Rhinelander goalkeeper Gavin Ostermann, center, scrambles for a loose ball with teammates Breckin Younker (12) and Hugh Wiese (4), and Northland Pines’ Lawson Bau (6) and Owen Uebe (8) also in on the play during the first half of a Great Northern Conference boys’ soccer game in Eagle River Tuesday, Sept. 3. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
9/5/2019 7:33:00 AM Rhinelander falls to Northland Pines
in conference boys' soccer opener
EAGLE RIVER - If the Rhinelander High School boys' soccer team is going to win the Great Northern Conference title, as coach Nathan Bates predicted at the start of the year, it has a lot of work to do.
The Hodags were outplayed again by defending GNC champion Northland Pines Tuesday, which scored once in each half to defeat Rhinelander 2-0 in Eagle River.
Not only is Rhinelander a game behind Northland Pines, which hasn't lost a conference game since 2017, the Hodags fell to 0-4 on the season as a team with a number of new starters continues to struggle to gel.
"We're going to be chasing them the rest of the season, there's no question about it," Bates said after the loss. "Pines looked good. They had a lot of good passing. Their speed doesn't scare us. They don't have much for speed, but they work very, very well as a unit. Their passing is top-notch. Hat's off to them. They did a great job tonight."
The Eagles got on the board in the ninth minute as Brett Wilkins chipped a ball through the center of the Hodag defense to Dawson Hogenmiller, who got behind the back line and struck a shot past keeper Gavin Ostermann to the top right corner of the goal for a 1-0 lead.
Despite the early concession, the Hodags played even with the Eagles on the stat sheet in the first half. Both sides had seven shots, three on goal, through the first 45 minutes.
The second half was an entirely different matter. Pines dominated from the onset. The Eagles outshot Rhinelander 19-2 and controlled possession virtually the entire half.
"The second half, the kids came out like they did at the beginning of the first half," Bates said. "They never got out of the defensive slump. They just never did. Toward the end of the game we started putting some stuff together, but it was too late."
Despite all the pressure, the Eagles had only one more goal to show for their efforts. It came in the 57th minute as Hogenmiller found Sam Gremban in space roughly 30 yards from goal. Gremban took a shot to the right post that just cleared Ostermann's outstretched arms. The ball then caromed off the goal post, back off Ostermann who was still in mid-air and trickled into the net.
"It was an unlucky bounce," Bates said. "Gavin made a deflection and the deflection went right into the goal, otherwise it would have been a 1-0 game."
On the other end, Rhinelander struggled to put together anything on the offensive end, generating only three shots on goal in the match.
One of the best looks came in the 15th minute when Jacob Ostrander and Daniel Ritchie worked a give and go on the left flank, setting up Ritchie for a shot on the left side of the 18-yard box, but the shot hooked straight toward Pines keeper Colby Kruse for a routine save.
Hugh Wiese had a look from 30 yards in space in the 59th minute that sailed high wide right. He missed wide right again in the 78th minute after receiving a through ball from Charlie Heck that put him a step ahead of the back line of the Pines defense.
The Hodags have conceded 10 goals in the first four games, and have allowed 10 or more shots on goal in all four contests. The struggles boil down to chemistry, according to Bates.
"A lot of it is a chemistry thing right now with the younger kids and the older kids," he said. "The younger kids have been playing together for a long, long time and the older kids have been playing together for a long, long time. So far, right now, practice-wise they look great. There's glimmers of hope in games where they get it together and then, all of a sudden they fall apart. You pay attention to the tape and you'll see the same kids pass to the same people all the time and they do not disperse as a unit. Until they can, we're going to have a rough season."
Rhinelander returns to action tonight at home against Lakeland.
The two sides tied in both of their meetings last year.
"Hopefully our kids have a little better chemistry Thursday night," Bates said. "We've been working hard on it at practice and I will say it's getting better every game. We have good moments where they kids are playing together, but that's the biggest problem on the team. We have a lot of talent. It just needs to come together."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Mike Webster Stadium.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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