In this Feb. 22, 2020 file photo, Rhinelander’s Lilli Bishop performs a jump during her floor exercise routine during the Great Northern Conference gymnastics meet at Chequamegon High School in Park Falls. Bishop, a junior, was the top all-around performer for the Hodag gymnastics team for much of the season. Photos by Bob Mainhardt/for the River News.
In this Feb. 1, 2020 file photo, Rhinelander’s Autumn Shafer vaults during the Antigo Invitational gymnastics meet. Shafer, a junior, missed three meets this season following an injury she sustained during a Jan. 7 meet against Mosinee in Rhinelander.
3/31/2020 7:27:00 AM Team Review: RHS gymnastics:
Hodags overcame 'small
adversities' during 2019-20 season
The Rhinelander High School gymnastics team's season went about as well as it could have, considering the circumstances it had to deal with this season.
The Hodags finished second in the Great Northern Conference Small Division and fourth in the WIAA Division 2 sectional meet.
Medford, with a historically good season, made winning the GNC Small and competing for team and individual state tournament berths an extremely difficult proposition. What's more, the Hodags' progress throughout the season was delayed by a host of injuries and setbacks.
"We had to overcome a lot of small adversities this season," coach Heather Sturtevant said following the season. "Girls had to keep stepping up when they might not have even been planning on competing and then, all of a sudden, they had to do varsity. With that, we just continued to improve all around. We improved our (individual) scores. We improved our team scores. We had so many personal bests. Really, just everybody stepped up no matter where they were needed. That was just such a nice feeling as a coach, to have a team that was that cohesive that they would do that."
Here are five storylines from the recently completed season.
The Hodags did not have a ton of variance in their team scores this year, starting the season with a 111.85 in the Medford Invite and ending with a 110.775 at sectionals - though that sectional score comes with an asterisk as the Hodags were without top all-around Lilli Bishop due to an injury suffered at practice in the week leading up to the event.
Perhaps a more accurate gauge of where the Hodags were at season's end was the 114.85 score the team posted at sectionals. That was the team's third-best score of the year, exceeded only by a 115.0 in the Antigo Invite Feb. 1 and a 115.075 in a dual meet lost to Medford Feb. 11. Taken by month, the Hodags averaged 112.325 in its three meets in December, the average dropped to 107.25 in five January meets but bounced back to 112.7625 in its six February meets (see graphic).
A big part of the reason that Rhinelander's scores declined, especially during the month of January, was health.
Juniors Bishop, Autumn Shafer and Bridget Koser were the team's top returning gymnasts - and all three were limited by injury and/or illness at some point during the season.
The biggest blow came Jan. 7 during a home gymnastics dual against Mosinee when Shafer, attempting to transition from the low to high bars in her balance beam routine fell and sustained an elbow injury that caused her to miss the team's next three meets.
Though Shafer returned - in a limited capacity -during the team's Jan. 25 meet at Rice Lake, the Hodags were missing two other starters that day as they posted a season-low score of 104.70.
The team was close to 100 percent at the Antigo Invite Feb. 1. Shafer was back in the all-around and Koser, who has her 2018-19 season cut short due to injury, vaulted for the first time since last year.
Koser missed the Ashland Invite Feb. 15 due to a lingering toe injury and, despite battling illness at sectionals, laid down a personal-best score of 8.35 on floor exercise, good enough for ninth overall in the event.
Bishop was performing at her best right before her injury.
She recorded career-high marks on balance beam (7.9) and in the individual all-around (30.5) which resulted in fifth-place finishes in both events at the GNC meet.
Even if Rhinelander was 100% healthy all season, catching Medford was going to be nearly impossible with the season the Raiders had, culminating in a school-record team score and a fifth-place finish in the WIAA D2 team state meet.
Medford, the reigning GNC Small champions, added two more talented freshmen on top of the pair of talented freshmen they had come into the program a year ago and were a dominant force all year, consistently scoring in the between the upper 120s and lower 130s.
"We knew going in we weren't going to beat Medford," Sturtevant conceded when her team posted its season high Feb. 11 and still lost to Medford 127.525-115.075 in a meet that gave the Raiders sole possession of first in the GNC Small. "We've seen them all year. We know what their girls are capable of, so really it was more what are we personally capable of."
When healthy Bishop, Shafer and Koser filled roughly half of the 20 available starting spots the Hodags had between the four events, but other contributors came to the forefront during portions of the season - in particular freshman Payton Rudawski and sophomore Abby Belbot.
Rudawski was a solid contributor for the Hodags on balance beam, floor exercise and vault much of the season.
Due to Shafer's injury, Belbot was thrust into a varsity all-around role and steadily improved. Her best performance came at the Ashland Invite when she recorded personal-best scores of 26.825 in the all-around and 7.45 on balance beam.
"Abby threw up some nice, solid scores," Sturtevant said following that meet. "She continues to improve. She had a personal best on beam and bars again today, a personal best all-around. Every day the girls just keep stepping up that little bit each time. We just keep getting rewarded for it. It was a real good day for everybody."
Another underclassman, Genna Fugle, began to contribute for the team, especially on uneven bars, toward the end of the year.
The Hodags graduate only two seniors from this year's squad - Allysa Scheuermann and Amber Briggs. Scheuermann was primarily an uneven bars contributor on varsity while Briggs' specialty was balance beam.
That means Rhinelander will have virtually all of its starters back for next season. With the majority of Medford's top talent entering its junior and sophomore seasons, catching the Raiders in the in the GNC Small may be a difficult task
However, with some improvement over the offseason, and a little more good fortune in terms of health next year, Sturtevant said the team could certainly improve its scores from this season.
"Looking forward to next year already, girls have some goals," Sturtevant said. "We were down at state and we came back with new ideas and new thoughts for some of the girls and some things to try this summer. The girls are all super game and really wanting to continue to up their games. That's exactly how we're going to move forward with our program."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at jeremy@rivernewsonline.
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