In this Feb. 1, 2019 file photo, Rhinelander’s Thaddeus Heck swims the breaststroke leg of the 200-yard medley relay during the Great Northern Conference meet at Medford High School. Heck is one of four returning swimmers for the Hodags who qualified for last season’s WIAA Division 2 state swim meet. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
RHS BOYS’ SWIM SCHEDULE
Date Opponent/Event Time
12/3 at Tomahawk* 5:30 p.m.
12/5 at Medford* 5:30 p.m.
12/12 ANTIGO* 5:30 p.m.
12/14 HODAG RELAYS 11 a.m.
12/17 SHAWANO* 5:30 p.m.
12/19 at Lakeland* 5:30 p.m.
1/2 TOMAHAWK* 5:30 p.m.
1/9 MEDFORD* 5:30 p.m.
1/11 Ashwaubenon Invite 9 a.m.
1/16 at Antigo* 5:30 p.m.
1/17 Appleton North Invite 5:30 p.m.
1/23 at Shawano* 5:30 p.m.
1/30 LAKELAND* 5:30 p.m.
2/7 GNC MEET AT RHINELANDER* 5:30 p.m.
2/15 WIAA Sectionals at Wis. Rapids TBA
2/21 WIAA State at Madison 6:30 p.m.
* Conference meets | HOME MEETS IN CAPS
12/3/2019 7:30:00 AM Team preview: RHS boys' swimming After historic season, RHS swimmers return wealth of talent
Last year the Rhinelander High School boys' swim team returned to glory, snapping a 25-year drought without an individual title and placing third overall at the WIAA Division 2 state meet.
The question for this year's squad - which returns four of its six state qualifiers from last year - is what can it do for an encore?
"It sure is a tough act to follow," coach Jenny Heck said. "We already told the kids they have some big shoes to fill. They understand that."
That being said, with a strong incoming freshman class, the Hodags may be able to get as many, or even more swimmers to the WIAA state meet this year.
The biggest losses for Rhinelander are that of Nolan Francis and Russell Benoy. Francis finished first or second in all four of his events at last year's state meet. He was the state champ in the 100-yard backstroke and was on the Hodags winning 200 freestyle relay team. He added a runner-up finish in the 100 butterfly and was part of the team's 200 medley relay team. Benoy was on both of those relays and added two other podium finishes at state, placing fourth in the 50 freestyle and fifth in the 100 freestyle. Martin Hoger, who narrowly missed out on state and was an all-conference recipient in three events, rounds out the list of departed swimmers.
The good news is that Rhinelander brings back plenty of state experience, including a pair of state champions in senior Devon Gaber and junior Joseph Heck, both of whom were on the winning 200 freestyle relay. Additionally, Gaber finished eighth in both the 50 and 100 freestyle at state last year.
Two more seniors - David King and Thaddeus Heck - are back after swimming on the runner-up 200 medley relay squad. King placed 12th in the 100 butterfly at state last year while Thaddeus Heck took 15th in the 100 breaststroke.
"I think their experience, their energy and their enthusiasm has rubbed off on the new swimmers, the returning swimmers and they know what it takes," Jenny Heck said. "They've got the other kids excited. They've got them training in the offseason, even beginning last summer. I think they're very excited. I think they know we're hitting it harder this week than we have in the past, because they're in better shape than they have been in the past."
The last sentence is key, because if the returning swimmers come into this season faster than they were at the start of last season, odds are they will finish the season faster than last year, too.
"There's definitely huge room for improvement out of all those returning swimmers," coach Heck said. "I can see some big time drops from all of them - and they're pretty fast to start. They have a lot of potential to swim even faster, to podium (at state). They have big goals and I think they can achieve those."
Sophomore Jacob Schoppe, who placed third in the GNC in the 200 individual medley, is back along with Ashton Cole and Cooper Kovac.
This year's squad also gets a shot in the arm from a freshmen squad that is seven swimmers strong, some of whom have familiar last names -such as Charlie Heck, Carter Gaber and Daniel King. Virtually all of the freshmen have ample experience via the Rhinelander Swim Club.
"They're coming in with a lot of technique and the endurance and the strength already," Jenny Heck said. "We don't have to start over with them and take this year as a growth year. They're ready to come in and contribute immediately.
"We have some great sprinters that will help our relays immediately. Jack Antonuk can swim anything we need him to swim. He's strong in every stroke. I think that all those freshmen are going to be very versatile. We can put them where we need them and they can do the job in any event."
The Hodags' roster includes 16 swimmers, four more than it did a season ago. Jenny Heck said she's looking for that depth to help aid Rhinelander in its Great Northern Conference title defense.
Rhinelander won the GNC meet by 96 points over Tomahawk, which nipped Lakeland for second in the final standings.
"We definitely want that conference win, but we're really going to have to work at it," coach Heck said. "Lakeland's going to be really tough this year as well. They have a nice group of fast, incoming freshmen, plus a great returning group. Elsewhere in the conference, there's a lot of fast of returning swimmers. That's great. We want the competition in the GNC because we want to swim against other fast guys, other fast teams so that we're ready when we go down south."
As if Rhinelander needs any more incentive to defend its conference title, the GNC meet will be held at Rhinelander's Heck Family Community Pool Feb. 7.
"That's going to be really exciting, to be in our pool for the conference meet," Jenny Heck said. "The guys are already excited. It's going to be loud. It's going to be fun and I think it's going to be really fast."
But a conference title is one step on the path toward larger goals for the Hodags - which include attempting to defend their Division 2 sectional title and sending another large contingent of swimmers to the state meet in Madison.
"The whole season, we're going to attack every meet to swim as fast as we can and race every event, every meet and not let up - practice swimming four fast events every meet and get used to it - so by the end of the season, we hopefully have a group of kids that will be swimming four fast events at the championship meets," coach Heck said.
The season will get underway tonight as the Hodags travel to conference runner-up Tomahawk to open the GNC slate.
Rhinelander's first home meet comes Dec. 12 against Antigo.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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