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April 4, 2020

Rhinelander’s Devon Gaber holds up the WIAA Division 2 boys’ swimming sectional championship plaque following a meet in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb. 15. Rhinelander won its second straight sectional title, defeating Tomahawk by 60 points. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Devon Gaber holds up the WIAA Division 2 boys’ swimming sectional championship plaque following a meet in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb. 15. Rhinelander won its second straight sectional title, defeating Tomahawk by 60 points. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Thaddeus Heck competes in the 100-yard breaststroke during a WIAA Division 2 sectional swim meet in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb. 15. Heck won the sectional title in the event for a second straight year. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Rhinelander’s Thaddeus Heck competes in the 100-yard breaststroke during a WIAA Division 2 sectional swim meet in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb. 15. Heck won the sectional title in the event for a second straight year. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
2/18/2020 7:30:00 AM
'Back to the Nat'
Hodag swimmers repeat as sectional champs, qualify nine entries for state

Jeremy Mayo
Sports Editor


WISCONSIN RAPIDS - Almost everything went according to plan Saturday for the Rhinelander High School boys' swim team in another dominating WIAA sectional performance.

The Hodags won two events Saturday and finished on the podium in all but one event as it won the WIAA Division 2 sectional title for a second year in a row. In the process, Rhinelander qualified nine entries - including all three of its relays - for this Friday's WIAA state meet at the UW Natatorium in Madison.

"'Back to the Nat', that's what I like to hear," said senior Thaddeus Heck, who accounted for one of Rhinelander's two individual sectional championships with a victory in the 100-yard breaststroke. "I'm excited to be there. It's a great pool, unbelievable atmosphere. To be back there for one last swim is one amazing feeling. We're going to go dominate them."

Things went almost exactly to script for the Hodags, who were projected to win the meet by 56 points and send seven entries to state based on the psych sheets released by the WIAA prior to the meet. Rhinelander ended up winning the sectional title by 60 points over runner-up Tomahawk.

"I think everyone dropped time and that's what we wanted," coach Jenny Heck said. "They placed about where they were or maybe up a little bit. Everyone here's in the same boat. They're shooting to get their best times of the season. If you can up a seed, that's great. If you can beat another team, that's awesome. I think we did what we needed to do and I think the guys are thrilled."

Rhinelander's other sectional title came in the 200 freestyle relay. The Hodags earned seven at large berths for the state meet in addition to the automatic berths received for winning events at sectionals. Devon Gaber qualified in the 50 and 100 freestyle, Joseph Heck made it in the 50 freestyle, Jack Antonuk qualified in the 200 individual medley, David King made it in the 100 butterfly. The Hodags will also send their 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays to Madison.

In the cases of Antonuk and the 400 free relay, the Hodags received the 12th and final at-large state berth.

Thaddeus Heck repeated as sectional champion in the breaststroke. His time of 1 minute, 2.32 seconds beat Lakeland's Tyler Teichmiller to the wall by 0.71 seconds in a tight four-way battle that saw first through fourth separated by only 1.28 seconds.

"That sectional championship in the breast, that was awesome," Heck said. "That was a great feeling. It's great to do that two years in a row. That was really special that I could do that one more time for my senior swim."

The Hodags also defended their sectional title in the 200 freestyle relay by the narrowest of margins. Daniel Gillingham, Devon Gaber and Joseph Heck put Rhinelander in the lead entering the final 50 as they turned it over to freshman Charlie Heck, who held off Lakeland's anchor swimmer Liam Hogan by 0.10 seconds for a winning time of 1:29.98.

"The 200 free relay felt really good," Joseph Heck said. "We played it safe, even on the starts and we still had great splits, so I think we're even looking for better times going into state. I think this will seed us really well.

Added coach Heck, "Those are some of the fastest guys in the state that we were swimming against. We knew it was going to be a close race. Their splits were incredible. We really needed those fast times in the beginning for Charlie to be able to hold off Liam like that. Charlie was able to sneak in. You never know, Liam's arms are twice as long as Charlie's. We were thrilled we got to the wall first."

The Hodags nearly had a third sectional title, but just missed on in the medley relay as the team of Joseph Heck, Thaddeus Heck, David King and Devon Gaber was out-ouched by 0.04 seconds from the quartet of Kaleb Kazmerek, Kevin Leach, Adam Giljohann and Austin Gjestson of Menomonie. The Hodags' time of 1:40.74 was still easily among the top 16 statewide, placing fourth overall.

"We were right in there and I know we're a better team," Thaddeus Heck said. "We had a better relay than them and we'll show that next week. We're coming for them again. We're not letting them out of sight. I think we'll be right back with them."

Devon Gaber will swim a four-event program at state and will make a return trip to Madison in both the 50 and 100 free. He placed third in the 50 with a time of 22.27 that was eighth-fastest statewide. He also placed third in the 100 (49.51), good enough for ninth-fastest in the state.

Though Joseph Heck finished fifth in the sectional in the 50 (22.55), he still made it inside the cutline with time to spare. David King is back at state in the 100 butterfly after placing fourth in the sectional in the event (54.74). Like Joseph Heck in the 50, King finished 0.32 seconds better than the cutline.

Things were much more interesting for Antonuk. He squeaked in as the last qualifier in the 200 IM. He placed third in the sectional at 2:07.09 and finished 0.05 seconds ahead of DeForest senior Evan Ridd for the final qualifying spot.

Antonuk also made it in the 400 freestyle relay with fellow freshmen Daniel Gillingham and Charlie Heck, along with senior David King. Their time of 3:27.53 was 0.53 seconds faster than Sturgeon Bay for the final at-large berth.

Things played out as anticipated for Rhinelander in the team standings. Menomonie won the first three swimming events to take an early lead. Rhinelander inched ahead briefly after the 100 freestyle. Menomonie retook the lead with a win in the 500, but the Hodags jumped back to the top spot with the win in the 200 freestyle relay and pulled away with strong performances in the backstroke and breaststroke, mathematically clinching the sectional title prior to the final event. Tomahawk and Menomonie entered the 400 freestyle relay tied for second and the Hatchets took the runner-up spot by two points as they narrowly out-touched the Mustangs for second in the final event.

Teams were allowed only 18 individual entries plus one relay per event. The Hodags made the most of their lineup as 18 of its 21 total entries finished inside the top eight to each the podium and all 21 entries bettered their seed times.

"It really was a team effort to get here," Jenny Heck said. "To be conference champs and sectional champs, all the way through the season, it took every single guy here to help achieve that. I'm really proud of these guys."

Antonuk finished fourth for Rhinelander in the 100 breaststroke, Gillingham added fifth-place swims for Rhinelander in the 100 and 200 freestyle races and Jacob Schoppe finished fifth in the IM. Rhinelander finished fifth, sixth and seventh in the backstroke with David King, Joseph Heck and Carter Gaber. Charlie Heck was seventh in the 50 freestyle.

"My team stepped up 100%, had absolute awesome swims," Thaddeus Heck said. "It was either personal bests or very close to that. That's what we needed and that's what we did."

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at jeremy@rivernewsonline.com.





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