In this Feb. 16, 2019 file photo, Rhinelander’s Lilli Bishop performs a jump during her floor exercise routine in the Great Northern Conference gymnastics meet at Ashland High School. Bishop is one of three returning juniors who figure to factor prominently into the Hodags’ starting lineup this season. Rhinelander begins its season Saturday at the Medford Invitational. (Jacob Friede/Lakeland Times)
RHS GYMNASTICS SCHEDULE
Date Opponent/Event Time
12/7 Medford Invite 9 a.m.
12/9 at Chequamegon* 5:45 p.m.
12/14 SNOWFLAKE INVITE 10:30 a.m.
1/9 MOSINEE* 5:45 p.m.
1/11 Wis. Rapids invite 11 a.m.
1/14 WISCONSIN RAPIDS 5:30 p.m.
1/23 at Lakeland* 5:45 p.m.
1/25 Rice Lake Invite 11 a.m.
2/1 Antigo Invite 10 a.m.
2/4 at Antigo 5:45 p.m.
2/11 MEDFORD* 5:45 p.m.
2/15 Ashland Invite 10:15 a.m.
2/22 GNC Meet at Chequamegon* 10 a.m.
TBD WIAA Sectionals at Antigo TBD
*Conference meets | HOME MEETS IN CAPS
12/5/2019 7:31:00 AM Team preview: RHS gymnastics Hodag gymnasts look to remain competitive in GNC Small
The Rhinelander High School gymnastics team will not have a lot of depth this season but their goal is to remain in the mix in the Great Northern Conference Small division.
The roster features 11 gymnasts and only two seniors, having lost its top all-around performer, Raven Sturtevant, and a few other key pieces from last year's team which was edged by Medford for the GNC Small crown.
To keep up with Medford the returning gymnasts will have to pick up the slack.
"It's a hard-working group of girls. We're going to be small this year but, for the most part, they're really helping each other," coach Heather Sturtevant said.
The graduated Raven Sturtevant is the most substantial loss from last year's squad. She qualified for the WIAA Division 2 state meet on uneven bars as a junior, and was Rhinelander's lone all-conference gymnast last year - winning the conference title on balance beam and placing third in the all-around.
Harlie Zimmermann, a two-event starter on balance beam and uneven bars, also graduated. Rhinelander's depth also took a hit when sophomore Mallory Myers opted not to return. She started on three events for the Hodags at the end of last season.
"They're definitely going to be missed as far as team scores but the nice thing is that did open up a few more spots on varsity for a few of our girls that were kind of on that fence," coach Sturtevant said.
The Hodags will likely look to their upperclassmen to fill the majority of the spots in the starting lineup - including senior Amber Briggs and juniors Lilli Bishop, Bridget Koser and Autumn Shafer. Coach Sturtevant said those four have taken on a leadership role this season.
"They're doing a real nice job of keeping the energy level real positive, being supportive," she said. "They're helping our incoming freshmen not only with just making them feel welcome and part of the team but really helping them with their routines, because they have a few years experience creating things and know what the judges are looking for."
Bishop, Koser and Shafer all posted top-10 finishes in last year's Great Northern Conference meet. Bishop finished fifth on floor exercise and seventh on uneven bars. Shafer was seventh on both the floor and the vault. Koser tied for eighth on bars and added a ninth-place finish at sectionals in floor exercise.
"Autumn and Bridget and Lilli are looking really good," Heather Sturtevant said. "Autumn and Lilli are still working all-around. We've got Bridget back on floor - not working on vault right now. It was just hard to come back from that elbow injury so we're just not stressing it by adding in vault. Everything else, they're looking really good and really motivated to even up their game a little bit for this season."
Briggs, one of two seniors on the squad, competed on beam and on the vault last season for the team at the Great Northern Conference meet.
The Hodags are looking to three underclassmen in particular to step up and compete for varsity roles - sophomores Abby Belbot and Karissa Lavender and freshman Payton Rudawski.
"(Belbot) does all-around, not always varsity, but she will definitely be in a few varsity rotations on at least a few events. Karissa's looking really nice on beam and then we have a freshman, Payton Rudawski, coming in really strong on floor, but also vault and working beam," coach Sturtevant said.
In terms of depth, the Hodags should be strongest on the floor exercise where they return three starters.
"Floor, our girls their personalities and they've picked some great music to really show their own personalities, I'm super excited (for) people to see the floor routines this year," Sturtevant said.
Despite returning only one starter on balance beam, Sturtevant said she expects the team to fare well in the event, mainly because the team had a number of girls eager to step up and fill varsity roles.
Sturtevant said uneven bars will likely be the team's biggest weakness, at least at the start of the season.
"We're really trying to up some skills on that so we can get some better starting values. The girls are doing it, so I'm hoping we'll get there," she said.
After four weeks of training, the Hodags will be thrown into the fire with back-to-back competitions. They begin the season Saturday in a five-team invite at Medford and then head to Chequamegon on Monday to open the GNC Small season.
"Having those first two meets back-to-back are going to be a little tough," Sturtevant said. "We have Saturday and then we have Monday. We don't even get a practice day between our first two meets, but I think the girls are excited. They're working hard and I just think we're going to continue to move up once we get that first feedback from the Medford meet."
The Hodags will have one more meet prior to the Christmas break as they host the Snowflake Invitational Dec. 14.
As for the rest of the GNC Small competition, Sturtevant said she expects Medford to be the team to beat again this year in the conference, but said she'll have a better gauge of the competition after Saturday's meet where every GNC Small school, except Lakeland, will be in attendance.
The Hodags would love to take the title back from Medford this year, but Sturtevant said that is a secondary goal for the team.
"We'd love to make another trip home with the (police) escort (after) winning conference. That would be awesome but, really, that would be an added bonus this year," she said. "Really, our focus is on the girls improving on themselves. We want to see personal bests being surpassed. If it ends up that we end up first in the conference, that's going to be an added bonus."
Rhinelander will not see Medford in the GNC duals until Feb. 11.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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