In this Friday, May 3 file photo, Jacob Weddle hits a return during a non-conference boys’ tennis invite at Wausau West High School. Weddle, who entered play Friday with a 9-0 record in the Great Northern Conference at No. 1 singles, leads a Hodag squad that will look to wrap up its sixth straight GNC title today during the conference tournament in Minocqua. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
5/11/2019 7:33:00 AM Hodag netters enter GNC tourney with one hand on the trophy
Rhinelander's commanding position for a sixth straight Great Northern Conference boys' tennis title is not lost on coach Bob Heideman.
When asked if he was concerned about what the team's closest rivals may do with their lineups today at the GNC tournament in Minocqua, he used a Titanic reference.
"They can rearrange the chairs a little bit on the deck, but I think their ship is still going down," he said.
That's because Rhinelander could have the conference title nearly sewn up by the time the teams step on the courts today.
As of deadline, the Hodags held a 14-point lead over second-place Antigo in the conference standings, though they had a chance to stretch that lead to as many as 28 points Friday afternoon, based on a the results of a dual meet at Lakeland which was postponed Thursday due to rain.
With up to another 14 points possible for the Hodags during the seeding meetings, with two points secured for each No. 1 or 2 seed the team receives, and a maximum of 42 points possible at the conference tournament, the numbers are exceedingly stacked in the Hodags' favor.
Rhinelander was 9-0 in league play entering Friday's dual at Lakeland.
"I would say that we're in a commanding position," Heideman said.
Complicating matters slightly entering today is, due to Mother Nature, not everyone has finished the dual meet portion of the schedule. Medford, Pacelli, Lakeland and Wausau Newman will each have two conference make-up duals to try to squeeze in next week. Medford enters the day in a virtual tie with Antigo because each have the same number of individual conference losses. Heideman said, given which teams are involved, the impact the missing matches will have on this morning's seeding meeting.
Heideman said he feels confident about the Hodags' chances for top seeds in four, or perhaps five flights. Jacob Weddle is undefeated at No. 1 singles in conference play, ditto Ian Conkey and No. 4 singles, Connor Young and Logan Oestreich at No. 1 doubles and Bridger Flory and Billy Berwig at No. 3 doubles.
After dropping their first match in conference play, Rhinelander's freshman No. 2 doubles tandem of Luke Ring and Elijah Evers have run the table in conference play, giving them a shot at the No. 1 seed in that flight as well. Their lone loss came to Pacelli's Ben Kroening and Andrew Pisarski, in what was the only match the Pacelli pair played at No. 2 doubles back on April 4.
"A little debate at No. 2 doubles, given that they lost that first match at Pacelli, but I haven't checked how many times (Pacelli coach Joyce Krusa) has played that team," Heideman said.
Entering the season, the Great Northern Conference race figured to be wide open, given that Rhinelander graduated half of its starters from last year, and that a number of other GNC squad were hit hard by graduation. Heideman said four factors have attributed his team's commanding conference lead.
"I think that Jacob played a notch better. Jumping from No. 3 to 1 (singles) is a big jump and playing the way he has, it's a notch better than I anticipated," he said. "Ian Conkey is a notch better than I anticipated. No. 2 doubles is a notch better than I anticipated and then I think the fact that we got Bridger (back, after taking his junior year off) has made a huge difference."
Though the overall conference title appears to be a foregone conclusion, the Hodags still have plenty to play for today. Individual conference titles are on the line and with Antigo, Lakeland and Pacelli in the same subsectional as Rhinelander, there are some postseason seeding implications as well.
"In terms of a the subs, at a given position if they were to beat us, that would have a lot of consequences. It may not hurt us in conference so much but hurt us down the road," Heideman said.
Young and Oestreich will each be trying to win their third individual GNC titles today, though their first together as a doubles team.
Weddle and Wisner look to win conference titles for the second straight year after winning championships at Nos. 3 and 4 singles, respectively last year. Benoy could also win his second individual conference title after taking the No. 4 singles crown in 2017.
Today's GNC tournament is slated to get underway at 9 a.m. at Lakeland Union High School.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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