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Media predicts Antigo will repeat as GNC champs, Robins earn seven first-place votes
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By Jeremy Mayo

Northwoods River News

Tom Schofield is quickly following in his family's footsteps at Antigo High School. In three short years at the helm, the grandson of state-championship winning head coach Gordy Schofield has won three straight Great Northern Conference titles.

All indications are that the Red Robins will make it a four-peat this year.

Antigo is the near consensus choice to this year's Great Northern Conference championship in the sixth annual GNC football media poll conducted by The Northwoods River News and The Lakeland Times.

Antigo took home seven of the eight first-place votes, and was second in the other ballot, a year after the Robins went 10-2 overall and advanced to Level 3 of the WIAA playoffs. Though Antigo replaces several seniors off of last year's squad, the Robins bring back reigning GNC defensive player of the year C.J. Levis, along with second-team all-conference running back Dominic Smith to lead Antigo's traditionally strong ground attack.

Mosinee, back in the playoffs last year after a string of 14 straight postseason trips was snapped in 2016, finished second in the balloting and received one first-place vote.

Medford edged Merrill for third place in the voting. Lakeland, Ashland and Rhinelander rounded out the survey.

Voters in this year's poll were Northwoods River News Sports Editor Jeremy Mayo, Lakeland Times News Director Brian Jopek, Ashland Daily Press Sports Editor Garett Greenwald, Antigo Daily Journal sportswriter Scott Walbeck, Star News (Medford) Sports Editor Matt Frey, WOBT AM/FM (Rhinelander) play-by-play broadcaster Ben Meyer, WJMT-AM (Merrill) play-by-play broadcaster Matt Mattano and Great Northern Conference statistician Gregg Scott.

While Antigo is tabbed as the favorite, there figures to be plenty of unknowns in the GNC entering the season, considering only 11 of last year's first- or second-team all-conference selections are scheduled to return.

There's also a new coaching face in the GNC, as Rob Klug takes over a Merrill, replacing Dominic Sturm, who resigned during the summer and is now on staff at Stanley-Boyd.

Meanwhile, the trio of teams toward the bottom of the conference over the last few seasons, are hoping to make some gains this year.

Ashland entered Week 8 last season one win away from snapping an eight-year playoff drought, but closed with losses to Rhinelander and Medford to finish 2-4 in league play.

Rhinelander, which was mired in a 23-game conference losing streak, beat Ashland and Lakeland in the final two weeks of last season and aims to carry that momentum into this season. The Hodags also return 1,100-yard rusher Drake Martin, who was a first-team All-GNC pick at running back last year.

Following an injury-riddled 2017 season, Lakeland hopes to bounce back this season and returns two of the most dangerous receivers in the conference in Jake Rexroade and Ray Rentmeester.  

The conference season opens Thursday, Aug. 30 with Ashland at Antigo. On Friday, Aug. 31 Merrill will be at at Mosinee and Lakeland at Medford. Rhinelander will open its GNC schedule a week later at home against Medford.



POLL RESULTS

Team 2017 Record Points

Antigo (7) 10-2, 6-0 55

Mosinee (1) 5-5, 4-2 46

Medford 3-7, 3-3 37

Merrill 4-6, 3-3 35

Lakeland 2-7, 1-5 21

Ashland 3-6, 2-4 17

Rhinelander 3-6, 2-4 13

First place votes in parentheses



ANTIGO

Tom Schofield enters his fourth season as the head man of the Red Robins, and the GNC Coach of the Year the past three seasons will again lead a team with high expectations. Coming off its first outright conference crown since 2010 which came on the heels of shares of the title in 2015 and '16 Antigo will need to replace some key players at skill positions, including quarterback, tight end, and an all-conference running back. Returning players with varsity experience as well as a host of newcomers will be looked at fill those roles. Dominic Smith, part of a multi-faceted backfield a year ago should step into the No. 1 running back role in the Robins' run-heavy offense, while junior Nevin Cornelius takes the reigns at quarterback. Last season's GNC Defensive Player of the Year, senior linebacker C.J. Levis is back to lead the defense and will be joined by another first team selection in end/linebacker Korbin Krueger in what should be a solid unit. Antigo's season ended a year ago with a 10-2 mark and a Level 3 playoff loss to Rice Lake. Another conference title and deep postseason run seems within reach once again.

