later. Both matches will be played at Northwood Golf Club.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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