In this Sept. 27, 2019 file photo, Rhinelander’s Kaylee Pontell plays a point during the Great Northern Conference girls’ tennis meet at the RHS tennis courts. Pontell, a sectional runner-up last year at No. 4 singles, figures to get a high seed at No. 3 singles in Monday’s WIAA Division 1 subsectional in Stevens Point. Pontell is 10-0 against this season against the other eight teams in the subsectional field. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
10/5/2019 7:31:00 AM Hodag tennis in familiar spot entering subsectional play
Ever since joining the Great Northern Conference, the script for the Rhinelander High School girls' tennis has pretty much been the same.
The Hodags have done well in the GNC, nine conference titles in 10 years, but that has not mattered much come postseason play when Rhinelander - one of the smallest schools in Division 1 - takes on its old rivals from the Wisconsin Valley Conference.
GNC rival Antigo is in Division 1 this year as well and in the same bracket, giving Monday's WIAA subsectional an old-school feel that harkens back to the day when Rhinelander and Antigo were part of a nine-team WVC with the remainder of the current conference roster.
Because of that, and because of the strength in numbers the Valley possesses, Rhinelander faces an uphill battle when it comes to earning the respect of the Valley coaches.
"We have been in this situation for 10 years and, for 10 years we've done pretty well (against the Valley), but I don't think that has dented the bias. It hasn't moved it one degree," coach Bob Heideman said. "If we don't have head-to-head (victories), we're not getting any break as far as our seeds are concerned."
Rhinelander's numbers actually stack up well against the Valley this season. The Hodags played all seven WVC schools in dual meets during the regular season, posting a 6-2 record that included a pair of victories over Stevens Point. Extrapolating head-to-head results, Rhinelander would have tied for second through the dual meet portion of the Valley Conference schedule, with Wausau West.
But, with only 18 of Monday's 63 subsectional entries moving on to the next round, being good against the Valley may or may not be good enough.
"We would have been very competitive in the Valley this year but, I think a better way to look at it is that, in essence, you're playing the Valley all-stars," Heideman said. "It's playing the best at every position. In that sense, it's always more difficult.
"I think we're good enough to score first-round points, but I'm not sure that - in terms of the majority of positions - we can win that second match (to advance in the lower flights)."
Here are five things to know about Monday's subsectional.
Those head-to-head meetings against the Valley give Rhinelander a fairly good idea of where it should be seeded in each flight heading into the sectional.
Rhinelander's best chance at a top seed will come at No. 3 singles where Kaylee Pontell, a sectional runner-up at No. 4 singles last year, went a combined 10-0 in matches against teams in Monday's subsectional field.
Kenedy Van Zile has Rhinelander's second-best record against the field, with a 7-1 mark at No. 2 singles. She did not face Marshfield or Wausau East in an invite in Wausau over Labor Day weekend. Her lone loss came to Wausau West's Lilia Teske, who was undefeated in conference duals.
Kat Metropulos has Rhinelander's third-best record against the field, going 6-2 overall at No. 4 singles. She did not face Merrill or Wausau West earlier in the season as she traded off matches with freshman Taylor Riopel. Metropulos' two losses were to East's Lillie Bauman (4-1 WVC) and to Antigo's Brechlyn Flannery - a loss she avenged in a rematch for the GNC No. 4 singles last Saturday.
Rhinelander's No. 3 doubles team of Izzy Haverkampf and Jaiden Thiel are 7-3 against the field, Lisa White and Kathryn Borski are 6-3 at No. 2 doubles. Jackie Wells and Alex Oestreich are 5-4 at No. 1 doubles and Annika Johnson is 5-5 against the tournament field at No. 1 singles.
What that likely means for Rhinelander is a number of 3, 4 and 5 seeds come Monday.
The calendar afforded the Hodags a full week of practice leading into subsectionals. Mother Nature had different ideas.
Persistent rain and cool temperatures meant the Hodags had less than a total of 30 minutes of on-court time Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday's practice was also affected due to the dreary conditions.
Friday was originally supposed to be an off day for the team, but Heideman said he was planning to hold an optional practice in light of the soggy start to the week. With the team off on Saturday, that leaves Sunday as the only other day the team can work ahead of Monday's subsectional.
Heideman called the situation frustrating. He said he was hoping to use the week as a way to transition from winning the GNC title to focusing on subsectionals. Additionally, some tweaks in doubles strategy were in the works. More than anything, Heideman said the lack of reps this week is the biggest concern.
"I think it's a matter of staying sharp. I think now you're looking at the potential for inconsistent play raises," he said.
Another variable this week has been the status of the No. 2 doubles team. Senior Lisa White was seen on crutches Tuesday after sustaining an non-tennis related lower leg injury Monday.
Heideman said White was off crutches Wednesday and that he was hopeful she would be able to practice later this week.
If White is unable to go, Heideman said junior Alexis Engelking - who played JV doubles throughout the season - would play in White's spot with fellow junior Kathryn Borski at sectionals.
In the No. 1 singles and doubles flights, the top four qualifiers advance to the sectional round. For the Hodags' sake that means one win will be enough to advance. The road is more difficult in the five other flights where only the top two advance, meaning the Hodags will have to win two matches in each of those brackets.
Given where he expects his players to be seeded, and how the rest of the bracket shakes out, Heideman said he has set realistic expectations for Monday.
"I would say a good day on Monday would be 16 points and three positions through," he said.
That would equate to eight wins on the day for Rhinelander.
The coaches will seed the flights for the subsectional tournament Monday morning at Stevens Point Area High School. The seeding meeting will take place at 8:30 a.m. with play expected to begin at 9:30 a.m. on the SPASH tennis courts.
Sectional qualifiers will head to Eau Claire on Wednesday for sectional play, which will begin at 9 a.m. at the Menards Tennis Center.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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