Scott Walbeck, Antigo Daily Journal

ASHLAND

The Oredockers were in line for a WIAA playoff berth last season before dropping their final two conference games to Rhinelander and Medford, respectively. The Oredockers have made strides since joining the GNC, and they hope to secure their first playoff berth since the 2009 season. The Oredockers will have some continuity on offense, bringing back senior quarterback Jordan Brennan to run the wishbone/veer attack. Ashland was last in the league in yardage a year ago, but returning Brennan and running back Zach Coffland should boost those numbers. Ashland took a graduation hit in its offensive line, but Hunter Powless returns at tackle, and the three-year starter brings plenty of size to the right side of the line. Second-year head coach Travis Larson runs the defense, and the Oredockers want to improve from being fifth in the conference last year in total defense. Linebacker Brennan Corbine is a tackling machine in Ashland's 3-4 look, and Ethan Brown returns to anchor an athletic secondary.

Garett Greenwald, Ashland Daily Press

LAKELAND

Lakeland will look to keep its dynamic offense strong to compete in Great Northern Conference games in 2018, but will need to improve a leaky defense to step up from a 1-5 league record last year. The Thunderbirds started well in 2017, winning two of their first three games, but sputtered amid a myriad of injuries to six straight losses to close the season. Lakeland was the only team to pass for more than 1,000 yards in conference games last year. But much of that production came from senior quarterback Tyler Carroll. Carroll, now playing at UW-River Falls, also rushed for more than 500 yards in GNC games. Michael Ouimette appears likely to start the season as starting quarterback, and his receivers include a pair of returning first team all-conference selections in Ray Rentmeester and Jake Rexroade. Defensively, though, Lakeland coughed up more than 450 yards and 42 points per game last year. The only returning defensive player meriting all-conference honors in 2017 is second-teamer Ian Valliere, a linebacker. Expect more shootouts on the turf in 2018 as the Thunderbirds look to climb out of the GNC cellar.

Ben Meyer, WOBT AM/FM

MEDFORD

The 2018 outlook for the Medford Raiders isn't much different than those of previous years. The Raiders will lean on their offensive line and running game, they expect their defense to be solid once conference play starts and they expect to be in the playoff hunt. The offense is highlighted by the running back duo of senior Garret Hill and junior Ean Wilson. Wilson led the team with 793 rushing yards last fall, while Hill scored eight rushing TDs and finished with 686 yards. Senior wingback Austin Mientke adds some speed and shiftiness. The offensive line is led by three-year starters Trevor Brehm and Nick Retterath, who are likely to start out at right tackle and guard respectively. While lacking that kind of experience, the rest of the linemen have size and strength. Senior Oscar Poehler should be a physical factor as well, moving from the line to fullback. Senior Jobe Miller is a first-year starter at quarterback. Brehm will be one of the anchors on the defensive line, while Wilson and Poehler take over the linebacking duties vacated by last year's leading tacklers Chett Grunwald and Kolten Hanson. The secondary should be senior-dominated with Hill, Jon Laher, Dimas Moreno and Mientke being the leading candidates for playing time.

Matt Frey, Star News

MERRILL

A new era in Merrill football will begin in 2018 as former Head Coach Nick Sturm resigned in July to take an assistant coaching position at Stanley-Boyd and former assistant Rob Klug has taken over as the new head coach. Dominic Leistikow and Hunter Hintze return on the offense for Merrill who lost nine of the 10 players selected either first- or second-team all-conference. Merrill made the playoffs for a 10th straight year, while tying for third in the league, but for a seventh consecutive season the Bluejays were one and done in the postseason. The Bluejays will try to extend their playoff run to 11 straight years as they look for their first postseason win since 2010. Merrill kicks off the season hosting the three time defending Division 5 State champion Amherst Falcons.

