Rhinelander’s Devon Gaber competes in the 100-yard freestyle during a Great Northern Conference dual meet against Lakeland at the Heck Family Community Pool Thursday, Jan. 30. Rhinelander went 10-0 in conference dual meets and will look to win its second straight Great Northern Conference title tomorrrow night during the conference meet in Rhinelander. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
GNC SWIMMING HONOR ROLL
The top five times in each event during the Great Northern Conference dual meet season:
200 Medley Relay - 1. Rhinelander "A" 1:46.32, 2. Lakeland "A" 1:46.73 , 3. Tomahawk "A" 1:47.73 , 4. Rhinelander "B" 1:48.31 ,5. Tomahawk "C" 1:54.50
The Rhinelander High School boys' swim team will have a chance tomorrow night to win its fourth conference title since joining the Great Northern Conference. But a conference title this season would be different from the other three because the Hodags have a chance to win this one at home.
Rhinelander's Heck Family Community Pool plays host to the rest of the conference tomorrow night in the GNC Championship meet. The Hodags are favored to defend their conference title after going a perfect 10-0 during the dual meet portion of the conference season.
The bad news for Rhinelander is it cannot take any of that regular season success with it. Unlike in girls' swimming, where a combination of the conference duals and the conference meet are used to crown the champion, the GNC boys' swimming champion will be determined solely by the outcome of tomorrow night's meet.
The good news for Rhinelander is it will have its home pool, and home fans, on its side.
"We're really excited. We know the guys are going to swim fast even if they're not rested because they're excited to be here," coach Jenny Heck said. "There's going to be a lot of their fans here, our home pool and I know they're going to be excited to show what they've got."
Though winning another conference title is a goal, the Hodags have a bigger goal of trying to defend their WIAA sectional title and send as many entries to the WIAA state meet as possible. Because of that, not everyone has started to taper its training. Monday at practice, Heck could be heard encouraging some of her top swimmers through what she was calling "the hardest practice you'll have all season."
"They're training hard. I think they kind of wishing they weren't at this point," she said with a bit of a sheepish chuckle. "But we still have to hit it hard. We hopefully have three weeks left in our season - conference, sectionals and state - coming up. It's a matter of timing it all for these guys, so they are still working hard."
Maybe that's why Heck said there has not been too much talk at practice this week about winning another conference championship.
"I think we've been really focused on one meet at a time all season, and I've been really proud of that," she said. "It's really what we need to do. It's been grueling. The practices have been really tough and I don't think anyone wants to plan too far ahead. We're just going to go after it Friday and worry about that then."
Rhinelander is expecting plenty of challenges from other schools hoping to keep the Hodags off the top step of the podium.
Lakeland has a fast quartet of swimmers with Liam Hogan, Tyler Teichmiller, Brandon Boh and Avery Tucker, all of whom are among the top eight in the conference during the dual meet portion of the season in multiple events.
Notably, Hogan and Teichmiller have the top two times in the 500 freestyle and Lakeland has the top time in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays with those for swimmers on the squad.
Tomahawk may have the fastest swimmer in the conference in senior Travis Phillips, who owns the conference's best time in five individual events.
The Hatchets also have four other swimmers - Zach Hanse, Keaton Jed, Adam Hall and Brady Tjugum who have at least one top-eight time in the conference.
Antigo's Brett Farmer could also play spoiler tomorrow night as he has the fastest time in the 100 backstroke and the second-fastest times in the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly.
In fact, Rhinelander has the top time in the conference in only two events - the 200 medley relay (1:46.32) and the 100 breaststroke (Thaddeus Heck, 1:05.14).
"In our conference, we have some of the best competition in the state. We've got Farmer and Phillips and Lakeland has a ton of guys," coach Heck said. "There are a lot of guys that are going to give us a lot of close races. We'll have to be ready to swim fast, but they're in the same position, too. They have goals for end of season, too. It's just going to be a matter of who can dig down deep and come out on top."
Rhinelander was able to beat Tomahawk (8-2) and Lakeland (6-4) during the dual season thanks to superior depth. That advantage is mitigated somewhat in a six-team meet that pays points to the top 12 finishers in each event.
However, coach Heck said the Hodags' depth may shine through in the relay races.
The Hodags will have the luxury of putting together a fast second entry in at least two, if not all three races, which may have the ability to beat other school's A relays.
"We're going to put three of our best relays together and see what can happen," she said. "What we're really fortunate with is our B relays are really good. That's where we really are ahead in the conference. We have those B relays that can beat other A relays."
Teams had until 2 p.m. Tuesday to submit their conference meet lineups. Heat sheets were unavaialble prior to deadline as one team had incorrectly submitted its lineup.
Tomorrow's meet gets underway at 5:30 p.m. at the Heck Pool.
The top three finishers in each event will earn all-conference honors.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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