Megan Brown receives a high five from Rhinelander High School girls’ basketball coach Ryan Clark as she heads to the bench in the final seconds of a 66-55 win over Lakeland in Minocqua Tuesday, Feb. 11. The victory clinched Rhinelander’s second consecutive Great Northern Conference girls’ basketball title. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
2/13/2020 7:30:00 AM TWICE AS NICE Lady Hodags down Lakeland 66-55, clinch second straight GNC crown
The Rhinelander High School girls' basketball team awoke Tuesday to a 6 a.m. text message from coach Ryan Clark. He had a plan of how to take down Great Northern Conference rival Lakeland for the fourth time in a row.
The Hodags executed that plan and, as a result, are on top of the GNC for the second consecutive year.
Cynthia Beavers had 28 points and 12 rebounds, the Hodags put the clamps on Lakeland's leading scorers Juliana Ouimette and Abby Parris, and Rhinelander celebrated as conference champions again Tuesday night with a 66-55 victory over the Thunderbirds in Minocqua.
Clark's 6 a.m. idea - a triangle-and-2 defense. He would put the Hodags' best defenders - Megan Brown and Ella Schiek - on Ouimette and Parris, who had combined to average more than 40 points per game for Lakeland, while the rest of the team played zone.
The plan worked well. Ouimette was held to 14 points, more than nine points below her season average. Parris had only one point - a second half free throw - as she attempted only three shots from the field. She entered the game averaging 17 points a game as Lakeland's top 3-point shooter.
"It just hit me," Clark said of the idea that led to the early morning text. "I remember a couple of years ago, the last time we lost (in conference), we lost here and I was mad at myself because I wanted to try a triangle-and-2 and we didn't do it. I texted the girls at 6 this morning, 'Hey, I'm feeling a triangle-and-2.'"
Clark quickly received a response from his team leaders, who were completely on board with the idea.
"Me being me, the first thing I did was say that's such a savage move," said senior Kenedy Van Zile, who chipped in 19 points for the Hodags. "My whole entire career, having never, ever done a zone and I was just really excited all day. I didn't tell anyone about it. It was our little secret. It was our secret weapon. I was just excited to do it and I thought, for not practicing it, we did a really good job."
Added fellow senior Sophia McGinnis: "I think it's pretty cool that we really tried something different tonight. We came into this game really wanting to shut down their two best players. I think we did that really well. We had Megan and Ella face guarding them the majority of the game. I think it was just really a team effort. It's a proud moment for us."
Rhinelander's efforts to lock down Ouimette and Parris left opportunities for other players. Joeli Koehler, starting for an injured Camille Quade, had 23 points and 12 rebounds while Amaya White chipped in 17 points for Lakeland.
Koehler and White had 30 of Lakeland's first 36 points as the T-Birds held a one-point lead three minutes into the second half. That's when the Hodags, and Beavers in particular, took over.
Rhinelander went on a 17-1 run over the next seven-plus minutes to take a 52-37 lead. Beavers had 14 of the points in that run. Twenty of her game-high 28 points came in the second half.
"I was mentally thinking, 'I have to come out stronger. I'm better than what I was in the first half,'" Beavers said. "I really just pushed myself to do my best. I wasn't focused on how many points I had or how many rebounds, I was just looking at the score, wanting to keep us ahead."
"She played a fantastic second half," Clark said. "Can't say enough about the phenomenal season she's had. For her to play like that, I think she established herself as a legit player of the year contender."
The seminal moment for Beavers and the Hodags came with Lakeland down nine nearing the 10-minute mark. Ouimette had the ball go through her hands on a turnover in the back court and Beavers followed with a quick 3 to put Rhinelander ahead 49-37.
Lakeland got back to within nine points on a couple of occasions in the final minute, but Rhinelander answered from the foul line each time before celebrating as champions again.
"They're pretty excited. I think they sang 'We Are the Champions' a couple times," Clark said, describing the atmosphere in the locker room after the game.
"There's just a lot of emotion, especially for us seniors and being able to experience this again for the second year together. It just means so much to all of us," Van Zile said.
Rhinelander did not lead until late in the first half as Lakeland opened the game on a 9-2 run. The Hodags went ahead on a Beavers free throw with 3:57 remaining. Lakeland answered with back-to-back buckets by Koehler and White to go up 27-24, but Rhinelander scored the last six points of the half, including a pair of baskets by Rebecca Lawrence, to take a three-point lead at halftime.
Lakeland, without Quade, went with an extremely short bench Tuesday night. Haley Curtis was the only sub to see the floor until the final minute with the game out of reach. The Hodags went eight deep on Tuesday and eventually wore down the T-Birds.
"I've got to thank Tara Gremban, our strength and conditioning coach," Clark said. "We're in such great physical condition. I think when they start to see other teams start to call to the bench for a sub, I think our girls get tougher."
Rhinelander finished the night 42.6% from the floor on 23 of 54 shooting and was 6 of 17 from distance. Lakeland shot a nearly identical 41.1% (23 of 56) but was only 2 of 18 from 3-point range. Rhinelander also controlled the rebounds to a tune of 35-26.
It all added up to another number being put on the Hodags conference-championship banner which had been bare up until last season.
"To be a program that hadn't won (a conference title) ever and then, with this group of young ladies, just keep fighting, 12-0 last year, 10-0 right now this year. It's a pretty special group," Clark said.
He was not the only Rhinelander coach to take note of the accomplishment.
"Watching the time and effort that those girls have put in this season, they work hard. It's a fun group to watch," RHS boys' basketball coach Derek Lemmens said following his team's 64-44 win over the Lakeland boys Tuesday night. "We're standing there watching just about the entire game. It's hard to think of our game. They're an enjoyable team to watch. Coach Clark does an amazing job. I love that we have him. I love working with him with our youth and it's great to see all that hard work pay off."
The Lady Hodags are not done, however, as two very tangible goals remain for the regular season - a second straight undefeated conference season and the potential to earn a No. 2 seed and two home playoff games come this weekend's sectional seeding meeting.
"We're excited to keep pushing our ceiling," Van Zile said. "We still have a long run. We've got to get the home regional championship game. That's our goal and, if we keep playing as we do, keep playing to our strengths, we'll be just fine."
Rhinelander hosts Antigo Friday night at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium in the first half of a varsity basketball doubleheader. The girls' game will tip at 6 p.m.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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