In this May 10, 2019 file photo, Nick Twite tees off on the 11th hole at Northwood Golf Club in Rhinelander during a Great Northern Conference golf match. Twite, one of only two seniors on the RHS golf team this spring, finished sixth in the final conference standings. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
6/13/2019 7:31:00 AM Team review: RHS golf Young Hodag squad finishes in middle of GNC pack
With only a couple of starters back from last year's squad, the Rhinelander High School golf team did not quite know what to expect this season, and it didn't get a chance to figure out its lineup in preseason, either.
A number of factors worked against the Hodags this year. A small, young roster and another late spring were the biggest hurdles, but Rhinelander managed to pick up a spot and finish fourth in the Great Northern Conference standings this year. The team also had two all-conference golfers and nearly advanced a golfer to regionals for the second straight year.
'It was a really short season, but a long season," coach Adam Schmidt said last month during the team's banquet. "Having only 10 guys on the team, it was hard. Some of these guys had to miss four days in a row, and they're all good students."
Here are five storylines from the 2019 Hodag golf season.
Wacky weather, again
For the second straight year, the Hodag golf team had its regular season condensed into a four-week window.
Spring came late again to the Northwoods, and several meets were touch and go. The Hodags lost their first two non-conference matches, and the GNC round at Eagle River Golf Course was moved from the second to the final event of the conference season.
The first match of the year was April 23 at Inshalla Country Club in Tomahawk, and that was on a modified nine-hole layout the day before the course opened to the public. The Hodags won their home invite May 3 at Northwood Golf Club - on the course's first day of operation for the season.
"We got to play the majority of our events," Schmidt said. "Every year we're like, 'Oh, the weather, the weather.' But we had only three events canceled. That was kind of a blessing overall."
The one known commodity for the Hodags entering the season was senior Nick Twite and he did not disappoint. Following a trip to the sectionals last year, Twite was one of only five golfers in the GNC to place in the top 10 of all seven conference matches as he placed sixth overall and earned second-team All-GNC honors.
Twite's lowest round was a 76 in the opener at Inshalla and his best finish in conference play was a fourth-place showing at Black River Golf Course in Medford.
Twite was hoping to parlay a good regular season into another sectional berth, but missed out on a playoff for the final qualifying spot by one stroke as he shot 83 at Bass Lake Golf Club. It was Twite's second near miss in three years, after losing a playoff to advance to sectionals two years ago.
The Hodags had only one other senior on the squad, Neil Mathews, who appeared in five of the seven GNC matches. The rest of the lineup was filled by underclassmen, including freshman Kole Gechas who quickly established himself as the No. 2 golfer on the team behind Twite.
Gechas shot 88 to just miss the top 10 in the opener at Inshalla, but was able to crack the top 10 twice with rounds in the 80s at Black River and Eagle River to tie for 12th overall in the conference standings and receive honorable mention.
"That was pretty awesome to have Kole come in as a freshman and earn honorable mention," Schmidt said.
Gechas backed up that regular season performance with a round of 87 in regionals, which finished five strokes out of sectional berth.
Felt like a win
Playing in the GNC against Lakeland this season was much like taking on Larry Bird in a 3-point shooting contest during the prime of the Hall of Famer's career. The question was who's going to finish second.
In the Hodags' case they did it once, tying for the runner-up spot with Antigo at Northwood during the fifth leg of the GNC May 10. Rhinelander added three more third-place finishes as it took fourth overall in the conference standings.
"Tied for second was awesome," Schmidt said following the Northwood match. "Northwood is a hard course. I'm always saying that. The scores are usually higher, but the boys came through. Tied for second this year, I basically consider that a win. Lakeland is just so good. For the rest of the conference, I'd say tied for second was pretty awesome."
Lakeland, which was the WIAA Division 2 state runner-up earlier this month, ran away with the conference title, winning all seven conference matches. The T-Birds swept the top three positions in the final individual conference standings, placed four golfers in the top five and had all five of its varsity golfers finish in the top seven overall.
While the Hodags will lose Twite and Mathews, they are set to return five golfers who played in at least one GNC match this year. Gechas will let that pack, along with seniors-to-be Nick Schiek and Devon Gaber. Junior-to-be Cooper Kovac and sophomore-to-be Garrett Kulhanek also made spot starts for the Hodags and varsity this season.
After regionals, Schmidt said while he'd love to see one of the returning players make a big jump and threaten to break 80 every time out like Twite did this year, if every player is able to shave just a couple of strokes per round next year, it would make a significant difference. Schmidt pointed to Antigo's performance at regionals as an example.
That day, the Red Robins' top four golfers shot rounds of 85, 86, 88 and 89, which was good enough to advance Antigo to the sectional round as a team.
"It just proves if you can shoot mid- to high-80s, maybe throw some low 80s in there, you can go to sectionals," he said. "We probably would have placed second or third in conference, if we could just get four guys to shoot in the 80s."
During the banquet Schmidt said the quickest way for the Hodags to get there is better course management.
"That's something I want you guys to work on over the summer, thinking about keeping the ball in play - hitting more fairways and greens, taking smart chances," Schmidt said.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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