Rhinelander’s Joseph Heck defends Hayward’s Elijah Heyworth during a boys’ soccer match at the RHS soccer fields Tuesday, Aug. 27. Heyworth scored the lone goal in Hayward’s 1-0 victory over the Hodags. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
8/29/2019 7:32:00 AM Hodag soccer falls 1-0 in opener
A young Rhinelander High School boys' soccer team struggled to find its footing Tuesday in its season opener.
Hayward's Elijah Heyworth scored in the 20th minute, which proved to be the only goal in a 1-0 result for the Hurricanes.
"There are some things we need to work on," Hodags' first-year head coach Nathan Bates said following the game. "We're a young team. The first 20 minutes is when they got the goal on us and the kids weren't playing up to their best at that point. After that, I feel they turned it around the rest of the game and they actually played tough the rest of the game."
A break in the action may have helped the Hodags. Shortly after Hayward's goal, play was halted for just more than an hour as two passing thunderstorms skirted Rhinelander.
Rhinelander was able to slow down Hayward's attack in the second half, cutting the total shot attempts from 18 to 12 in the final 45 minutes.
"Before the stoppage Hayward definitely had their best pressure," Bates said. "After that we adjusted a few things. In my opinion we came out and shut them down after that and had some pretty deadly attacks, we just couldn't close the distance."
Hayward was successful attacking the middle of a Hodag defense with only two true backs and three defensive midfielders when it scored its opening goal. Nik Nordquist put Heyworth on a through ball in the attacking third of the field. Heyworth dribbled inside the 18-yard box and tucked a shot inside the right goalpost against sophomore keeper Gavin Ostermann.
Rhinelander's scoring chances were hard to come by and the few quality looks the team had went awry. With the team's top returning scorer from last year, Hugh Wiese, a scratch from the game due to an undisclosed injury, senior Daniel Ritchie and junior Joseph Heck produced most of the offensive pressure.
Ritchie crossed to Heck in the 16th minute and Heck's shot from the right side of the 18 sailed high and wide left of the goal. Ritchie made advances in Hayward's half of the field through a nice series of touches in the 67th minute before crossing to Heck at the top of the 18 and Heck sent a shot just high over the crossbar. The roles reversed in the 69th minute as Heck found Ritchie in space near the top of the 18 but Ritchie topped the shot and the ball rolled harmlessly toward keeper Riley Brennan for an easy save.
Those were the best threats Rhinelander mounted until the 90th minute when, following a foul, freshman Charlie Heck took a free kick from roughly 45 yards. The low, hard shot skipped once before being picked up by Brennan in the final seconds.
"That was a nail-biter at the end there. We had a pretty good opportunity and it was close," Bates said. "All and all, we have a young team and I'm proud of them. The kids played well for the first game of the season. We're definitely missing a few key players today that were not on the field. That definitely threw our offense off a little bit."
Hayward outshot Rhinelander 30-8 overall in the match, and 12-4 in shots on goal.
Ostermann, making only his third career varsity start in goal, recorded 11 saves in defeat and looked the part as he filled the role vacated by the graduated Josh Randolph. Ostermann made a pair of leaping saves during a Hayward flurry in the sixth minute, denied a Hayward header chance in the 51st minute and stopped Nordquist's bullet of a shot in the 60th minute.
"Gavin had a heck of a game and I anticipate he will probably a few more times this season," Bates said. "Gavin's a heck of a goalkeeper and is going to keep us in a lot of games."
Tasked with replacing six all-conference recipients from last year's squad, the Hodags face a tough test with a roster that features only five seniors. Five freshmen saw considerable minutes in the contest.
"I'm proud of these freshmen. They held up to these older kids and did a great job," Bates said. "Charlie Heck, huge shoutout on Charlie. He played really tough. Kyle Wiese is another one, so did Shane (Petrick). All of my freshman - Braden Mork, all off them - did a great job today."
Rhinelander will play Wausau East and Waupaca Saturday in the annual Hodag Invitational at Rhinelander High School. Activities director Brian Paulson told the River News it is possible those games could be played at Mike Webster Stadium with the conversion of the field to an artificial turf surface scheduled to be completed by Friday.
"That's what I'm told. We'll find out on Saturday, I guess, won't we," Bates said of the chances of playing the invite on the new turf.
The RHS soccer fields would be utilized if Mike Webster Stadium is not ready.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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