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to get in its allotted ….

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to get in its allotted contact days with Bilodeau on Raider Field as well as a series of captains practices.

“We try to find a silver lining in everything,” Bilodeau said. “If we can’t practice or scrimmage against other teams we’re going to focus on conditioning. That’s what we did. We’ve got guys who are going to play full 90s, that’s expected of them. They have to play the whole entire game and may not get a sub.”

Though most non-conference play has been lost, if all goes well the GNC is planning to play its usual double round-robin schedule. As is the case most years, the Raiders expect Northland Pines, who was 6-0-4 in the GNC last year, and Rhinelander to be the toughest teams to beat. Lakeland and Mosinee won’t be pushovers either and Antigo, in the last two falls, has shown signs of emerging from its years-long struggles.

All of the late-summer preparation, has the guys hungry to start facing someone besides themselves and that showed in Thursday’s scrimmage.

“It was game day,” Bilodeau said. “Everybody was so focused and so connected in warm-ups and focused for the game. They had the music going. It was like all of a sudden somebody flipped a switch on every single one of the players. OK now you guys get it, it’s game time. Everyone was ready to go. It was that cool feeling where everybody knows, this is important. And it was just a scrimmage. That was that drive and that want and that desire to want to do better and to win. The guys are just focused.” MEDFORD BOYS SOCCER PREVIEW

Last season will be remembered as the year the Medford Raiders arrived as a Great Northern Conference boys soccer contender. Maintaining that status as the team to beat is now their challenge.

As the delayed 2020 season gets started, the Raiders certainly bring back enough pieces to make another run at a GNC championship. All seven returning letter winners played a lot of minutes for the 2019 team that went 7-1-2 in league play and 11-6-4 overall and tied Northland Pines for the program’s first-ever league title.

But it takes 11 players all working together on the field at one time, so newcomers will need to step up to keep the Raiders where they want to be, especially in an uncertain season where a conference title could be the biggest prize they go after.

“We’re young, but we’re focused,” secondyear Nathan Bilodeau said Monday. “The guys are focused. They are energized. They’re so mentally prepared to play this season and I’m so grateful that we actually have some sort of a season to play.”

After a scrimmage with GNC rival Mosinee on Thursday, the Raiders kicked off the new year Tuesday with a 3-0 win over Northland Pines in a huge season opener at Raider Field. Things don’t get much easier tonight, Thursday, when Medford visits Rhinelander for a 7:30 p.m. varsity kickoff.

The schedule, at this point, features 11 games, 10 of which are GNC contests. The non-conference game, just recently added, brings Columbus Catholic to Raider Field on Monday. The WIAA will decide on the logistics for any kind of post-season events later this fall.

The scrimmage, which Medford won 4-2 by outscoring Mosinee 2-0 in the second half, was a huge thing to have ahead of this week’s key games with the Eagles and Hodags since a handful of previously- scheduled non-conference games had to be canceled because the WIAA delayed the first day of practice three weeks to Sept. 7.

“The first half is always feeling everything out, feeling out the opponent, we’re feeling out ourselves as a team, what’s working and what’s not,” Bilodeau said. “We can scrimmage as much as we want during practice but until you’re actually playing that game, you don’t really know what’s working and what’s not. I really think that first half of that scrimmage was us just shaking the rust off and getting a feel for, this is the way our team looks, this is where I need to be in my position, talking and communicating. In the second half, boy we were a lot better.”

Eleven seniors graduated from the program last year, including the GNC’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year Onyi Ekwueme and All-GNC veterans like Cooper Wild and AJ Adleman.

But this year’s crew has some definite strengths, Bilodeau said, especially in the all-important middle of the field, where he expects his crew to hold an advantage over most teams. That starts with midfielders and team captains senior Owen Wipf and sophomore Zach Rudolph.

“We’re just going to possess the ball better than anybody in the GNC,” Bilodeau said. “I’m confident that with Owen Wipf and Zach Rudolph, Silas Wipf, Aaron Schield, those four guys are really our ball handlers. Their ability to keep the ball on their foot, their ability to find passing lanes, communicate and they’re strong. The center of the field is really going to be our strong suit.”

Outside on the offensive end, the Raiders return senior speedster Colton Gowey and junior Kale Klussendorf on the wings and junior Gabe Felix bumps up to the varsity and is expected to get some key minutes. Senior Ethan Swiantek is in the mix as well. The team expects junior Gage Neubauer to be the finisher in the middle after he tied Adleman last year for the team lead in goals with 16. Quinton Tlusty can fill that role too. Graduation losses will require some changes on the defensive end of the field, but the Raiders still have two senior rocks to lean on there in Ty Baker and goal keeper Brady Hupf. Hupf is a four-year starter in goal. Juniors Brayden Machon and Sam Blair, and sophomores Caden Tessmann, Vincent Seidel and Braeden Long are top candidates to step into defensive spots. “I think we’re offensively minded this year, whereas last year I felt like we had a really strong defensive presence,” Bilodeau said. “We only ran with three defenders last year. This year we bunkered one of those guys back there a little bit, so now we’ve got four in the back. Ty Baker is heading up our defense. He’s a senior, so he’s leading our defensive core back there.

“I think ultimately it comes down to experience,” he said. “Brady has played varsity for four years. That experience is so valuable. Having Ty back there, he’s just an athlete. Just physical, athletic. In the scrimmage, he would dribble the ball all the way up the field, he’d turn around and sprint all the way back and be back on defense before the ball got back on our half. He’s physical, he’s strong, he’s a great communicator in the back which again is going to help our young guys.”

The JV team is 18 players deep and has a new coach, Tanya Tessmann.

Unfortunately, Medford, like most programs, lost some momentum in the off-season with COVID-related cancellations of game opportunities. In fact, a traveling club team was all set to debut this summer. To somewhat compensate for that, the Raiders were offered conditioning sessions multiple times a week, led by last year’s JV coach Chris Reardon and attendance was exemplary. Later in the summer, the team was at least able