Matt Mattano, WJMT-AM

MOSINEE

Mosinee rebounded from a 0-3 start in 2017 to come within one score of the GNC title and will look to continue that momentum in 2018. Mosinee finished 5-5 overall and 4-2 in the GNC under second-year coach Craig Martens last season, and returns six starters on each side of the ball. Martens goals are “establishing the run game and having our younger skilled group step up in some key roles.” Grant Lindell (HM OL), Wyatt Beyerl (HM OL), Loukas Trzcinski (HM WR) and Connor Baumann (OL) are top returners on offense.  Trzcinski had 19 catches for 377 yards and 4 TDs, and will likely be catching passes from junior quarterback Trey Fitzgerald, who had 16 pass attempts last year. Carter Samples (2nd Team LB) leads the returnees on defense, along with honorable mention choices Keign Charneski (DL), Lindell (LB) and Trzcinski (DB). Kade Stepan (DL) and Beyerl (DL) also return to their starting defensive roles. All-GNC kicker Michal Dul returns and should give Mosinee a scoring source when not reaching the end zone.

Gregg Scott, GNC Statistician

RHINELANDER

The Hodags enter 2018 looking to build upon the momentum of a two-game winning streak to end the 2017 season. To do that, however, the Hodags will need production right away from a young roster that has 17 sophomores and only nine seniors. Junior tailback Drake Martin became Rhinelander's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2008 as he rushed for 1,122 yards and eight scores a season ago. Martin, a first-team All-GNC running back last year, will be a focal point of the spread-style offense. Senior Brock Lieder takes over at quarterback for the graduated Logan Freund, and his mobility could add another wrinkle to the Hodags' ground game. Junior center Trevor Knapp and senior right tackle Jeremiah Bellow will anchor an offensive line otherwise comprised of sophomores. It will be a largely fresh group of faces on defense for the Hodags, who graduated their top eight tacklers from last year. Speedsters Josh Francisco and Peyton Erikson return and will help anchor the secondary for Rhinelander.

Jeremy Mayo, Northwoods River News
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Media predicts Antigo will repeat as GNC champs, Robins earn seven first-place votes
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By Jeremy Mayo

Northwoods River News

Tom Schofield is quickly following in his family's footsteps at Antigo High School. In three short years at the helm, the grandson of state-championship winning head coach Gordy Schofield has won three straight Great Northern Conference titles.

All indications are that the Red Robins will make it a four-peat this year.

Antigo is the near consensus choice to this year's Great Northern Conference championship in the sixth annual GNC football media poll conducted by The Northwoods River News and The Lakeland Times.

Antigo took home seven of the eight first-place votes, and was second in the other ballot, a year after the Robins went 10-2 overall and advanced to Level 3 of the WIAA playoffs. Though Antigo replaces several seniors off of last year's squad, the Robins bring back reigning GNC defensive player of the year C.J. Levis, along with second-team all-conference running back Dominic Smith to lead Antigo's traditionally strong ground attack.

Mosinee, back in the playoffs last year after a string of 14 straight postseason trips was snapped in 2016, finished second in the balloting and received one first-place vote.

Medford edged Merrill for third place in the voting. Lakeland, Ashland and Rhinelander rounded out the survey.

Voters in this year's poll were Northwoods River News Sports Editor Jeremy Mayo, Lakeland Times News Director Brian Jopek, Ashland Daily Press Sports Editor Garett Greenwald, Antigo Daily Journal sportswriter Scott Walbeck, Star News (Medford) Sports Editor Matt Frey, WOBT AM/FM (Rhinelander) play-by-play broadcaster Ben Meyer, WJMT-AM (Merrill) play-by-play broadcaster Matt Mattano and Great Northern Conference statistician Gregg Scott.

While Antigo is tabbed as the favorite, there figures to be plenty of unknowns in the GNC entering the season, considering only 11 of last year's first- or second-team all-conference selections are scheduled to return.

There's also a new coaching face in the GNC, as Rob Klug takes over a Merrill, replacing Dominic Sturm, who resigned during the summer and is now on staff at Stanley-Boyd.

