Rhinelander junior-to-be Ella Schiek drives between defenders during a D.C. Everest summer league game against Amherst in Weston Monday, June 10. Now that the Hodags have their first Great Northern Conference championship under their belt the team is preparing for a title defense. Rhinelander has a summer schedule that includes the six-week Everest league and several other showcase tournaments. (Photos by Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Rhinelander’s Kenedy Van Zile, the reigning Great Northern Conference player of the year, drives for a layup during a D.C. Everest summer league game against Amherst in Weston Monday, June 10.
6/13/2019 7:30:00 AM Raring to repeat Lady Hodags begin summer program, prepare to defend GNC title
WESTON - Ever since coach Ryan Clark arrived in Rhinelander, the RHS girls' basketball team has spent its summers trying to improve as it chased an illusive Great Northern Conference championship.
Now that the Hodags have a conference title under their belts, the team is not slowing down.
The summer program for the team got underway Monday with the first round of a six-week league at D.C. Everest High School in Weston. It's part of a list of several games and tournaments the Hodags will take part in this summer as they look to hone their skills for a conference title defense this winter.
"It's nice to be back in the gym. It's nice to be in summer more than anything," Clark said Monday at the D.C. Everest Fieldhouse. "The summer focus is always on player development more than on team and giving these kids opportunities to get better and see how it all shakes out.
"It's competitive. It's competition. Those who take advantage of this usually have the upper hand."
The Hodags have a tough act to follow after going on a 13-game winning streak toward the end of last season before falling to New London in the regional final round of the WIAA tournament. That winning streak included putting the finishing touches on an undefeated GNC season and securing the team's first girls' basketball conference title.
The Hodags will have a number of players back from that squad, including senior-to-be and reigning GNC player of the year Kenedy Van Zile, who averaged nearly 24 points per game a season ago. Clark said Van Zile is leading by example with this squad in the summer.
"I really appreciate her being a player I can count on that's always going to come to everything in the summer," he said. "The summer can be kind of stressful as a coach trying to build a program. Kids are involved in everything, so they're going to be gone a lot. But she's always here. I don't have to worry about her. She will always come and it doesn't matter who she's with, she'll be a good teammate."
In all, Rhinelander had eight players at Monday's league opener. The group was a mix of starters from last year, rotation players, players who split time between varsity and JV and incoming freshmen.
Clark said he expected his team to have good chemistry, though the squad will need to replace the 3-point shooting presence of graduated seniors Brooke Mork and Payton Van Zile. The Hodags may need to find that scoring boost to maintain their conference crow. Clark said he expects Lakeland, Medford and Mosinee - the teams that finished second, third and fourth in the conference last year - to all be improved this season.
The Hodags opened 2-0 in D.C. Everest league play Monday with a 30-26 overtime win over Crandon and a 46-36 win over Amherst.
Down most of the way against the Cardinals - who have beaten Rhinelander in non-conference games each of the last two seasons - the Hodags used a 9-2 run late in the second half to tie the game and then traded points down the stretch with Crandon to force overtime.
Junior-to-be Rebecca Lawrence tied the game at 25 off an offensive rebound. Following a Crandon free throw, Ella Schiek - another junior-to-be - made the second of two free throws with 48.6 seconds left to tie the game again at 26.
Van Zile scored 15 points in the game and made both buckets in the extra session, which was a first to three-point tiebreaker.
"For the first day, I thought it was nice to win," Clark said. "Even though it doesn't matter at all, it was nice for them to scrap to want to win. They were competitive. They battled back. Defensively, they were OK."
Rhinelander ended the first half on a 21-6 run against Amherst to take a 34-23 lead at the break. The Hodags went cold in the second half and the Falcons closed to within six before three straight late baskets put the game out of reach.
Van Zile had 25 in the second game, and 40 points overall for the day. Lawrence finished with 15 points combined. Ella Schiek was next on the team with seven points.
In addition to the D.C. Everest league, the Hodags will take part in several tournaments this summer to showcase their talents. The team will take part in a pair of WisSports.net showcase tournaments - this Saturday in Beaver Dam and July 27 at D.C. Everest - along with a Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association tournament in Wisconsin Dells June 27, a tournament in Kimberly June 28 and a tournament at Michigan Tech University in Houghton July 15.
"I think we're going to be a pretty good basketball team next year and we also have some nice players, especially Kenedy. I thought this would be a nice way to get us some promotion, some coverage."
Clark noted the tournaments will not be easy. In Beaver Dam the Hodags are scheduled to face a Verona team that includes top 50 junior guard Rayna Briggs. However, Clark said the tougher competition in the summer will mirror the tougher competition Rhinelander will have on the schedule this coming winter.
"We'll take some lumps for sure, but next year we upped our schedule again," he said. "We'll play in the Watertown tournament against Milwaukee Pius and Milwaukee Riverside. Our non-conference (schedule) is strong. We need to get better."
Aside from the games, and a team camp at Northland Pines later this month, there are not a ton of organized team activities this summer. For the most part, practice-type sessions will be up to the players.
Clark said he enjoys the more open-ended approach to summer training in the few seasons since the WIAA relaxed restrictions on player-coach contact during the summer.
"I just say, 'If you want to get some individual work, text me and we'll make time for it,'" he said. "Since we can play so much and I can coach them, the individual stuff is like, 'hey, come on in, we'll work on some things I want you to try to do in a game.' Since they made that change, it's been nice. There's not so much pressure on the kids."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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