A Great Northern Conference championship in coach Paul Ellenbecker's return to the Rhinelander High School wrestling team is all but mathematically out of the equation, but the Hodags will be looking to inch up the conference standings today at the GNC tournament in Medford.
The Hodags, based on a 2-3 record during the dual meet portion of the conference season, enter today's meet in fourth in the conference standings with four points. Medford (5-0, 10 points) leads the GNC followed by Tomahawk (4-1, 8 points), and Antigo (3-2, 6 points).
It's Antigo that Rhinelander has in its sights entering today's meet. With two points available per position based on how the teams finish at today's meet (12 points for first, 10 points for second, 8 points for third and so on), the Hodags could move into at least a tie for third in the conference if they beat Antigo today.
"We're going to try to chase them and beat them in the tournament. That's our goal," Ellenbecker said last Thursday after the Hodags lost to Antigo 48-27 in a dual meet in Rhinelander.
Ellenbecker said depth may be the key to edging Antigo in the tournament. The Red Robins forfeited in three weight classes last Thursday, however Rhinelander had to take a forfeit at 120 with Hugh Wiese sidelined due to an injury.
"Getting our weight classes filled is the big thing, fill all 14 weight classes at conference. Antigo's going to have some holes," Ellenbecker said.
Individually, the top three finishers in each weight class will receive all-conference honors. There will be a round-robin in each weight class and the wrestler with the best record will be conference champion. Head-to-head results and pins will be used to break any ties.
Tim Fox, who will be looking for his second straight conference title, was the only Hodag to make it through the conference season undefeated. He went 5-0 with four pins in his five matches at 113 pounds.
Rhinelander has five other wrestlers who finished above .500 in league play. Walker Hartman, coming off an upset loss to Antigo's Joshua Heuss at 170, went 4-1 in conference play. Wiese was 3-1 at 120. Ben Sinclair was also 3-1 bouncing between the 195-, 220- and 285-pound classes. Connor Lund was 3-2 at 182 and Trevor Knapp went 3-2 between 195 and 220.
With the exception of Wiese, all of Rhinelander's top wrestlers received all-conference honors a season ago. Knapp, a senior, is trying to earn all-conference honors for the fourth straight year. He was third at heavyweight as a freshman and third at 220 each of the last two years.
Fox and Hartman, both juniors, are looking to earn all conference for the third straight year. In addition to his conference title at 106 last year, Fox was second at 106 as a freshman. Hartman was the conference runner-up at 152 last year and was third at 138 as a freshman.
Sinclair and Lund were both conference runners-up last year -Sinclair at 182 and Lund at 195.
"I think we're a little top-heavy compared to (Antigo)," Ellenbecker said. "I think we have more potential to win championships. I'm not sure yet. We've just got to score all the points we can, wrestle the best we can. Realistically, third is a good goal."
The conference tournament begins at 10 a.m. at Medford's Raider Hall.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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