On Tuesday, Sept. 4, the first day of a new school year, the Rhinelander Lady Hodags tennis squad had a little extra challenge, welcoming the Lakeland Thunderbirds to town for a GNC clash. However, in the end Rhinelander sent the visiting T-Birds home with a thorough drubbing by a final tally of 6-1.
At the No. 1 singles spot Lyssa Messerli continued to show her ability to grind out victories, defeating fellow senior Jenna Towers 6-0, 7-6 (4) in a second tie break set. At the No. 2 spot Eileen Emond fell to Danielle Murth, a Lakeland senior, 0-6, 6-0, 5-7. Despite the loss, Eileen battled through both a vast age and experience difference and remained competitive throughout. Roz Hatlen battled in the No. 3 spot and was victorious 6-3, 2-6, 6-1. And finally two sport athlete Eva O’Melia won 6-2, 6-1 in the No. 4 singles slot to move to a perfect 13-0 on the year.
The doubles teams were in peak form on Tuesday for the Hodags. At No. 1 Kelsie Prahl and Beth Zenk decisively won 6-1, 6-0. Sisters Melissa and Amber Sheth were victorious 6-0, 6-1 at the No. 2 spot, and sophomores Erin Tenderholt and Tessa Bloch clinched the win 6-0, 6-4 at No. 3.
Overall, the rich get richer for the Hodags. Already holding a vast advantage in the point based conference standing, the decisive 6-1 victory will only already help bolster the Hodag lead.
With the victory Coach Bob Heideman is happy with the effort and prowess his team showcased today.
“Number one I thought we got off to a strong start, but I give Lakeland a lot of credit because they came back in a lot of sets,” he said. “They took Lyssa to a tie breaker, won the first set against Eileen. But I give our girls credit for focusing well at the end of matches. It’s a big advantage.”
And this Hodag team has seen plenty of that this season. Just when an opponent might hope to coast to a victory, the Hodags are known to strike. Being able to focus under pressure and scrutiny and play their best tennis is one of this teams many strengths.
“Lyssa has a strategy, “I’m going to get the ball in no matter how soft, and make you hit it over the net to beat me.” In a lot of matches this works. We would like her to add a little dimension to hit the ball a little harder. It’s her 4th year on varsity and she has a lot of experience. She digs them out in these close matches.”
Coach Heideman also recognized the improvements No. 3 singles player Roz Hatlen has already shown so far this season.
“Early in the season when Roz would get behind, she would let it overcome her. But recently she has had sets where she is behind, like the third set today, and she comes back and wins. Mentally we are stronger now then we were in the beginning of the season.”
The win for the Hodags tonight brings their overall record to an impressive 11-2, 8-0 in the Great Northern Conference. When looking toward the future, Coach Heideman still has his eyes set on a major goal.
“Yeah the GNC title is definitely in our frame of reference. We just have to keep working in practice so when we go out we are better than we were before. Then the matches kind of take care of themselves. We need two more good matches against Medford and Antigo and we just gave ourselves a huge advantage in the conference tournament. We have a week between those two; we are going to tool down to some real basics and help rebuild our strokes a little. Sometimes when you play a lot of matches fundamentals deteriorate a little. This will help us toward the end of the season.”