For the second straight year Ashland has knocked Rhinelander down in the Great Northern Conference title race. The good news for the Hodags is, unlike last year, Tuesday's loss was not a knockout blow.
The Oredockers scored once in each half to defeat Rhinelander 2-0 at Ashland High School and lock up the No. 1 seed in the GNC in the process following the first round of play.
"We didn't generate a lot of offense in the second half. We had multiple crossing opportunities but we just couldn't finish," Rhinelander coach Richard Kotula said. "That's something we recognized after the game. This was a difficult team to play and we just didn't play the type of game we're accustomed to. That's got to change next time when we play them at home."
That's the silver lining for the Hodags this year. Unlike last season, when weather trimmed the GNC season to a seven-game slate and Ashland defeated the Hodags 1-0 in Rhinelander to essentially lock up the GNC crown, Rhinelander will get one more crack at Ashland during the GNC tournament and can still earn at least a share of the conference title, should it win its final four games.
"We know there is still hope," Kotula said. "Unfortunately, we don't control it. Ashland has the control now of the conference. Going forward, we just need to start winning. When we see Ashland again we'd like to show the fans and the parents, in a home environment, that we can play this game better than what we had done today."
Ashland took the lead in the 38th minute as Alex Pieterek got behind the defense on a breakaway. Goalkeeper Kahlie Arneson came out to challenge the play, but couldn't get to the ball fast enough and Pieterek dribbled around her for the game's first score.
"The first goal was a miscommunication between the goalkeeper Kahlie and myself," Kotula said. "We were hoping to get to the ball first before they did and they just dribbled around Kahlie. The timing just wasn't right and they scored on an open goal."
The score remained that way until the 70th minute as Maddie Clevette finish a shot from outside the 18.
A Rhinelander team that shut out its previous six opponents could not generate as much pressure on the Oredockers. Shots were 20-8 in favor of Ashland and the Hodags recorded only three shots on goal.
"In the previous games we played, I was very happy with the shots on goal percentage," Kotula said. "Today, the percentage wasn't there. We had some shots, but not a lot on the goal - great opportunities to score multiple times but, unfortunately shots were wide or too high.
"It wasn't our game. Something definitely did not click tonight. The coaching staff and the girls themselves, we were so focused on this game that we perhaps mentally kind of thought about it way too much instead of just playing our own game."
Arneson made 10 saves in the loss for the Hodags, who will close out the first round of Great Northern Conference play this afternoon at home against Wausau Newman. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. at the RHS soccer fields in front of Rhinelander High School.
Second round seeding set
Tuesday's results in GNC play locked in the seeds for the second round of conference play, though some teams are finishing the first round today.
Ashland, Rhinelander, Northland Pines and Lakeland earned the top four seeds and will play each other in the final three games of the GNC season. Both Lakeland and Medford finished 3-3-1 through the first seven games - with the a head-to-head tie. Lakeland earned the No. 4 seed based on a better goal differential. Medford, Mosinee, Wausau Newman and Antigo make up the bottom four of the conference.
Rhinelander will host Lakeland May 14, host Ashland May 16 and travel to Northland Pines May 23.
"Pines, Lakeland and Ashland will be tough opponents," Kotula said. "They played us before so they know our tactics. We're looking forward to all three of them. Especially just having played Ashland, we'd like to play them again and, of course, have a different outcome."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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