Lakeland’s Mariah Angove competes in the 100-yard breaststroke during a Great Northern Conference girls’ swim dual meet against Rhinelander at the LUHS pool Tuesday, Sept. 4.
Lakeland’s Mariah Angove competes in the 100-yard breaststroke during a Great Northern Conference girls’ swim dual meet against Rhinelander at the LUHS pool Tuesday, Sept. 4.
For the Lakeland Union High School girls’ swim team, the difference between winning and losing Tuesday night literally came down to a few blinks of an eye. 
Rhinelander won three races by less than a third of a second early in the program and built up a large enough lead to defeat the Thunderbirds 91-78 at the LUHS pool. 
The T-Birds trailed by as many as 19 points halfway through the meet, rallied back late by winning four of the final six events, but could not overcome the early deficit. 
“That’s just another indication that the little things matter, whether it’s one breath you didn’t have to take or really leaning and lunging for the finish,” Lakeland coach Chris Garcia said. “It makes or breaks. It’s (the difference between) first and second, and points here and there.”
Rhinelander won close races to the wall with Lakeland in the 200-yard freestyle, 200 individual medley and 50 freestyle — each win a four-point swing in the Hodags’ direction. 
Hodag freshman Maria Heck rallied from eight-tenths of a second behind Amanda Kosmen in the final two lengths to beat the Lakeland junior by 0.10 seconds in the 200 freestyle. Lakeland freshman Naomi Hamerla made up ground on Rhinelander senior Grace Heck in the final 50 yards of the 200 IM, but lost the race to the wall by 0.22 seconds. Rhinelander’s Makenna Winnicki touched out Lakeland’s Rylee Ahlborn by 0.32 seconds for the win in the 50 freestyle. 
Additionally Lakeland had a couple of scratches during the second half of the meet. Hamerla did not start the 100 butterfly and Megan Ross was a scratch in the 100 freestyle, though both swimmers came back to compete in events later in the program. 
“We lost a few of our swimmers in some of the events … but overall really happy with some of the races,” Garcia said. “Our finishes, we’re going to be focusing on those, as well as our breakouts but, overall, really happy with the way the team kind of pulled together, even with the setbacks that we had.”
Lakeland did have a few close finishes go its way later in the program. Sophomore Mariah Angove nipped Rhinelander’s Noelle St. Pierre by 0.24 seconds to win the 100 freestyle, Lakeland’s first win of the evening. Celeste Teichmiller edged Rhinelander’s Lisa Kennedy by 0.05 seconds for the runner-up spot in the 100 butterfly and Kosmen beat Grace Heck to the wall by 0.76 seconds for second in the 100 backstroke. 
All four of Lakeland’s wins came in freestyle events. Ahlborn cruised to a nearly 25-second win in the 500 with a time of 5:54.44. Kosmen, Angove, Hamerla and Ahlborn took the 200 freestyle relay (1:49.56) and the same foursome beat out Rhinelander’s top quartet of Kennedy, Grace Heck, St. Pierre and Winnicki in the 400 freestyle relay (4:09.12). 
“Rylee Ahlborn, I think that was her first 500 of the year,” Garcia noted. “I think she’s figured out she’s got to work on a little more pace for that.”
Angove added a runner-up finish for Lakeland in the 100 breaststroke and Lakeland took second in the 200 medley relay with the quartet of Ross, Celeste Teichmiller, Nina Starynski and Morgan Nowak.
“For the swimmers that were in (the breaststroke), I thought the times were pretty good,” Garcia said. “I was happy with Amanda Kosmen’s 100 back, Tatum Morris had a really outstanding personal best in her 100 breast, really kind of surprised me.”
Rhinelander and Lakeland have had a competitive, but friendly, rivalry with one another over the past few years. So far this season the Hodags are two-up on the T-Birds, including a triangular win over Lakeland and Wausau West back on Aug. 28. The teams are scheduled to meet three more times this year, including the Hodag Relays on Saturday in Rhinelander. 
The stakes will be higher when the teams square off at the Great Northern Conference meet and at WIAA sectionals. As for Saturday, Garcia said the goal will be to have fun in the relay-only event.
“That’s a fun meet, no pressure,” she said. “I get to mix up the girls, maybe mix some seniors with the freshmen, maybe put together an all-senior relay. It’s more relaxed, kind of a nice break.”
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at jeremy@rivernewsonline.com.