Meanwhile, the trio of teams toward the bottom of the conference over the last few seasons, are hoping to make some gains this year.

Ashland entered Week 8 last season one win away from snapping an eight-year playoff drought, but closed with losses to Rhinelander and Medford to finish 2-4 in league play.

Rhinelander, which was mired in a 23-game conference losing streak, beat Ashland and Lakeland in the final two weeks of last season and aims to carry that momentum into this season. The Hodags also return 1,100-yard rusher Drake Martin, who was a first-team All-GNC pick at running back last year.

Following an injury-riddled 2017 season, Lakeland hopes to bounce back this season and returns two of the most dangerous receivers in the conference in Jake Rexroade and Ray Rentmeester.  

The conference season opens Thursday, Aug. 30 with Ashland at Antigo. On Friday, Aug. 31 Merrill will be at at Mosinee and Lakeland at Medford. Rhinelander will open its GNC schedule a week later at home against Medford.



POLL RESULTS

Team 2017 Record Points

Antigo (7) 10-2, 6-0 55

Mosinee (1) 5-5, 4-2 46

Medford 3-7, 3-3 37

Merrill 4-6, 3-3 35

Lakeland 2-7, 1-5 21

Ashland 3-6, 2-4 17

Rhinelander 3-6, 2-4 13

First place votes in parentheses



ANTIGO

Tom Schofield enters his fourth season as the head man of the Red Robins, and the GNC Coach of the Year the past three seasons will again lead a team with high expectations. Coming off its first outright conference crown since 2010 which came on the heels of shares of the title in 2015 and '16 Antigo will need to replace some key players at skill positions, including quarterback, tight end, and an all-conference running back. Returning players with varsity experience as well as a host of newcomers will be looked at fill those roles. Dominic Smith, part of a multi-faceted backfield a year ago should step into the No. 1 running back role in the Robins' run-heavy offense, while junior Nevin Cornelius takes the reigns at quarterback. Last season's GNC Defensive Player of the Year, senior linebacker C.J. Levis is back to lead the defense and will be joined by another first team selection in end/linebacker Korbin Krueger in what should be a solid unit. Antigo's season ended a year ago with a 10-2 mark and a Level 3 playoff loss to Rice Lake. Another conference title and deep postseason run seems within reach once again.

Scott Walbeck, Antigo Daily Journal

ASHLAND

The Oredockers were in line for a WIAA playoff berth last season before dropping their final two conference games to Rhinelander and Medford, respectively. The Oredockers have made strides since joining the GNC, and they hope to secure their first playoff berth since the 2009 season. The Oredockers will have some continuity on offense, bringing back senior quarterback Jordan Brennan to run the wishbone/veer attack. Ashland was last in the league in yardage a year ago, but returning Brennan and running back Zach Coffland should boost those numbers. Ashland took a graduation hit in its offensive line, but Hunter Powless returns at tackle, and the three-year starter brings plenty of size to the right side of the line. Second-year head coach Travis Larson runs the defense, and the Oredockers want to improve from being fifth in the conference last year in total defense. Linebacker Brennan Corbine is a tackling machine in Ashland's 3-4 look, and Ethan Brown returns to anchor an athletic secondary.

Garett Greenwald, Ashland Daily Press

LAKELAND

Lakeland will look to keep its dynamic offense strong to compete in Great Northern Conference games in 2018, but will need to improve a leaky defense to step up from a 1-5 league record last year. The Thunderbirds started well in 2017, winning two of their first three games, but sputtered amid a myriad of injuries to six straight losses to close the season. Lakeland was the only team to pass for more than 1,000 yards in conference games last year. But much of that production came from senior quarterback Tyler Carroll. Carroll, now playing at UW-River Falls, also rushed for more than 500 yards in GNC games. Michael Ouimette appears likely to start the season as starting quarterback, and his receivers include a pair of returning first team all-conference selections in Ray Rentmeester and Jake Rexroade. Defensively, though, Lakeland coughed up more than 450 yards and 42 points per game last year. The only returning defensive player meriting all-conference honors in 2017 is second-teamer Ian Valliere, a linebacker. Expect more shootouts on the turf in 2018 as the Thunderbirds look to climb out of the GNC cellar.

