Rhinelander’s Daniel Gillingham makes a turn during the 100-yard butterfly in a Great Northern Conference boys’ swim dual against Tomahawk at Hatchet Pool Tuesday, Dec. 3. The Hodags won seven events, and added eight runner-up finishes, in a 105-65 win over the Hatchets. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Jack Antonuk competes in the 500-yard freestyle during a Great Northern Conference boys’ swim dual against Tomahawk at Hatchet Pool Tuesday, Dec. 3. Antonuk, a freshman, won the 500 and finished second in the 100 breaststroke.
12/5/2019 7:30:00 AM Second-half surge Depth carries Hodags past Tomahawk 105-65 in swimming opener
TOMAHAWK - The Rhinelander High School boys' swim team took Tomahawk's best shot early in the season opener on Tuesday night and then reminded everyone why it ended last season as one of the best teams in Division 2.
The Hodags won the final six races, outscoring Tomahawk 64-28 in the process, to defeat the Hatchets 105-65 in a Great Northern Conference dual meet at Hatchet pool.
Rhinelander's depth kept the team afloat after Tomahawk won four of the first five races and then put the Hatchets away in the second half of the meet.
"We figured they'd be a little front-half strong and we knew we'd be stronger the second half," Hodag coach Jenny Heck said. "When you have multiple swimmers to move around. That's what makes or breaks these kinds of meets."
Tomahawk showed it will be an improved team from last year, when it edged Lakeland for the runner-up spot in the GNC. Travis Phillips has returned for his senior year, after swimming the club circuit a season ago, and freshman Zach Hanse made an impressive debut. But the Hodags returned four swimmers with state-meet experience and added a number of freshmen who contributed right away.
That depth came in handy as Tomahawk came out hot. Brady Tjugum won the 200-yard freestyle, Hanse took the 200 individual medley and Phillips won both the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly to give the Hatchets four consecutive race wins.
Despite Tomahawk's early first-place finishes, the Hodags still held a 41-37 lead following the 100 butterfly because it finished second in all of those races and scored three swimmers in each event to rack up more points.
"If you really look, one of the reasons we did so well was those third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishes," Heck said. "We're really pleased with the new swimmers who really stepped up. We didn't know what they could do. We used this meet for getting times on a lot of swimmers. We have all these freshmen that haven't competed with us before, so it was a great opportunity to see a lot of different times tonight."
Rhinelander used a mix of young and old to pull away in the second half of the meet.
Beginning with the 100 freestyle the Hodags went 1-2 in four of the next five events to clinch the dual. Senior Devon Gaber (51.87) and junior Joseph Heck (54.47) went 1-2 in the 100 freestyle. Freshmen Jack Antonuk (5:28.81) and Charlie Heck (6:08.41) went 1-2 in the 500. Senior David King (1:02.77) and freshman Daniel Gillingham (1:04.28) went 1-2 in the backstroke. Senior Thaddeus Heck (1:06.49) edged Antonuk (1:06.72) and Hanse (1:06.76) to the wall in a tight three-way race in the breaststroke.
"Devon had a great meet as a returning swimmer," coach Heck said. "I thought Thaddeus' breaststroke, that was a great race. Of the night, I think that was my favorite with the 1-2 (with Jack Antonuk). Zach's a very good breaststroker as well who they've swam against for years. That was a fun race to go 1-2 in."
Antonuk, Gillingham and Charlie Heck had the biggest nights among Rhinelander's seven incoming freshmen. Gillingham added a third-place finish in the 100 butterfly, Heck was third in the 200 freestyle and all three swam with David King to win the 400 freestyle relay (3:54.48) at the end of the night.
"The freshmen are really going to be a key to our program," Jenny Heck said. "The have a lot of versatility. They're not just one-event swimmers. They can be moved around. Daniel Gillingham, I can move him in a lot of things. Jack Antonuk can swim anything. Most of those guys I can really move around. That's a real advantage as a coach."
The Hodags started the night by having their four returning state qualifiers - Joseph Heck, Thaddeus Heck, David King and Devon Gaber - swim the 200 medley relay. Gaber swam a 22.43-second freestyle leg over the final 50 yards as the Hodags rallied to beat Tomahawk's quartet of Keaton Jed, Hanse, Phillips and Trey Miller by 1.10 seconds (1:46.63).
"It's fun to get those kids out there racing and swimming against other fast kids," coach Heck said. "That medley relay was a close race between us and Tomahawk. They all had good splits and did well."
Gillingham, Devon Gaber, Joseph Heck and Charlie Heck won the 200 freestyle relay (1:35.18).
Thaddeus Heck was the runner-up in the 200 freestyle, Joseph Heck took second in the 200 IM, Gaber was second in the 50 freestyle and David King took second in the 100 butterfly.
As far as times, Rhinelander's returning swimmers were faster Tuesday than they were in last year's season opener against Tomahawk in virtually every instance. Devon Gaber was 1.57 seconds faster in the 50 and 2.55 seconds faster in the 100 freestyle; Thaddeus Heck was 2.49 seconds faster in the breaststroke; King was 0.86 seconds faster in the butterfly and Joseph Heck was 0.90 seconds faster in the IM.
"I was really pleased with the times. I saw some good races," coach Heck said. "We want those kids to be faster than they were last year at this time, and I think most of them were."
The Hodags move to 1-0 with the win however, unlike the girls' swim season, the Great Northern Conference champion will be determined exclusively by the results of the GNC Meet, which will be held Feb. 7, 2020 in Rhinelander.
The Hodags travel to Medford this evening.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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