In this Sept. 24, 2019 file photo, Rhinelander’s Daniel Goldsworthy competes in the Antigo Invite at the Gartzke Flowage Bike and Ski trails in the Town of Bryant. Gartzke Flowage will be the venue of today’s Great Northern Conference cross country meet. Rhinelander coach M.J. Laggis said the undulation and narrowness of the course will provide a challenge to today’s field. (Brett Farmer/Antigo Daily Journal)
10/19/2019 7:33:00 AM Course, competition storylines for GNC cross country meet
When it comes to today's Great Northern Conference cross country meet, much of the discussion will be about the big three teams competing for the conference title and the course that will decide their battle.
Gartzke Flowage Bike and Ski Trails east of Antigo will be the venue for today's meet where Lakeland, Medford and Tomahawk appear to be in position to duke it out for the titles on the boys' and girls' sides.
Despite a recent string of good runs, Rhinelander enters as an underdog today and is hoping for a mid-pack finish. The Hodags finished fifth in both the boys' and girls' divisions of the conference race last year.
"We have to have a really good day and we have to have some kids just continue to drop a little bit of time - not like a crazy amount, but more than we are right now," coach M.J. Laggis said.
Dropping time will be a relative term today, mainly because Antigo's new venue for cross country has the makings of perhaps the most demanding course in the GNC.
The seven conference schools rotate hosting the conference meet and Antigo has not hosted since 2012 when the meet was held on the relatively flat terrain of Riverview Golf Course. The Gartzke Flowage trail system is anything but flat. Rhinelander scoped out the course Sept. 24 during the Antigo Invite. Medford and Antigo were the only other GNC schools in attendance that day and Laggis said the four other conference schools will be in for an eye-opening experience when they arrive for today's race.
"It's not like something you've seen before. It's on a cross country ski trail. It's narrow, winding, very hilly and my question will be just how coaches feel about that starting area and that finishing area and the conditions of the loop itself.
"It will be a big wild card. I'm going to expect that there are going to be some coaches that are not totally pumped up with the course conditions. I understand it's been pretty wet on that loop. The starting line is a pretty narrow area and the finishing chute is pretty skinny and heads right into the backdrop of the woods."
A look at the times posted in the Sept. 24 race offers a clue as to the difficulty of the Gartzke Flowage course. Jacob Weddle, who has been Rhinelander's top boys' runner much of the year, failed to break 20 minutes (20:09) as he finished third overall. A week later, on a much flatter and faster Northland Pines course, Weddle completed five kilometers in less than 18 minutes. Similarly on the girls' side, Ali DeNamur, who has been consistently turning in times in the mid-22-minute range, led the RHS girls at Gartzke with a time of 25 minutes even.
Laggis said, if anything, the hilly, demanding course will separate the conference pack even further.
"I think that Lakeland and Tomahawk and Medford just having a real strong core of runners, I think typically the stronger runner you are the more you're going to excel in those conditions," he said. "I'd expect them to rise to the occasion really well. For us, it's going to be a continual game of chase and see how much we can close the gap."
Tomahawk, Lakeland and Medford figure to be in store for a great battle on the girls' side - given that they were ranked fourth, fifth and 10th, respectively in the latest Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association Division 2 coaches poll. Tomahawk (10th) is the only GNC school ranked in the D2 boys' poll and comes in after edging Lakeland for the title in both the boys' and girls' divisions of the Hatchet Invite in Tomahawk last week.
"I'm very impressed with Tomahawk, they're very good, and I've been very impressed with aspects of both Medford and Lakeland. It will be interesting, but I've got a gut feeling that Tomahawk is going to emerge," Laggis said.
With the big three established as clear favorites, Northland Pines struggling and Antigo likely lacking in numbers to field a complete team, Rhinelander's battle today will likely be with Mosinee four the fourth position.
Mosinee finished nine points ahead of Rhinelander for fourth place in the boys' race at Tomahawk last Saturday and beat the RHS girls by 31 points.
"The question I had is could we beat Mosinee on the boys' side, because I thought we were close with the boys," Laggis said following the race. "They edged us. It basically came down to one runner where they edged us. We're getting closer. It's encouraging, but I still realize we're a ways away and to crack the top four in the GNC we're going to really have to have a good meet."
The top 14 individual finishers in the GNC earn all-conference honors. Rhinelander had only one all-conference honoree last year, senior Bridger Flory, who finished fourth overall. Abbey Henrichs led the RHS girls with a 26th place finish at conference last year while Weddle was 31st, the top returning finisher from last year's conference race for the RHS boys.
Today's event gets underway at 10 a.m. with the junior varsity girls' race. The varsity girls' race will start at 10:45 a.m., with the varsity boys at 11:30, the JV boys will race at 12:15 p.m. and awards will be held at 1 p.m. The course is located on 5th Avenue Road, less than a mile south of Creek Lake Road in the Town of Bryant.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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