MINOCQUA - There is no love lost between Lakeland and Rhinelander. And a boat-load of respect between head coaches. The last time these two teams met, you could hardly fit another body inside the Jim Miazga Memorial Gymnasium in Rhinelander. The Hodags used their defensive effort inside on 6-10 forward Matt Iverson, holding him to just 7 points while his counterpart, Shane White, exploded for one of his best offensive nights of the season, lighting up for a game-high 21.
Derek Lemmons and his Hodags came into their last contest with the T-Birds looking like the underdog, slightly. With their 8-4 record overall at that time (4-1 Great Northern), the tables have turned slightly after injuries to Marquis Johnson and Taylor Van De Loo had Lakeland reeling through their toughest stretch of the regular season.
Rhinelander (14-6, 9-2 GNC) now sits with a shot at sharing the GNC title with the Red Robins (18-3, 10-1 GNC), should Medford (14-5, 7-4 GNC) be able to trip up Jesse Shaw's team in their game Thursday, and the Hodags get a much needed win on the road in Minocqua.
Any doubts about whether Ted Voigt's team is back to 100 percent after a injury-riddled middle part of the year were answered inside the Lakeland field house last Friday when the team knocked off the GNC's top team, Antigo, in relatively stunning fashion, 50-34. It was Antigo's lowest offensive output of the season.
Rhinelander has some serious questions to answer, still, coming into Thursday's boys match-up. After the team reeled off an impressive 10-game win streak, they've stumbled upon what is quite possibly their toughest three-game stretch of the season - having lost to Marshfield and Antigo on the road and now facing the upstart T-Birds.
Looking at the playoff pairings that were released this week, Rhinelander and Lakeland sit opposite each other in the WIAA regional bracket, meaning Thursday's GNC and regular season finale in Minocqua is a likely preview of what will be a rematch, March 3, in the Division 2 regional final. That game of course would be back in Rhinelander as the Hodags earned the two seed over the three-seeded Lakeland.
Game time Thursday in Minocqua is set for 7:30 p.m. with our live coverage on both Twitter (@LakelandSports) and online with CoverItLive beginning prior to that.