In this Jan. 19, 2020 file photo, Rhinelander’s Zach Goodrich competes in the Ascension Hodag Nordic Challenge at the Cedric A. Vig Outdoor Classroom in Rhinelander. Goodrich, a junior, led the Hodag boys much of the season and placed 32nd overall at the WNSL state meet.
Photos by Jeremy Mayo/River News
In this Jan. 19, 2020 file photo, Rhinelander’s Anna Wood skis toward the finish line of the Ascension Hodag Nordic Challenge at the Cedric A. Vig Outdoor Classroom in Rhinelander. Wood, who was one of Rhinelander’s top finishers much of the season, missed the WNSL state meet due to illness.
3/21/2020 7:30:00 AM Team review: RHS Nordic skiing Despite state struggles, Reis says 2019-20 was successful
The Rhinelander High School Nordic ski teams had lofty expectations for the 2020 Wisconsin Nordic Ski League state meet, compared to how the team fared at state over the past several season.
Many on the team felt that finishing in the top half of the participating squads at the WNSL meet in Cable would signal to the rest of the state that the Hodag program is in the midst of a resurgence following some lean years in the early to mid 2010s.
However, the WNSL state meet did not go as planned for the team. Between illness, missing the wax setup on classic day and several other factors, the Hodags managed only a 12th-place finish out of 17 teams in the boys' standings, while taking 11th out of 12 teams in the girls' standings.
But to look solely at the state meet results would downplay the other successes the team had during the 2019-20 season, coach Charil Reis said last month during team banquet.
"You didn't reach your goal. You weren't seventh at state, but if I just defined success by that one single marker, the journey would not have been worth it. The season would not have been worth it. But it was worth it," Reis said.
Here are five storylines from the season.
Even though the Hodags did not meet their state goals, their results still mirrored last season when both squads finished 11th in the final rankings. Moreover, the majority of the team's finishers improved on their placement from last year's state meet, which Reis recognized at the banquet.
"We had a lot of improvement at state this year, and this is based on overall pursuit standings this year compared to last year," Reis said.
Kyle Morien improved 20% from last season on the boys' side - finishing 53rd in a field of 133 skiers this year, compared to an 83rd-place finish last year. Jaylen Janssen moved up 15% from last year, taking 83rd this year compared to 114th last year.
Improved results were apparent in almost every race the team had this season, including the team's home Ascension Hodag Nordic Challenge at the Cedric A. Vig Outdoor Classroom. The Hodags succeeded in finishing in the middle of the 16-team event, placing eighth in the girls' division and ninth in the boys' division.
"Obviously, we're climbing the ranks," Reis said afterward. "The boys moved up one spot and the girls moved up two spots over last year for varsity teams. I can't be anything but happy with that. We're moving in the right direction still."
Badger State Games
The Hodags' brightest moments took place during races three days apart at the end of January. First, Rhinelander had a strong individual showing at the Badger State Games in Wausau.
The day included the top overall finishes for the Hodag boys in the 7-kilometer classic, 7-kilometer freestyle and 10-kilometer classic races, and 12 medals overall for the high school squad for finishing within the top three in their age groups.
Senior Nicholas St. Pierre won gold in the boys' 7K classic race. Kyle Morien, Gwyneth Lowry, Valerie Dalka and Jenna Younker also medalled in the classic. That afternoon, Goodrich, Daniel Goldsworthy and Kyle Morien went 1-2-4 overall in the boys' 7K freestyle race while Anna Wood, Megan Lester and Abbey Henrichs medaled in the girls' 7K freestyle.
Though the race was held opposite of a Junior National Qualifier event in Hayward that drew away some of the state's top skiers, Reis said the accomplishment was still impressive.
"They do realize how beneficial it is to get another race in under their belts and what it feels like to be on top of the podium and that they deserved to be there and that they should give themselves permission to be there," she said. "They earned it. They showed up and they earned it. I couldn't be prouder of the team today. They really represented themselves very, very well. It was a great day overall."
The strong form carried over to the Northern Conference meet three days later in Hayward as the Hodags finished in the middle of the pack, placing third of seven teams in the boys' varsity division and fourth of seven teams in the girls' varsity division.
Goodrich led the way with an eighth-place finish in the boys' race while Lowry paced the Hodag girls' in 16th.
"All in all, it was a memorable day that all of us should be proud of," Reis said. "This is most certainly good prep for state in a week and a half, and we should all be using today's momentum to keep surging forward through the rest of this week and next."
WNSL state meet
The Hodags had plenty of confidence heading into state, but circumstances hindered the Hodags. On the girls' side, Wood was a late scratch due to illness and Megan Lester was also unable to compete, taking away what would have likely been two of the Hodags' top five finishers.
Meanwhile the team struggled to find the right combination of waxes for the skiers during Saturday's classic race, which led to sub-optimal performance.
"I guess it would be like getting kids to a swim meet and throwing them in a pool that's 20 degrees colder than they anticipated and then asking them to swim their best times," Reis said. "I just don't think it could happen."
The Hodags did bounce back during Sunday's freestyle race. Goodrich bettered his finish at state from 2019, moving up to 32nd overall as he cracked the top 30 on freestyle day. Liana Teter, who raced despite feeling under the weather, led the Hodag girls in 61st.
The Hodags lose seven seniors off this year's squad - Valeria Dalka, Jaylen Janssen, Carleene Morien, Levi Smith, St. Pierre, Breckin Younker and Jenna Younker.
That said, the majority of the team's top five finishers from state return - with Goodrich, Kyle Morien and Goldsworthy back on the boys' side, and Teter, Lowry and Henrichs back on the girls' side.
While Reis was proud of the team's accomplishments this season, to climb further up the state rankings, more offseason training is necessary, she told the team.
"A goal like being seventh in state would really require everyone to spend a couple hundred hours on sport-specific training in the fall and summer," she said. "Now is the time. There's no time like the present."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce