In this Sept. 17, 2019 file photo, Rhinelander’s Hugh Wiese kicks the ball away from an Antigo player during a Great Northern Conference boys’ soccer game at Mike Webster Stadium. Wiese led the Hodags with seven goals during the 2019 season. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
In this Sept. 7, 2019 file photo, Rhinelander goalkeeper Gavin Ostermann makes a save during a non-conference boys’ soccer game against D.C. Everest in Weston. Ostermann, in his first season as the Hodags’ starting keeper, went 3-8-6 with a .806 save percentage and a 2.12 goals against average. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
11/7/2019 7:30:00 AM Team review: RHS boys' soccer Young Hodag squad found footing late in season
The first season of Rhinelander High School boys' soccer in the post Dan Millot era could be summed up in three words - up and down.
The season began with first-year head coach Nathan Bates proclaiming the Hodags would win the Great Northern Conference. Rhinelander did not meet that expectation, finishing fourth in an unusually wide-open conference race.
Rhinelander needed some time to find its footing with a new coach and a young squad, but began to come around in the second half of the season, losing only once in its final seven games following a 1-7-2 start.
"I had a great season," Bates after the Hodags' season came to an end against Lakeland Oct. 22. "It's a great group of kids. I had a lot of fun with them. They kept me on my toes from start to finish and I'm going to miss them."
Rhinelander wound up 3-8-6 on the season, including the first round exit to Lakeland in the WIAA tournament. Here are five storylines from the recently completed season.
The start of Rhinelander's season had a lot more lows than highs.
Rhinelander lost its first four games of the season, including a 3-2 decision to Wausau East Aug. 30 that was decided on a penalty kick in the final play of regulation.
The Hodags finally got into the win column with a 2-1 triumph over Lakeland Sept. 5 on a late goal by Jacob Ostrander, but it took eight more games after that for the Hodags to get back in the win column.
Rhinelander allowed 2.8 goals per game in the first 10 games of the season, while scoring only 1.1 goals per game. With a varsity roster that had as many freshman as seniors, Bates pointed to a lack of chemistry for the team's early season struggles.
"A lot of it is a chemistry thing right now with the younger kids and the older kids," he said following a 2-0 loss Sept. 3 at Northland Pines. "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."
Strong second half
The team began to gel in the second half of the season, evidenced by numbers that were much better than the first half. Rhinelander went 2-1-4 over its final seven games, scoring 1.4 goals per game. More importantly the defense improved late in the season, conceding only seven goals over the final seven games.
Another measure of Rhinelander's improvement was the team's second-half split in the GNC. Rhinelander went 2-1-2 with a plus-3 goal differential over the final five games of the conference season, compared to 1-3-1 and a minus-4 goal differential over the first five games.
Rhinelander got a boost in the second half of the season when senior Nick St. Pierre returned to the team after trying his hand at cross country to start the season. Additionally, the team got some players who were unable to compete in the first half of the season for various reason back into the lineup.
"We have plenty of subs now. The kids aren't getting as gassed as they were earlier in the season," Bates said following a Sept. 26 tie against Northland Pines, which plays later this afternoon in a WIAA Division 4 state tournament semifinal against Sturgeon Bay.
Fit to be tied
Speaking of ties, there were plenty of them for the Hodags this season. Roughly one out of every three soccer games ended in a draw for Rhinelander, including a string of five ties in seven games between a weather-shortened 1-1 draw against Mosinee Sept. 12 to a 1-1 draw at Lakeland Oct. 3.
That string of ties included a statement with Pines, which shared the GNC title with Medford. It also included a 1-1 draw with lowly Antigo, which was the first GNC game that did not result in a loss for the Red Robins since 2011.
"All I can say is I can't be disappointed with the boys. All we were lacking on was finishing," Bates said after that draw. "The result tonight, we got a tie. It's not what we wanted, but it's better than a loss."
Even Rhinelander's final game of the season officially went down in the books as a tie. Rhinelander relinquished a 3-0 lead to Lakeland in the first round of the WIAA tournament. The T-Birds tied the game early in the second half, but then neither team scored from there. A 3-3 tie following two overtime sessions, Lakeland advanced 5-4 in a penalty kick shootout over the Hodags.
Ten different players factored in the scoring for Rhinelander, led by junior Hugh Wiese, who finished with seven goals and two assists on the season.
Five of those goals came during Great Northern Conference play, which earned Wiese unanimous first-team all-conference honors.
"Hugh was very well-known by all the conference coaches at that meeting," Bates said, discussing his all-conference recipients. "He was a solid player. He makes things happen and Hugh, without a doubt in my mind, gives 100 percent all game, every game."
Despite missing the first half of the season, St. Pierre tied for second on the team in scoring with fellow senior Harrison Shinners (3 goals, 1 assist). Junior Joseph Heck had a team-high four assists while freshman Braden Mork tallied three helpers.
Sophomore Gavin Ostermann earned honorable mention in the Great Northern Conference as he took over the starting goalkeeper position. He was 3-8-6 overall on the season with a .806 save percentage and a 2.12 goals against average.
The team bids farewell to six seniors. Shinners was the only one of those players to earn all-conference recognition this year.
Five of Rhinelander's six all-conference selections are back - including Wiese, Joseph Heck, Ostermann, Alexx Huff and Charlie Heck.
Bates had a number of players from the middle school team he coached last year ascend to the varsity level as freshmen this past year.
There will be another large crop of freshmen coming next season. So youth may be the buzzword around the squad next year.
"If you looked at the conference this season, by far we had the youngest team of the opponents we played this season," Bates said. "We have a very young team and I hope the kids all come back to play. The future, in my eyes, looks pretty bright for them for the next few years competing at the conference level."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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