Members of the Rhinelander High School track team stretch toward the end of practice Monday, March 9. Monday was the first day track teams across the state could practice in preparation for the 2020 season. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander High School track and field coach Aaron Kraemer oversees warmups prior to practice Monday, March 9 in Rhinelander.
3/12/2020 7:30:00 AM Track practice off and running
Rhinelander High School track and field head coach Aaron Kraemer had many words to describe the start of another season, but he kept coming back to one, "giddy."
Track practice began Monday, the first of the high school spring sports to being preparations for the upcoming season. The Hodags are back following a turnaround 2019 campaign that saw the team win its first boys' track conference title since 1967 and score three podium finishes at the WIAA Division 2 state meet.
"I'm really excited about how many kids we have on the team, both boys and girls," Kraemer said following the opening practice. "I see some new faces and some kids coming back that I'm really excited to work with. I think giddy's the word and just super excited about what we can do and just seeing the kids again."
Kraemer said numbers for the team are up this season compared to last year, certainly bolstered by the team's success on the track.
"Any time you see kids wearing their conference championship T-shirts around you start to ask questions about what that's like," he said. "Just talking to some of the teachers today, there was quite a buzz in the hallway about track practice."
An exact head count at Monday's practice was inconclusive as he excused a number of athletes from the first day of training who had just finished their boys' or girls' basketball seasons a few days prior.
"I told them to go home and rest," he said. "I would say we had 15 kids that didn't show up today because they are resting and getting themselves ready, not only physically but mentally too. They went through some difficult last games and I want to make sure they're fully prepared."
As for the rest of the team, the first day saw the athletes put through a number of tests both inside the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium and the adjacent Aspirus Fitness Center at Rhinelander High School. It was a combine of sorts that included 40-yard dashes, medicine ball tosses and other drills.
"I just want to make sure I don't leave any stone unturned here," Kraemer said. "If there's a distance runner who can sprint really fast, I want to know. If there's someone this week who can throw a med ball really far, I want to know so coach Ferge can work with that person. We're just kind of doing a bit of a combine to see where they're at. During the week, we'll do some other ranking, recording and publishing so we get a little bit of competition the first week. They get a little bit of recognition the first week on our Facebook and our Twitter so that we can see where they're truly at, where we can improve and if we can take some people and slide them (into different events)."
The team is scheduled to take part in its first meet a week from today in an indoor competition at Northland Pines High School in Eagle River, though Kraemer said the team will have limited participation, at best, during that meet as it coincides with Rhinelander High School's spring break.
The team's next competition would be March 24 in an indoor meet at Ashland.
"Normally we have two weeks and we have our first meet in before we leave for spring break," he said. "This is kind of a weird situation. I'm going to try to make sure all of our kids that are going to stay for break go to the meet, test it out and see what it's like. But I want them to understand the real essence of what our track season's going to be like it going to be as soon as we come back from break and we start making our push."
Kraemer's coaching staff remains largely unchanged from a season ago. Chris Ferge returns to oversee the throwing events, Melissa Krueger will be in charge of the distance program, Moria King will split time between the middle school and high school programs while helping with the hurdlers and Kraemer's wife, Kayann will also assist with hurdlers and high jumpers.
"I think we have plenty of coverage for a group of kids that, maybe in the past, we didn't have the coverage for," Aaron Kraemer said. "I'm really, really happy to be working with all of these coaches. Now it's my opportunity to be putting some people in the right seats and maybe a little delegating that I didn't have to do before. It's really nice to have so many great coaches on our staff."
Additionally, the team is welcoming two new coaches to the staff, Jim Povolo and Ryan Nehls. Povolo is a physical education instructor at RHS and comes in with plenty of experience and will work primarily with high jumpers and pole vaulters.
"To have coach Povolo, somebody with so much experience coaching pole vault and high jump at different levels - collegiate levels and high school levels - he has some ties to high school coaches in the state, I think it's and excellent opportunity to have him on staff and I can't wait to work with him," Aaron Kraemer said.
Nehls, a 2014 RHS grad, was a two-time WIAA state qualifier for the Hodags, placing 14th in the Division 1 100-meter dash as a junior and 15th in the D1 high jump as a senior. He will be focusing on sprints and jumps.
"I've seen his numbers and our kids have seen his numbers," Aaron Kraemer said. "We know what he's capable of. To have Ryan helping us is going to be really nice. We're going to start building high jump work and sprint work in."
The remainder of the RHS spring sports teams will begin practice in the coming weeks. The RHS softball team is eligible to begin practice this coming Monday, but has pushed back the start of practice to March 23 due to spring break, the Hodag baseball and girls' soccer teams will also begin practice March 23. The first day of RHS boys' tennis practice is March 30 and the RHS golf team will begin practice April 6.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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