The Rhinelander High School boys’ tennis team raises the Great Northern Conference championship trophy following the GNC tournament at Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua Saturday, May 11. The Hodags had a record day, scoring 40 out of a possible 42 points in the tournament and clinching the GNC title with a record-setting score of 162 points. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Jacob Weddle serves during the No. 1 singles championship match against Antigo’s Brody Bunnell during the Great Northern Conference tournament at Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua Saturday, May 11.
5/14/2019 7:30:00 AM Simply the best Rhinelander boys' tennis sets GNC scoring record en route to sixth straight championship
MINOCQUA - The Rhinelander High School boys' tennis team has set the Great Northern Conference's single season scoring record, but the Hodags certainly had to work for it.
Virtually every close match went Rhinelander's way Saturday as the Hodags won the GNC tournament at Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua, wrapping up the team's sixth straight GNC title in the process.
The Hodags did so in record fashion, taking conference titles in six of the seven flights - and finishing runner-up in the other - to score 40 points on the day, besting the conference tournament mark of 38 points set in last year's conference romp. The 162 points the Hodags scored overall this season are also a conference record.
"As a team we did what we needed to do today," said Hodag senior Logan Oestreich who won the conference No. 1 doubles title with teammate Connor Young. "We got 40 points today. We did good as a team today."
Of the 15 matches Rhinelander played Saturday, eight of them required either a 12th game or tiebreaker to decide a set, or a third set to decide the match. Rhinelander won all eight of those matches.
"I think the interesting thing about that is, despite the overall score, there were just a lot of close matches," coach Bob Heideman said. "The conference did not lay down and say Rhinelander's got this clinched and we'll just put in our time and go home. We had to fight and claw the whole day to pull out what we did.
"There were a fair amount of nerves out there today and we really just had to stick in matches as long as we could. We ended up winning. That's the story of the day."
Oestreich and Young took conference doubles player of the year honors, but neither of their matches were easy. The two hit a dry spell in their semifinal match, losing the second set before responding in the third with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 win over Antigo's Jared McFarlane and Brett Farmer.
The senior twosome cruised in the first set of the championship match against Lakeland's Zach Kane and Tony Holmes, taking it 6-2, but found itself behind 5-2 in the second. From there, Young and Oestreich rattled off five straight games to win the match.
Unforced errors were the problem early in the second set, according to Young.
"If the net was an inch lower, we probably would have been just fine," he quipped.
"For them, I thought it was a matter that they played their best tennis when they needed it the most," Heideman said. "That last set, when they were down 5-2, they put some of their best tennis together. That's the game of tennis, playing well at the right time."
Jacob Weddle had perhaps the easiest day of anybody, at least score-wise, on the way to the No. 1 singles title and conference singles player of the year honors. He defeated Pacell's Charlie Kulick 6-0, 6-1 in the semifinals and then knocked off Antigo's Brody Bunnell 6-2, 6-2 in the championship match. Weddle said both matches were a matter of biding his time and waiting for the right moment to come up with a winner.
"The first match I worked hard because he was very consistent," he said. "I had to work a little bit to get a shot I could win the point on. The second one, I played well. I worked the point so I could get a nice shot. I just played very well today. It was a nice feeling."
After winning the No. 3 singles title as a freshman, Weddle now has a more impressive honor on his resume.
"Player of the year in the GNC as a sophomore, what an honor for him," Heideman said. "The guy from Antigo made him win the match. He came to the net and was a good volleyer. Jacob had to hit a lot of shots to do that and was up to the task."
There were hardly any upsets on the day and the ones that did occur were in Rhinelander's favor. Russell Benoy, seeded third in the bracket after going 4-5 during conference dual meet play, knocked off the top two seeds on his way to the No. 2 singles title.
After defeating Lakeland's Zac Muenzner 6-1, 6-1 in the quarterfinals, Benoy upended second-seeded Joe Bartletti of Antigo, 6-2, 6-2 in the semis and Medford's Sterling Reilly, 7-6, 6-3 in the championship match.
"It was a pretty good feeling to beat those guys," Benoy said, adding that things began to click for him this week after struggling with consistency much of the season.
"April and May have not been good for Russell. For him to come away a champion is just a neat thing and we're hoping he can continue this," Heideman said.
Rhinelander had close calls in all the other flights, none more so than No. 2 doubles where the freshman team of Luke Ring and Elijah Evers had to win a pair of three-set matches to take the conference title. Antigo's Simon McPhail and Sam Brett pushed Rhinelander to three sets before the Hodags prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. In the finals against Medford's Tahtankka Damm and Luis Silva, Ring and Evers won the first set in a tiebreaker, dropped the second set 6-0 and were down a break point 5-4 in the third set before rattling off three straight games to take the set and the match, 7-5.
"They played nervous for most of the day, kind of scratching their heads and they're two freshmen - sometimes you forget that," Heideman said. "I think what saves them is their chemistry is so good that they play hard for one another. They don't want to lose for the other guy. That, ultimately, is worth some games in a match. In this case, even though they were playing nervous and they weren't playing well, and they knew it, I never saw them point a finger. They were in it together and they won it together."
Ian Conkey also played a marathon match with Medford on the way to the No. 4 singles title. He beat Logan Searles 7-4 in the first set tiebreaker in the championship and had match point up 5-4 in the second before losing the set 5-7. He responded in the super tiebreaker, scoring the first nine points en route to a 10-1 win.
"I haven't seen Ian that tired. It was just a long, long match," Heideman said of Conkey. "I've talked to (Searles) and they have a mutual respect for each other and I think that he believes he can beat Ian. It was his third try and he gave it everything he had. Ian's hard to beat. He's got a nice combination of shots where he's just hard to beat."
Bridger Flory and Billy Berwig took the No. 3 doubles title for Rhinelander. They got by Medford's Kevin Damm and Cooper Wild, 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals before dispatching Antigo's Ben Morris and Frank McKenna, 6-2, 6-3 in the championship match.
"The difference between a good match and a great match is winning the close ones. We were flawless today on the close matches," Heideman said.
Freddy Wisner was the runner-up for the Hodags at No. 3 singles. He beat Medford's Carson Kleist 6-1, 7-6 in the semifinals before losing to Garrett Husnick of Antigo in the finals, 6-1, 6-1.
"I think the story of Freddy is he didn't play that bad, it's just a bad matchup," Heideman said. "(Husnick's) game against Freddy's game is a bad matchup. Freddy's had a great season so far and second is nothing to hang his head about."
The dominating day should give Rhinelander a boost when several GNC teams return to Lakeland next Monday for WIAA subsectionals.
Rhinelander will close out regular season play today with a non-conference triangular against Ashland and D.C. Everest at the RHS tennis courts.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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