Although the Hodag boys soccer season ended with a first round playoff loss to staunch foe Chippewa Falls, the Hodags still posted one of their most impressive years in recent memory. Showcasing quality team play and solid senior leadership, the team captured its second conference championship in three seasons and recorded another playoff berth, helping add another block to a foundation of an already established and successful program.
The boys soccer team posted a record of 12-6-4 overall on the year, with an undefeated record of 8-0-2 in the Great Northern Conference. The team was led by an astounding 10 seniors, with key players such as Conar LaBelle, Ben Franson, Braxton Hjelle and Brad Kenote. The Hodags had a balanced offensive attack, with four players scoring four or more goals in conference on the year, and 12 notching at least one score. But where the Hodags truly shone was their defense.
The Hodags defense regularly stymied some of the most powerful offenses in northern Wisconsin, and the statistics don’t lie. The Hodags out shot GNC opponents 192 to 110 on the season, which directly shows how difficult it was for teams to penetrate the Hodag defensive unit. Senior Conar LaBelle had 65 saves throughout the conference season, with an astounding 90 percent save percentage. Overall, the Hodags’ style of play was simply solid.
Rhinelander head soccer coach Dan Millot is pleased overall with what he saw from his squad on the season.
“I thought we had a good year,” Millot said. “We exceeded expectations regarding the conference, and the kids played as a team this year. In order to be really successful, we had to play as a team and the boys did that. We had a goal to take the conference, and we did that.”
He did briefly mention the disappointing playoff defeat to Chippewa Falls, speaking about the feelings and reactions to the loss.
“The season ending was a little disappointing. I thought we were going into the postseason with a little higher expectation, but we didn’t perform. That is why it ended so abruptly.”
But always willing to give credit where credit is due, Coach Millot talked about his two senior captains, who had tremendous impacts both on and off the soccer field.
“Several players had great years for us,” Millot said. “Conar LaBelle did a fantastic job in goal, just the overall leadership he showed this season. And Ben Franson did an excellent job. Ben had his best season ever playing Hodag soccer his senior year and he really came through for us at some crucial times.”
When questioned about the highlight of the year, or his favorite particular memory, Coach Millot spent a bit of time pondering. When he did mention a certain performance, it was easy to understand why he chose that particular event.
“I think the highlight of the season was being able to win conference at home against Medford. Medford was a strong team this year, and we knew that we had the conference within our control; we just had to go out and execute. To win conference on senior night during your last home game, that was just a really good feeling.”
And the best part about the boys soccer program is that the future is very bright. Several returning stars are ready to build on impressive junior seasons, and step up to lead a team of their own. Colton Volkmann and Eric Fabich can lead the dominating defense while Nate Tvedten and Nick Wright return to spearhead what could potentially be a high octane offense in 2013. Coach Millot recognizes next season’s decisive ability, and is already planning what could be another dominating season.
“One of our goals for next year is we want to build the program during the offseason. Heavy recruiting is going to occur for sure, and we want to extend the program’s reach. We have some kids who have set the tone, kids who have worked hard and kids who are coming up. R.J. Eades, Chris Hagen and Mason Shallow are all kids ready to step up for us.”
In short, this season was a memorable one, to say the least, for the Hodags. And perhaps the most impressive thing is that next year has the potential to shine a little brighter.
Editor’s note: For more coverage of local sports, visit StarJournalNOW.com and HodagSports.com.