RHINELANDER - When Rhinelander basketball tips off its season next week, the Hodags will have one specific goal in mind.
"To be able to go back and win conference after losing last year would definitely be a goal," said senior Owen White.
Not winning the Great Northern Conference last year snapped Rhinelander's streak of four conference titles in a row. Hodags head coach Derek Lemmens puts that responsibility on himself.
"Myself, especially, really got caught up on the drive for five," Lemmens said. "We really talked about that, and I think as a staff, I lost focus of the process."
Part of that process includes starting off the season against stiff competition. Rhinelander will begin the year with a difficult non-conference game against Stevens Point.
"We want to do the things that doesn't make us look good but makes us good," said Lemmens. "So playing those types of teams, we feel like is the way to do that."
Another way for the Hodags to be good is to get the ball to White. The senior forward was named GNC player of the year two years ago before earning a spot on the first all-conference team last season. But he says he's not worried about personal awards.
"If we win conference then, yeah, it would be nice to also get the player of the year," said White. "But that's definitely not the main goal. The main goal is to win conference, and we'll see what happens from there."
White hopes more playoff success is part of what happens from there.
"This year if we could win a regional championship, that would be huge for all of us," said White.
Lemmens says he will lean on White and the other seven returning seniors to make that happen.
"When we have that kind of experience, it really creates more coaches on the floor, and when guys hear from other players, it sticks a little better, so having that many leaders and that many upperclassmen is beneficial in that way," said Lemmens.
Combining that experience with ability on the floor has the Hodags feeling pretty good.
"I really have a lot of confidence in our team this year. I think we'll be first," said senior Brad Comer. "I think we will. I am being confident."
RHINELANDER - The Rhinelander Police Department identified the man who died after a house fire on Friday night as 35-year-old Jeffery J. Becker.
Rhinelander Fire Chief Terry Williams told Newswatch 12 on Monday afternoon that an autopsy indicates Becker died from smoke inhalation, but the autopsy results and further investigation is now in the hands of the state Department of Criminal Investigations.
Crews responded to the house at 320 Rose Street, near Hodag Park, around 7:30 p.m. Friday. Firefighters went inside the house soon after they arrived and found Becker unresponsive on the floor. Firefighters and paramedics tried to revive Becker, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
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