Last month, Rhinelander High School track and field coach Aaron Kraemer received one more accolade for the Hodag boys' remarkable 2019 turnaround season.
Kraemer was awarded the District 2 boys' track coach of the year by the Wisconsin Track Coach Association during its annual clinic in Madison.
Kraemer said he was humbled by the award, which he considered to be a team honor rather than an individual honor.
"It's hard for me when I'm honored because it's really, really hard for me to accept that type of praise when I respect my kids' efforts and my coaches' efforts so much," Kraemer said.
The WISTCA coach of the year awards were voted upon by fellow WISTCA members. District 2 covers 68 schools in the northern area of the state, including schools like Marshfield and Stevens Point, and covers an area stretching from Abbotsford to Suring and from Iola-Scandinavia to Florence.
The Hodags had an incredible turnaround in 2019. Fifth in the Great Northern Conference boys' standings a season earlier, the Hodags won the boys' conference meet last year - the team's first track and field conference championship since 1967. Additionally, the Hodags were regional champions for the first time in school history and had three entries at the WIAA Division 2 state meet - including the team's school record- breaking 4x100- and 4x200-meter relays. Seniors Anthony Kowalski, Josh Francisco and AJ Kopplin were on the 4x100 with junior Nick Kriesel. Kowalski, Francisco, Kriesel and freshman Caleb Olcikas were on the 4x200.
"Last year, I had a group of seniors that was really, really special, and will always be special to me," Kraemer said. "It's hard for me to accept praise for an award that I don't necessarily think I deserve, but they deserve. I'm happy to be given that recognition, but I would tell everybody at every moment that this is an award the kids deserve and the coaches, other than myself, deserve more than I do.
"Whenever you have people down in La Crosse (at the state meet), you know you've had a pretty decent season. To win a conference championship and an regional championship, that's something our kids are going to try to emulate, but I'll just keep telling them be better against yourself every single day and you don't have to worry about that."
Kraemer's comments came before the WIAA suspended the spring sports season indefinitely due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It is uncertain, at this point, when or if the Hodags will get the opportunity to build upon last year's remarkable turnaround.
Kraemer said if the Hodags are able to compete, he expects the team to be strong again this year.
"I'm very proud of what we were able to accomplish. I miss our seniors, but we have another great group of seniors coming forward that are going to be just as strong and do just as well, I feel," he said.
Three Lakes' Wyss also honored
Oneida County ended up with a clean sweep of the WISTCA District 2 coach of the year awards as Three Lakes/Phelps head coach Andy Wyss took home girls' coach of the year honors.
The award follows a string of accomplishments for the Bluejays' girls' track program that includes a third consecutive Northern Lakes Conference Championship, a back-to-back WIAA Regional Championship, a third-place finish at the WIAA Sectional Meet, and a fourth-place team finish at the WIAA state meet last June.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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