Rhinelander’s Zach Goodrich leads teammate Levi Smith to the finish line during an exhibition race at the Cedric A. Vig Outdoor Classroom Saturday, Dec. 7. Goodrich is the top returning finisher for the Hodags from last February’s WNSL state championships, placing 38th overall. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
RHS NORDIC SKI SCHEDULE
Date Event Time
12/17 Lakeland Invite 2 p.m.
1/4 Donut Dash at TBA TBA
1/11 Snekkevik Races at Wausau TBA
1/18 HODAG CHALLENGE TBA
1/19 HODAG CHALLENGE TBA
1/25 Badger State Games at Wausau TBA
1/28 Northern Conference Meet at Cable TBA
2/1 Ashwabay Summit Race TBA
2/8 WNSL State Meet TBA
2/9 WNSL State Meet TBA
HOME MEETS IN CAPS
12/14/2019 7:33:00 AM Team preview: RHS Nordic skiing RHS skiers look to break into top half of state ranks
The Rhinelander High School Nordic ski team has taken a slow and steady approach to rebuilding during coach Charil Reis' six seasons at the helm. Each year has been about incremental improvements, be it in team size or technique.
Last year the Hodags began setting some tangible goals in terms of results. One of the criteria for a varsity letter was placing in the top 60 percent of the field at the WNSL state championships - something 16 team members accomplished.
With the Hodags ready to begin their 2019-20 racing season Tuesday in the Lakeland Invite at Minocqua Winter Park, the squad has its sights set on a new team goal - a top-seven finish at the season-ending state meet. It's a goal that Reis said the team captains set during the offseason and it's something that is top of mind at practice with the team breaking its huddle on the word, "seven."
"To me, that would feel like winning state if they each got seventh because that would put them in the top half of the state," Reis said."
There's reason for optimism as virtually all of last year's squad returns a year older and a year stronger. Both the boys' and girls' teams placed 11th at state a year ago and, more importantly, gained some confidence along the way.
"In previous years it was like, 'Well, yeah, some teams can do it, but not ours.' Last year we turned the tables on that false belief," Reis said.
Rhinelander has plenty of returning talent. The Hodag boys return all six of their varsity letter winners from last year, led by junior Zach Goodrich, who made a big jump a state a season ago - going from 77th in the overall pursuit as a freshman to 38th overall as a sophomore.
Other returning letter winners include seniors Nicholas St. Pierre (56th), Levi Smith (65th) and Breckin Younker (75th), junior Daniel Goldsworthy (73rd) and sophomore Kyle Morien (83rd).
Rhinelander could also get a boost from incoming freshman Jett Biolo, who placed 11th overall in the middle school state meet last February.
"Zach made a huge jump of like 40 skiers and he's got a fire lit under him this year," Reis said. "I can tell. I know that he and Jett Biolo ski well together. I know that, in training, they'll be able to push each other, all of the varsity boys are going to get fasters."
Eight of Rhinelander's 10 letter winners on the girls' side return, though the Hodags graduated their top finisher from last year's state meet, Emma Hjelle (54th), along with fellow senior Emma Roberts (74th).
The squad is led by a trio of sophomores - Emma Germain (56th), Anna Wood (61st) and Liana Teter (72nd). Junior Gwyneth Lowry is back following a 73rd-place finish at state. Also returning are seniors Jenna Younker (78th) and Valerie Dalka (79th) and junior Abbey Henrichs (80th).
It's that depth that Reis said will help the squad in varsity competitions this year.
"We have more than five, to pull five together last year at the race felt like I was scrounging a bit, but now it doesn't feel that way, and it's because of how much work they've been putting in," she said.
Not only do the Hodags have a lot of returning skiers. They have a lot of skiers, period. The Hodags' roster of 31 is the largest the team has had in Reis' tenure. To help manage those numbers, Reis and her coaching staff have taken a divide and conquer mentality. She has divided the squad into varsity- and JV-level groups.
"We did that so that two coaches could have consistent time with the varsity and two coaches could be with the JV. I believe that consistency is actually going to play to our benefit," Reis said.
Reis and first-year assistant coach Matt Nichols will work with the varsity group. Nichols comes to Rhinelander with a decorated skiing background as the winner of the 2010 Wisconsin Nordic Ski League individual boys' title while skiing for Wausau East/West. He was the state runner-up in 2011.
"Having Matt on board has really put a hyper-focus on the minds of the varsity skiers," Reis said. "They're really paying attention when he's demonstrating something. Matt is a really graceful skier. He's someone, when you see skiing, you'd like to emulate."
If nothing else, it appears Mother Nature has blessed the Hodags with early season snow and cold temperatures, a departure from last winter when meager snowfall forced a number of races to be canceled, postponed or altered due to poor trail conditions all the way through the end of January.
Last Saturday the Hodags tuned up for the season by hosting Wausau East/West in an exhibition race at the Cedric A. Vig Outdoor Classroom. The high schoolers competed in a four-kilometer mock race.
"I was super pleased with what I saw out there on Saturday," Reis said. "We know that it was considered 'just a scrimmage,' but none of our racers treated like that. They went at it as though it was the Hodag Challenge and skied their hardest."
The Hodags placed four skiers in the top 10 on the boys' side, with Goodrich leading the way in fourth with a time of 12 minutes, 58.1 season. Levi Smith was fifth (13:00.0), Breckin Younker was ninth (13:38.0) and Nicholas St. Pierre finished 10th (13:39.5).
Wood led the Hodag girls, finishing second overall (15:21.8), 8.1 seconds behind Wausau's Erin Ross. Megan Lester, a junior from Three Lakes and the newly-crowned Wisconsin High School Cycling League JV-3 state champion, had a breakout performance and was fifth overall (16:03.1).
"(Assistant coach) Jim Wood has been working really hard with Megan Lester and she definitely has shown some great improvement from state last year to the first race this year," Reis said.
Dalka was sixth (16:14.2), Lowry was eighth (16:36.7) and Henrichs finished ninth (16:38.9).
Reis said the distance of last Saturday's scrimmage, and the elevation profile of the course, will be similar to what the team will see at Minocqua Winter Park on Tuesday, which will be the team's only race prior to the new year.
In a change this year, the team will hold its second annual Donut Dash dual against 4H-Canski from the Ashland area the weekend following the new year. That date had typically been reserved for the Hodag Nordic Challenge at CAVOC, but race organizers have pushed that event back to Jan. 18-19 this year in hopes of having better trail conditions.
Other notable dates on the Hodags' schedule include the Badger State Games in Wausau Jan. 25, the Northern Conference race in Cable Jan. 28 and the WNSL State Championship back in Cable Feb. 8-9.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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