Three Lakes’ Megan Lester, center, stands a top the podium after clinching the Wisconsin?High School Cycling League freshman girls’ championship with a runner-up finish at Trek Trails in Waterloo Sunday, Oct. 21. Lester helped the Rhinelander Northwoods Composite mountain bike team place first in Division 2 in the fifth race of the WHSCL season and finish second place in D2 overall.
Three Lakes’ Megan Lester, center, stands a top the podium after clinching the Wisconsin?High School Cycling League freshman girls’ championship with a runner-up finish at Trek Trails in Waterloo Sunday, Oct. 21. Lester helped the Rhinelander Northwoods Composite mountain bike team place first in Division 2 in the fifth race of the WHSCL season and finish second place in D2 overall.
The small but mighty mountain biking team out of the Northwoods continued to flex its muscle on Sunday, completing a three-year journey from start-up to a championship-caliber squad. 

Both teams under the Rhinelander Northwoods Composite banner — Rhinelander High School and RNC — finished second in their respective divisions in the Wisconsin High School Cycling League standings following Sunday’s league finale at Trek Trails in Waterloo.

The composite team took first place Sunday in the Division 2 flight, and finished a scant 38 points behind Wausau East in the final overall standings. RHS was second on the day and the runner-up to Shorewood in the final D1 tally. 

Additionally, the RNC team finished with a couple of individual state champions. Jakob Craig completed a clean sweep in the D2 freshman boys’ category while Megan Lester held on for the freshman girls’ title. 

The freshman girls’ race was a three-way battle between Lester of Three Lakes, Fall Creek’s Katie Kopp and independent rider Josie Andre. Andre nipped Lester at the line by 1.5 seconds at the end of the hour-long race, with Kopp roughly a minute and a half behind in third. 

The win was Andre’s third in four starts this season in the freshman category. Lester never finished worse than third in any race, and received a 25-point bonus for competing in all five races during the season. That proved to be the difference as she won the title by nine points over Kopp and 14 points over Andre.

“It’s fantastic. She’s an awesome rider. She works really hard and for her to come out on top (was excellent),” RNC coach Joel Flory said. “I knew that freshman race, there were a lot of girls coming in that were ranked low because they were one race short and I knew this final race was going to be a big test. She did a super job, always has, and it was neat to see her finish on top for sure.”

The race for the D2 freshman boys’ title was not nearly as dramatic. Craig, from Lakeland, beat Hayward’s Kade Carlson to the line by roughly 37 seconds to complete a clean sweep of the class for the season. 

“He’s a standout,” Flory said. “He works really hard. It’s what he’s dedicated to and it’s really neat to see. I’m proud of Jakob for doing what he did.”

Johanna Craig, Jakob’s older sister, finished second once again in the girls’ varsity division and finished a runner-up performance in the final series standings. Lakeland’s Grace Dorsey placed fourth Sunday in the girls’ JV-2 race, which propelled her to fourth overall in the final standings. 

Flory said Johanna Craig, a junior who was second to Wausau senior Lauren Lackman all season long, has a chance to establish herself as the favorite for the girls’ state title next season while Dorsey asserted herself as the JV-2 season went along. All four were needed for RNC to place as well as it did in the final team standings.

“We ran Rhinelander Northwoods Composite with four riders pretty much all year and it takes four scores (in the team standings for Division 2),” Flory said. “Every single one of those riders counts and those guys came through and took first place (on the day) which was super.” 

Senior Alexis Pyrchalla was the top finisher for the Rhinelander High School squad, placing fifth in the girls’ JV-3 race. The finish was good enough to move her into fifth in the final standings and earn a spot on the podium.

“Being as consistent as she’s been all year is what it took to podium for the individual race and podium for the overall series. I’m really, really happy for Alexis for that one,” Flory said.

Sage Flory was Rhinelander’s other podium finisher. She placed fourth in the freshman division on Sunday and finished fourth overall. 

Rhinelander had two riders narrowly miss the overall podium for the season. Hugh Wiese finished eighth Sunday in the D1 boys’ JV-2 race while Gwyneth Lowry was seventh in the girls’ JV-2 race. Both placed sixth overall in their respective division standings. 

Emma Hjelle was 10th Sunday in girls’ JV-3, Jaden Olski was 11th in girls’ JV-3, Bridger Flory with 15th in the boys’ varsity race and Kyle Siefert was 27th in the D1 freshman boys’ race. Overall, Hjelle finished ninth in class, Olski was 16th, Bridger Flory was 17th and Siefert 22nd. Freddy Wisner and Madesen Van Order, who missed Sunday’s race due to various health ailments, both placed 12th the final standings in their respective divisions. 

The team is set to graduate five seniors from the RHS side — Bridger Flory, Wisner, Pyrchalla, Hjelle and Olski.

“Losing those (seniors) they’re going to be hard to replace,” Joel Flory said. “They’re the ones who have been there from the beginning, at least three of them. We’ve got kids coming up, but it’s going to be hard to lose that class.”

In the middle school ranks, Macy Lester won the sixth-grade girls’ race on Sunday; Joey Belanger was fifth and Gavin Denis 23rd in the seventh-grade boys’ race; Jett Biolo was 11th in the eighth-grade boys’ class and Helena Wisner was 21st in the sixth-grade girls’ race.

“It’s nice to have those sixth, seventh and eighth graders who are working hard and having fun, more than anything,” coach Flory said.

With its third year in the books, Flory said he was still overwhelmed by how much success the Rhinelander Northwoods Composite team has had so soon in the WHSCL and still sees a bright future ahead, despite graduating a number of riders. 

“I look at it and think I can see how this could ever happen again, to have two teams competing at this high of a level but, that being said, I think Wausau (East) is losing three seniors from the varsity squad on the girls’ side,” he said. “There are other teams that are up and coming, but I think Wausau’s going to struggle a little more next year. If our team can keep it up, I think we could be in the mix again next year.”

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at jeremy@rivernewsonline.com.