In this Jan. 8, 2019 file photo, Ty Springer competes in a Northern Conference ski race at Granite Peak in Wausau. Springer, a junior, is the two-time defending Northern Conference boys’ skiing champion and will lead the Rhinelander/Northland Pines Alpine ski team this winter. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
RHS/NPHS Alpine Schedule
Date Event Time
1/14 NC Meet No. 1 at Granite Peak 9 a.m.
1/20 NC Meet No. 2 at Christie Mt. 9 a.m.
1/28 NC Meet No. 3 at Mt. Ashwabay 9 a.m.
2/1 NC Meet Nos. 4 & 5 at Ski Brule 9 a.m.
2/3 Mt. La Crosse Cup TBA
2/15-17 WIARA State Meet at Mt. La Crosse TBA
1/11/2020 7:32:00 AM Team preview: RHS Alpine skiing After plenty of training, Hodag skiers ready to race
After a couple of months of training, the Rhinelander/Northland Pines Alpine Ski team is finally ready to hit the slopes in Northern Conference competition.
The Hodags will have their first race Tuesday, kicking off the Northern Conference season at Granite Peak in Wausau. In a refreshing twist - thanks to the cold and snowy start of the winter season - the Hodags have been able to spend most of the last two months on the slopes. This has given the team more than ample opportunity to prepare for the five-race conference schedule.
"It's better than what I thought it would be, not that I thought anything negative in the beginning, but I think there are some standouts and we're seeing a lot of improvement in practice," coach Rod Olson said of what he's learned from all the on-snow time. "I think they're kind of thirsty for competition."
The extra training, an increase in participation and a number of returning athletes mean plenty of potential for this year's Hodag Alpine squad - not just in the Northern Conference, but at the state level as well.
On the skiing side of the ledger, it starts with the Springer family. Ty Springer, a junior, is the two-time reigning Northern Conference individual champion and finished seventh overall at last year's WIARA state meet.
Olson said Springer's sights are set even higher and that a run at an individual state title is not out of the question.
"We're planning on it. He was in the teens - 13th to 15th - his freshman year. Last year he was hanging around sixth, seventh, eighth at state," Olson said. "This year, with attrition (due to graduation) and how he's grown and how his abilities have improved there shouldn't be any reason why he's not a contender. It's a long, intense season, but he's already skiing really well. He should be in there."
But Ty won't be the only Springer going fast on the hill for the RHS/NP team this year. His younger sister, Tommie Jo, is expected to make an immediate impact as a freshman. She dominated the middle school races in the Northern Conference last year, often with times faster than the top varsity skiers. She was able to server as a forerunner at the WIARA state meet last year in giant slalom, and posted a time that would have been third-fastest overall.
"She's grown in height. Strength is good. She's had maybe 20 days on the snow already (in November). We think she's there," Olson said.
Other notable returning athletes include junior Patrick Stemper in boys' skiing, and snowboarders Kylee White and Bailey Schwab.
In boys' skiing, Stemper is looking to take a step up following a seventh-place finish in the Northern Conference standings and a 44th-place finish at state.
Depth will be the Hodags' biggest strength. Daniel Ritchie, John Krueger and Luke Fritz all return for their seniors seasons, sophomore AJ Gillespie returns and Olson said he expects freshman Riley Zarm to contribute right away.
"They're going to be competitive. We'll see what everybody else has. We've got three seniors and we'll see what we can do there," Olson said. "Our goal is to get four scores in the top 10 for every event. If we can do that, it will be between us and one other team."
Despite graduating the team's top girls' skiers from last year - Haley Seefeldt - Olson believes it has the favorite for this year's conference title with the addition of Tommie Jo Springer. Senior Marisa McGuire, junior Kathryn Borski and sophomore McKenna Nash are back on the team as well. Nash and Borski finished 19th and 20th in the Northern Conference last year while McGuire missed the season with an ankle injury. In particular, Olson said Borski has shown improvement in practice.
"What she's done is she's gained a tremendous amount of speed and she's learning how to control that," Olson said. "Before she was able to be controlled because she wasn't generating so much speed. We've reached the edge and now we can pull back."
In addition to Borski, freshman Max Durkee has shown significant improvement in preseason practice and figures to contribute right away to the boys' snowboard team, Olson said.
"He's got some skills and got some speed. He's definitely going to add to that boys' team right away. We've seen a lot of promise for him," Olson said.
Durkee will join a squad that returns juniors Bailey Schwab and Joey Durkin. Schwab and Durkin finished fourth and 13th in the conference last year, respectively. Schwab finished in the top third of the field, 26th of 78 competitors, at state in boys' snowboarding last year.
On the girls' side, White returns after a crash at Mt. Ashwabay resulted in an injury that ended her 2019 season. She still finished fourth overall in the Northern Conference despite missing the final race of the season. Olson said she's ready to go faster this year as she makes the switch to a purpose-built racing snowboard.
"We may bounce back and forth between one board and the other depending on how she's picking it up," he said. "It's definitely faster but just getting on that thing, she's grabbing a bullet. We're going to try to hone her in and use our brain each time for each event."
Another junior, Madesen Van Order, also returns from injury for the Hodags and freshman Paige Oleinik rounds out the squad which will start the season one competitor short of being able to field a qualifying team for conference and state purposes.
The Hodags were initially scheduled to hold an invitational at Ski Brule in Iron River, Mich. today, but that meet was nixed due to low participation from other teams. Olson said instead the team will train at Brule today ahead of Tuesday's Northern Conference opener at Granite Peak.
"We'll be able to simulate more of the Granite Peak conditions, run on the run that's called Big Bear up there, which is more like Granite Peak's race run," he said. "We'll be able to jump into that. Whereas if we were to have had the race on Saturday, we wouldn't have had any training before the Granite Peak race."
Other Northern Conference races will take place at Christie Mountain in Bruce Jan. 20 and Mt. Ashwabay in Bayfield Jan. 28. Rhinelander will host the Northern Conference championship, which will serve as rounds four and five of the conference season, Feb. 1 as Ski Brule.
The WIARA state meet will take place in La Crosse Feb. 15-17 and Olson said the team is deliberating attending the Mt. La Crosse Cup Feb. 3.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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