Ben Meyer, WOBT AM/FM

MEDFORD

The 2018 outlook for the Medford Raiders isn't much different than those of previous years. The Raiders will lean on their offensive line and running game, they expect their defense to be solid once conference play starts and they expect to be in the playoff hunt. The offense is highlighted by the running back duo of senior Garret Hill and junior Ean Wilson. Wilson led the team with 793 rushing yards last fall, while Hill scored eight rushing TDs and finished with 686 yards. Senior wingback Austin Mientke adds some speed and shiftiness. The offensive line is led by three-year starters Trevor Brehm and Nick Retterath, who are likely to start out at right tackle and guard respectively. While lacking that kind of experience, the rest of the linemen have size and strength. Senior Oscar Poehler should be a physical factor as well, moving from the line to fullback. Senior Jobe Miller is a first-year starter at quarterback. Brehm will be one of the anchors on the defensive line, while Wilson and Poehler take over the linebacking duties vacated by last year's leading tacklers Chett Grunwald and Kolten Hanson. The secondary should be senior-dominated with Hill, Jon Laher, Dimas Moreno and Mientke being the leading candidates for playing time.

Matt Frey, Star News

MERRILL

A new era in Merrill football will begin in 2018 as former Head Coach Nick Sturm resigned in July to take an assistant coaching position at Stanley-Boyd and former assistant Rob Klug has taken over as the new head coach. Dominic Leistikow and Hunter Hintze return on the offense for Merrill who lost nine of the 10 players selected either first- or second-team all-conference. Merrill made the playoffs for a 10th straight year, while tying for third in the league, but for a seventh consecutive season the Bluejays were one and done in the postseason. The Bluejays will try to extend their playoff run to 11 straight years as they look for their first postseason win since 2010. Merrill kicks off the season hosting the three time defending Division 5 State champion Amherst Falcons.

Matt Mattano, WJMT-AM

MOSINEE

Mosinee rebounded from a 0-3 start in 2017 to come within one score of the GNC title and will look to continue that momentum in 2018. Mosinee finished 5-5 overall and 4-2 in the GNC under second-year coach Craig Martens last season, and returns six starters on each side of the ball. Martens goals are “establishing the run game and having our younger skilled group step up in some key roles.” Grant Lindell (HM OL), Wyatt Beyerl (HM OL), Loukas Trzcinski (HM WR) and Connor Baumann (OL) are top returners on offense.  Trzcinski had 19 catches for 377 yards and 4 TDs, and will likely be catching passes from junior quarterback Trey Fitzgerald, who had 16 pass attempts last year. Carter Samples (2nd Team LB) leads the returnees on defense, along with honorable mention choices Keign Charneski (DL), Lindell (LB) and Trzcinski (DB). Kade Stepan (DL) and Beyerl (DL) also return to their starting defensive roles. All-GNC kicker Michal Dul returns and should give Mosinee a scoring source when not reaching the end zone.

Gregg Scott, GNC Statistician

RHINELANDER

The Hodags enter 2018 looking to build upon the momentum of a two-game winning streak to end the 2017 season. To do that, however, the Hodags will need production right away from a young roster that has 17 sophomores and only nine seniors. Junior tailback Drake Martin became Rhinelander's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2008 as he rushed for 1,122 yards and eight scores a season ago. Martin, a first-team All-GNC running back last year, will be a focal point of the spread-style offense. Senior Brock Lieder takes over at quarterback for the graduated Logan Freund, and his mobility could add another wrinkle to the Hodags' ground game. Junior center Trevor Knapp and senior right tackle Jeremiah Bellow will anchor an offensive line otherwise comprised of sophomores. It will be a largely fresh group of faces on defense for the Hodags, who graduated their top eight tacklers from last year. Speedsters Josh Francisco and Peyton Erikson return and will help anchor the secondary for Rhinelander.

Jeremy Mayo, Northwoods River News
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Antigo, WI 54409
Phone: 715-623-4191
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