The Rhinelander High School Nordic ski team participated in its first big race of the winter Saturday, taking seventh in the girls' division and ninth in the boys' division at the Snekkevik Ski Races in Wausau.
It marked the first time in three years the Hodags participated in the Snekkevik, which is billed as the longest continuously running ski race in Wisconsin. Poor trail conditions hampered the event the previous two years. The Hodags opted not to go when the event was moved to Iola in 2018, and the race was scrapped altogether due to a lack of snow last year.
This year's event attracted a large contingent of skiers, with the vast majority of high school teams in the Wisconsin Nordic Ski League represented.
"I felt like I was watching the finish of the state meet," Rhinelander coach Charil Reis said. "It's not a fair representation of what we can do in a few weeks, because not everyone was represented, but it is actually a little bit of a clue. The same strong teams are still very, very strong. But, I think Rhinelander definitely has a chance to move up looking at today's results."
Junior Zach Goodrich was the top finisher for the Hodag boys, placing 15th about juniors and seniors, and 26th overall, in the 6.4-kilometer classic technique race. He crossed the finish line in 23 minutes, 50.1 seconds.
Levi Smith was 37th overall for Rhinelander (24:55.9), Kyle Morien was the Hodags' top finisher in the freshman and sophomore category, placing 18th in class and 42nd overall (25:59.9). Nicholas St. Pierre (54th, 26:32.4), Daniel Goldsworthy (56th, 27:06.4), Breckin Younker (57th, 27:12.8) and Will Rutkowski (58th, 27:29.7) all finished in the top 60 for the Hodags in the 88-skier field.
"I was really excited to see a strong showing from Zach and Levi and Kyle," Reis said. "Zach was solidly in the top third and he had a full minute on Levi, a minute and five seconds. Levi has been pushing Zach at practices. He was pushing him last week at the Donut Dash and, this week, we worked very intricately with their technique on classic skis and I think it really helped both of them, and Kyle as well."
Junior Gwyneth Lowry was Rhinelander's top finisher on the girls' side. She was 16th among upperclassmen, and 27th overall with a time of 29:54.4. Sophomore teammate Anna Wood was right in Lowry's ski tracks, finishing 12th among underclassmen, and 28th overall (30:03.9). Liana Teter was 32nd (30:32.9). Jenna Younker (42nd, 31:41.4) and Valerie Dalka (45th, 32:04.2) also cracked the top 50 for Rhinelander in a field of 77 skiers.
"We had a few of the people who would normally help us place in the team standings not there today, but that doesn't mean other people did not step up to the plate," Reis said. "I'm really happy for Gwyneth to pull out a win for position in team. I think that's a few for her. That's going to be a good morale booster for her. And I'm happy to see Anna Wood has some healthy competition in the team. Those two are just going to keep getting faster."
Ashwaubenon to the boys' team title, while Lakeland won the girls' title placing three skiers in the top six overall. Peak Nordic's Noah Straka (20:22.7) and Lakeland's Mia Case (24:45.7) were the individual champions.
"The people at the top of these lists are the people who participate in JNQs (Junior National Qualifiers)," Reis said. "They're the people who go to summer camps. They spend a lot of time on roller skis in the offseason, unlike our team. I'm not surprised at all where we stand as a team against those powerhouses, but a couple of years ago, we probably would have been last. We're not anymore. We've definitely made a step forward at this Snekkevik. It's our best Snekkevik so far, I would say, as a team."
In the 3.8-kilometer middle school race, Rhinelander had three girls in the top 20 with Nora Rutkowski (7th, 15:37.0), Macy Lester (9th, 16:01.1) and Brynn Teter (18th, 17:27.4). Mason Shinners (11th, 14:26.8) and Ryan Morien (13th, 14:46.5) scored top-15 finishes for Rhinelander in the boys' division.
Next up, Rhinelander hosts the annual Hodag Nordic Challenge, a two-day meet this coming Saturday and Sunday at the Cedric A. Vig Outdoor Classroom in the town of Pelican. The meet is expected to bring roughly 350 high school and middle school skiers to Rhinelander in what has become one of the largest scholastic races in the state apart from the WNSL state championships.
"The community deserves to see how these kids do and they can see it next weekend at the Hodag Nordic Challenge," Reis said, noting that the Northwoods Nordic Ski Club is still accepting volunteers to assist in tasks that help the event go off smoothly. More information on how to help can be found at www.HodagNordic.com.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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