The Rhinelander Hodags boys swimming team is returning to the waters of the Heck Family Community Pool this week, and strong goals and a bevy of talent dive in with them. Returning a first team of all conference athletes along with rock solid senior leadership, the Hodag swimmers work toward repeating as Great Northern Conference Champions.
Following a season where the Hodags went 2-1-1 over dual meets in the conference season, the team is looking to make another run at GNC immortality. Due to a change in format regarding the unusually small conference, the five teams will be swimming one another twice as opposed to the solitary dual meet of just last season. Every team will challenge an opponent in their home pool and opposing waters, to give a clearer outline of the conference hierarchy.
"The GNC schedule is a bit different this year," said Coach Amber Laggis. "We will be seeing each team twice, once home and once away. That is new and exciting because you will be able to swim a team and see the result whether you win or lose, and then get the chance to swim them again."
When continuing to discuss the season with Coach Laggis, she recognizes the potential in her group and talks about her goals for this year's team of boys.
"Well, we are the conference champions, so it would be nice to hold on to that title," stated Laggis. "Numbers are definitely going to be a huge key for us. We want to get as many boys out for the team as we can. Those are some of the main goals."
Coach Laggis went on to talk about how swimming is a different type of sport, one where athletics meets a special kind of endurance, and how she recruits athletes to give her sport a try.
"I have tried to get out and talk to some boys and try to make them understand that boys' swimming is a little bit different animal," continued Laggis. "Even if you're not a swimmer but you're athletic, you can definitely contribute and help the team do well and win meets."
When speaking about other group goals, Coach Laggis recognizes a priority that hasn't been accomplished in many years of Hodag swimming.
"It's been a long time since we have sent any Hodag swimmer to state," said Laggis. "To be able to send any swimmer or maybe even a relay down there would be a huge accomplishment."
When looking at the team's roster, several names stand out because of past years of dedication and work ethic. Athletes such as Mik Kuczmarski, Jake Zalewski and Conar LaBelle are all swimmers of distinction and look to put their personal mark on the upcoming season. Jake Zalewski was a first team all conference selection in the 100 yard breaststroke last season, while Mik Kuczmarski earned honorable mention accolades in the same event.
"Our two captains this year are Mik Kuczmarski and Conar LaBelle," explained Laggis. "They have swum for four years now and this is the start of their fourth year, and although they didn't necessarily start off swimmers, they have improved tremendously. Then we have Jake Zalewski, who is a returning sophomore, and we are definitely looking for big things from him."
When looking ahead to the conference overall, despite the small amount of competition, the waters are dangerous for the Hodags. Lakeland went 4-0 over dual meets just a season ago but fell short at the conference meet, while Shawano will be looking to get even with the Hodags following a 2011 dual meet tie. Both of these schools are bringing revamped rosters to the GNC and vying for the coveted conference trophy.
"Shawano is going to be a tough challenge for us," said Laggis. "We tied them in the dual meet last year and then just edged them out for the conference title. They will be looking to beat us pretty bad. With teams like Tomahawk, Lakeland and Medford, you never know. It's always a numbers game."
Overall, with talent, dedication and a little fresh metal in the trophy cases in RHS, this boys swimming team makes this year one to watch. Keep up to date with the entire boys swimming season on Hodagsports.com.
Editor's note: For more coverage of local sports, visit StarJournalNOW.com and HodagSports.com.
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