The Rhinelander High School boys' tennis team appears to be on its way to another Great Northern Conference title.
The Hodags locked up first place in the conference heading into Saturday's tournament with a 5-2 win at Antigo Monday, followed by a 7-0 home victory Tuesday against Lakeland.
The wins gave Rhinelander a 14-point lead over Antigo in the conference standings. The Hodags could potentially double that lead this afternoon with a rematch at Lakeland.
Rhinelander 5, Antigo 2
Antigo, whose lone GNC losses of the season have come against the Hodags, threw a Hail Mary Monday trying to keep pace with the Hodags.
The Red Robins loaded their singles lineup. While it produced one more victory for Antigo than the first go around the Hodags scored an easy sweep in doubles and took the dual, 5-2.
Antigo moved its three best doubles players into singles, dropping Jared McFarlane, who played No. 1 singles in the first meeting with the Hodags, to the No. 4 slot in the singles lineup.
McFarlane didn't find the going much easier in the fourth flight as senior Ian Conkey pulled out a 6-3, 6-4 win.
"Much to Ian's credit he stayed within his game and forced Jared into a lot of errors and ground out the match," Heideman said. "It was Ian's biggest win of the season."
Rhinelander also got a win in the top flight as Jacob Weddle rallied from behind to take a three-set match from Antigo's Brody Bunnell 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
"A telling indiction of where Jacob is as a tennis player is the fact that throughout the season he has not lost to a player of equal skills," Heideman said. "He has consistently beaten players he should beat, pulled out the close ones against equals and lost to his betters. The key is time after time winning those close ones."
Antigo's wins came at Nos. 2 and 3 singles. Joe Bartletti defeated Russell Benoy 6-0, 6-4 in the second flight and Garrett Husnick was a 7-6, 6-2 winner over Freddy Wisner in the third flight.
Doubles went in relatively short order for the Hodags. Connor Young and Logan Oestreich were 6-2, 6-0 winners over Brett Farmer and Calvin Jansen; Luke Ring and Elijah Evers defeated Sam Bretl and Simon McPhail 6-2, 6-4 and Bridger Flory and Billy Berwig downed Jerome Jones, 6-4, 6-1.
"Connor, Logan, Luke, Elijah, Bridger and Billy handled their doubles in quick fashion which set the stage for the longer singles matches," Heideman said.
Rhinelander 7, Lakeland 0
All but one match went quickly for the Hodags, who swept the T-Birds Tuesday at the RHS tennis courts.
The marathon match was at No. 1 doubles where Young and Oestreich won a second-set tiebreaker to stave off defeat and then rallied to defeat Lakeland's Anthony Holmes and Zach Kane 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.
"Connor and Logan played a Lakeland team that loved to lob and they could get a lot of balls back," Heideman said. "That took away our aggressiveness. The No. 1 doubles team stuck at it long enough to pull out a three-set win. I give them credit. They weren't playing their best, and mentally they had to get through their mistakes. It helped that they closed the net better and hit with more pace as the match went on."
Rhinelander dropped a total of five games in the remaining six matches. Wisner was the only one to drop a game in singles for the Hodags. Weddle, Benoy, Wisner and Conkey earned the sweep for the Hodags. Conkey had a golden first set in his 6-0, 6-0 win over Zander Amershek at No. 4 singles.
"He scored the first 24 points of the match, very rare," Heideman said. "In my first 35 years we never had a golden set. This is the second this year. You've got to be playing a high level of tennis to achieve it. Congratulations to Ian."
Weddle had Rhinelander's other golden set this year in a win April 16 over Wausau Newman.
Heideman noted that Benoy and Wisner had nice bounce-back wins following losses at Antigo Monday.
With every individual win today in the rematch against the Thunderbirds, Rhinelander will pad its GNC lead heading into Saturday's conference tournament. Should Rhinelander sweep the matches and build a 28-point conference lead, it could effectively clinch the conference title prior to playing a single match at Saturday's GNC meet, provided the Hodags receive a No. 1 or 2 seed in every flight.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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