Rhinelander’s Malia Francis swims the 200-yard freestyle during a Great Northern Conference girls’ swimming dual against Medford at Raider Pool in Medford Thursday, Sept. 19. The Hodags moved to 3-0 in the GNC with a 110-60 win over the previously unbeaten Raiders. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
MEDFORD - It is beginning to look like the road to the Great Northern Conference girls' swimming title could run through Rhinelander.
The Hodags turned in a dominating performance Thursday against one of the GNC frontrunners, winning 10 of 11 events and cruising to a 110-60 win over Medford at Raider Pool.
The victory, coupled with Lakeland's 90-79 win Thursday over five-time defending GNC champion Tomahawk, left Rhinelander as the lone unbeaten in the GNC just three weeks into the conference dual season.
Medford, which edged Rhinelander in the team standings at WIAA sectionals last November, was no match for the Hodags on Thursday. Rhinelander won every event except the 50 freestyle and had the dual clinched with two events remaining.
"We knew they have some fast swimmers and we didn't know where they'd place them," coach Jenny Heck said. "I thought all of our kids did really well where they were at and did everything. Once again, our 3, 4, 5 (finishes) made a difference. It was nice to get the wins, but those 3, 4, 5 points are important, too."
Three swimmers tallied four-win performances for the Hodags on Thursday night - Makenna Winnicki, Malia Francis and Noelle St. Pierre.
Winnicki won the 200-yard individual medley (2 minutes, 20.31 seconds) and the 100 butterfly for Rhinelander (1:03.24); Francis took the 200 freestyle (2:02.74) and the 500 freestyle (5:28.90) and St. Pierre won the 100 freestyle (58.50) and the 100 breaststroke (1:14.26). St. Pierre and Winnicki were on the winning 200 medley really with Lisa Kennedy and Sierra Woodford (1:59.52), St. Pierre and Francis swam to victory with Woodford and Maria Heck in the 200 freestyle relay (1:48.58). Francis and Winnicki joined Heck and Kennedy to win the 400 freestyle relay (3:59.81).
Kennedy won the 100 backstroke for the Hodags (1:04.17). Medford's Erin Bergman took the 50 freestyle to prevent a clean sweep of the night's proceedings for the Hodags. Kennedy finished second in that race.
"That's what you go after. You don't know if you'll get that many (wins), but I thought the kids raced and did well. We're happy with that," Jenny Heck said. "We've been training really hard. The kids are sore and tired but the kids still raced and swam best times."
The Hodags went 1-2 in the 200 freestyle with Francis and Heck and also went 1-2 in the 200 medley relay. The team of Marisa McGuire, Abigale Johnson, Genna Fugle and Phoebe Moran finished second in that event to help give Rhinelander a 81-43 lead with three events remaining.
Rhinelander had six third-place finishes on the night -Fugle in the 200 individual medley, Johnson in the 100 butterfly, Heck in the 50 freestyle, Augusta Gruett in the 100 backstroke and McGuire in the 100 breaststroke. Jaylen Janssen, McGuire, Johnson and Gruett added a third-place finish in the 200 medley relay.
The win put Rhinelander to 3-0 in the GNC with Ladysmith, Lakeland, Medford and Tomahawk all sitting at 2-1. The Hodags are responsible for Lakeland and Medford's lone losses and will host Ladysmith this coming Thursday at the Heck Pool.
"I looks like Ladysmith is doing pretty well, so we're going to need to be ready for them," coach Heck said. "We're just going to take one meet at a time, do our best each meet and see what we've got."
Rhinelander hops back in the pool today for its final non-conference meet of the regular season. The team is in Chippewa Falls for an invitational this afternoon.
"That's always a good meet," Heck said. "We like to go have some different competition. The kids have multiple heats to swim in. It's just a different vibe and its a chance maybe for some kids to swim different events because they don't have to worry about the dual format. It's always a fun day."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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