MINOCQUA - For the second straight season, the Rhinelander High School girls soccer team crowned themselves atop the Great Northern Conference.
The Hodags downed Lakeland 2-0 in sloppy conditions Tuesday night to clinch at least a share of the conference title.
"When we look at a 2-0 win, at least a share of the conference championship, it's a great night for us," said Hodags coach Dan Millot.
Pounding rains left the field in a messy condition for kickoff. Standing water, in some cases several inches deep on the field, made for a night of creative play.
"On a night like tonight, the ball is slippery, you're playing under the lights, they even had one bank of lights out – we were playing out of the shadows. Backyard soccer," Millot laughed.
Rhinelander scored both of its goals in the first half, and was never seriously at risk of giving up a tally to the Thunderbirds.
Gabbe Millot found a seam in the seventh minute and put a shot past charging Lakeland goalie Natalie Jonas for the first score.
"We were fortunate for Gabbe to get that goal in early and pressure them. I think they were a little bit surprised, going down 1-0 early in the game after playing so many opponents extremely tough," Millot said.
The Thunderbirds had not allowed a goal in GNC play since a May 7 loss at Northland Pines.
In the 32nd minute, Claire Tracy arched a free kick from about 30 yards to the perfect spot to put the Hodags up two goals.
"It was (placed perfectly). She's got the leg to get it there. We've got a few girls on this team, if you give them the green light to shoot from distance, to put the ball on net, (good things happen)," Millot said.
A stingy Rhinelander defense kept up their solid play Tuesday night.
In five GNC games, they have yet to allow a goal.
Morgan Voigt had eight saves in goal for the Hodags, none of which required extraordinary play. Credit for that goes to the Rhinelander defense in front of her.
"We've done a fantastic job all season of keeping people off of her," Millot said. "To have zero goals allowed in conference, that's awesome. That's awesome. Hopefully we can continue that this Thursday against Medford."
That game against the Raiders could secure an outright conference championship for Rhinelander with a win or tie.
"Medford brings a lot of tenacity to the game. They only have one loss for the conference season. That was against Lakeland. We had a nice showing against them early in the season, but you have to throw everything out the window," said Millot, referring to a 4-0 Hodag win over the Raiders in what was counted as a non-conference game.
Medford certainly still has something to play for. A Raider win would secure a tie with Rhinelander for the GNC title. But Millot reminded his players they're going for two in a row.
"We are the defending conference champions. We are conference champions until someone knocks us off. (Our team) is really going to have to earn that."
Rhinelander at Lakeland
Tuesday, May 21
Rhinelander 2 0 – 2
Lakeland 0 0 – 0
First Half: 1, R, Gabbe Millot, 6:58. 2, R, Claire Tracy, 31:15.
Team Stats R L
Shots 10 12
Shots on Goal 8 8
Corner Kicks 4 3