The Rhinelander High School boys' swim team has a tough act to follow after it dominated the sectional round of the WIAA tournament last year. But, after winning the Great Northern Conference championship last week in record-breaking fashion, the goal is clear.
"Our goal is to go for a sectional championship as well," coach Jenny Heck said.
The Hodags are in position to go after a second straight sectional crown and send a host of entries to the WIAA state meet today in a Division 2 sectional in Wisconsin Rapids.
The sectional psych sheets, which list the seed times for every entrant in every sectional across the state, show the Hodags are in a good position heading into the meet. An analysis of the data shows the Hodags are projected to win the sectional by more than 50 points over runner-up Menomonie and currently have seven entries projected to qualify for the WIAA state meet, with a host of others just outside the state cutline.
Heck cautioned that they psych sheets are only a reflection of what swimmers have done to this point of the season. With virtually everyone tapering their training now, times will likely drop significantly today. For her team, the objective is simple - swim as fast as possible, she said.
"We told the kids they need to swim out of their minds," she said. "This is the meet they have to go for. They just can't swim at their times. They've got to go well under their times. That's our goal. If we come out ahead, that's great, but we want big drops."
Sixteen swimmers will qualify for state in each event. There are four 11-team sectionals in Division 2 that will take place today. The champion in each event at each sectional gets an automatic berth into next Friday's Division 2 state meet in Madison. From there, the next 12 fastest times in each event among the four sectionals will earn at-large berths to state.
Based on the psych sheets, Rhinelander is favored to win two events today beginning with the 200-yard freestyle relay, where the Hodags are the defending state champions. Though the Hodags have two new members on that team following the graduation of Nolan Francis and Russell Benoy, they have the top seed time in the sectional (1 minute, 31.96 seconds) and the third-fastest seed time in the state.
Senior Thaddeus Heck is also projected to win the 100 breaststroke. His seed time of 1:03.56, set at last week's conference meet, has him 11th overall in the state. Freshman teammate Jack Antonuk is seeded second in the sectional, and 15th overall in the event (1:04.81).
Rhinelander is also among the top 16 in the state in the 200 medley relay (8th, 1:43.25). Antonuk is seeded 11th in the 200 individual medley (2:09.13). Devon Gaber is ninth in the 50 freestyle (22.70) and 13th in the 100 freestyle (50.45).
"We have some great seeds but, like I always tell the guys, those psych sheets really mean nothing," coach Heck said. "Everyone has the same goal in mind. Everyone wants to make it to state. Everyone know they need big time drops. Now we're going to see who trained the hardest and how much they can drop at this meet. It will be very telling on Saturday."
Rhinelander's hoping those seeds do not hold true in instances where the team it just barely on the outside looking in. Junior Joseph Heck is currently seeded 17th in the 50 freestyle (23.08) and 19th in the 100 backstroke (59.05). Senior David King is currently 17th in the 100 butterfly (57.21), after qualifying for state in the event a year ago.
The Hodags are also seeded 17th in the 400 freestyle relay.
"We've got a few of those guys that are right on that edge," coach Heck said. "We hate being in that position but, at the same time, it's really motivating. I think they love the challenge and they know they can beat some of these guys."
Even if qualifying for state is not in the cards, every swimmer will need to be on his game today for Rhinelander as it looks to lock up a second straight conference title. Menomonie is projected to hold the lead for much of the meet. Rhinelander is not projected to overtake the Mustangs for the lead until the 100 backstroke, the third to last event on the day.
"We told all the guys they need to look at their seed and move up," coach Heck said. "If they're 10th, they've got to shoot for eighth. If they're fourth, shoot for second. Just move up a place and don't let anyone beat us - especially Menomonie."
The meet gets underway at 1 p.m. at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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