The Rhinelander High School wrestling team did not have all hands on deck Saturday for the Great Northern Conference tournament, but did just enough to accomplish the goal it had set prior to the meet.
Tim Fox, Walker Hartman and Trevor Knapp were individual conference champions for the Hodags as Rhinelander placed third in the GNC tournament at Raider Hall in Medford.
Rhinelander edged Antigo by three points in the tournament for third place, and tied with the Red Robins for third in the final conference standings as a result. The Hodags accomplished the feat despite filling only 11 of the 14 weight classes. Starters Tanner Schmidt (illness) and Hugh Wiese (knee) were out of the lineup and the Hodags did not enter anyone at 138 pounds.
"I didn't like our odds going into the day with Tanner Schmidt being out with the flu and Hugh Wiese being hurt," Rhinelander coach Paul Ellenbecker said. "I was thinking, 'Let's just wrestle the best we can.' We wrestled really well overall. To finish this is a pretty big deal for us. It ties us for third place in the conference, which it pretty sweet to be in the top half. It was a nice way to wrap up the conference season."
Knapp found his way to the title in a four-man, round-robin bracket at 195 pounds. He started the day with a major decision over Medford's Dalton Krug and then drew top-seeded Eric Decker of Tomahawk in the second round. Knapp pulled off the win in sudden victory in what Ellenbecker called one of the biggest matches in the early rounds of the tournament.
"There was no one (else) wrestling at the time and the whole gym was into it. The Medford crowd, of course, was cheering for us because wrestling Tomahawk," he said, noting that Medford cheered for anyone wrestling against Tomahawk as the two teams fought for the overall conference title. "It was intense. It was a wild match. Trevor got his eye split open. He almost ran out of blood time. The way Trevor competed and won the conference title, in the second round basically, it was a pretty sweet deal for him. It was his first tournament win. I don't know what Decker's ranked (honorable mention, Division 2), but I know he's pretty high up there in the state and he's one of the better 195-pounders in the state."
Knapp pinned Mosinee's TJ Obremski in the final round to secure the title and earn first-team all-conference honors. It marked the fourth time Knapp earned a spot on the all-GNC team. He was honorable mention each of the previous three years.
Fox and Hartman had easier paths to their titles. Fox became a two-time conference champion as he steamrolled through the 113-pound bracket with two pins and two major decisions.
"Timmy wrestled a good tournament," Ellenbecker said. "He kind of started a little bit slow, but he just picked it up. All the guys in his bracket, he was the best kid in the bracket and he just did what he's been doing in the conference since he's been a freshman - dominating, wrestling really well."
It was a similar story for Hartman. The only scare came in his second match as he nipped Tomahawk's Marcus Matti, 4-2. He took care of his other three matches with first-period pins to take home his first conference championship.
"Walker, we thought, was by far the best kid in his bracket going in," Ellenbecker said. "He started out slow on the day too. He's got to pick up his tempo. It's getting into the regional season now. It's not going to be easier for him next week and he's going to have to wrestle aggressive and stay aggressive on his feet and he's going to have to keep scoring. He didn't have his best day, but he's still a conference champion for the first time, which is a good feeling for Walker."
Rhinelander had three other wrestlers place in the top three of their brackets and earn all-conference honors. Ben Sinclair was the runner-up in a three-man bracket at 285 pounds. Cayden Neri and Connor Lund placed third at 152 and 182, respectively.
The runner-up finish for Sinclair included a bit of redemption as he pinned Antigo's Talik Bussey, who had pinned Sinclair nine days earlier in a GNC dual in Rhinelander.
"It was nice for Ben to get revenge on the Antigo kid," Ellenbecker said. "He wrestled a good match and got the win. It was awesome, knowing we were close with Antigo, to pin the guy. That was a momentum changer for us."
Neri went 3-2 for Rhinelander at 152, including an overtime win over Lakeland's Jerry Goselin that helped him earn all-conference honors. Lund went 2-2 at 182. His only losses came to a pair of ranked wrestlers in Division 2 - Medford's Clay Bowe and Tomahawk's Kade Wenninger.
"Cayden Neri had a full bracket and he's getting better. He just needs to wrestle more. It's going to take him a little while but once it really clicks for him, he's going to be a really good wrestler," Ellenbecker said. "Connor got some big wins when we needed him to. Connor's got a nice record this year. He's won a lot more than he's lost and, looking forward to next week, he's going to have to keep wrestling good to keep it going."
Medford edged Tomahawk 418-391 to win the conference title outright. Rhinelander's 257 points just edged out Antigo (254) and Lakeland (243) for third. Mosinee finished last with 195 points.
The Hodags travel to D.C. Everest this coming Saturday for a WIAA Division 1 regional tournament.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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