Wildcat wrestling coach Kevin Black said the Cats are pleased about finishing second in the Big Rivers Conference, but not satisfied.
River Falls wrapped up second place in the BRC with a 48-27 victory at Chippewa Falls Tuesday, Jan. 30 to finish 5-1. Only an early-season loss to Hudson kept the Cats from dethroning the three-time conference champion Raiders, but the Wildcats will get another shot at Hudson at the WIAA Division 1 Regional this Saturday, Feb. 10, in New Richmond.
"We really need to show up and wrestle our best this weekend if we're going to have a real chance of winning regionals," Black said. "On paper, it's a close race, however, Hudson is tested and true. They're used to winning regionals and it's an expectation of their program."
The Wildcats have plenty of firepower heading into Saturday and were ranked No. 12 in the state in the Jan. 31 Wisconsin Wrestling Online Division 1 rankings. Junior Nathan Fuller enters the tournament as the fifth-ranked wrestler at 152 pounds and senior Glen Pendleton is No. 8 at 170 while junior Bennet Cernohous is No. 12 at 106 and junior Chance Kamrowski is honorable mention at 195.
Black said Hudson, the fifth-ranked team in Division 1 and three-time state team qualifier, knows how to handle the pressure of the postseason while it's a new, but good experience for the Wildcats.
"As coaches, we've done everything we can to prepare them for this weekend," Black said. "We believe in them and expect them to win regionals. It all comes down to if our athletes believe it, though. We're still in that transition as a team that we believe we can compete with the best, but haven't taken on that identity of believing we're the best. Sometimes, in high school sports, that's the biggest thing that creates postseason success stories."
Black said the Wildcats have had some great individual performances lately, pointing to Cernohous knocking off the seventh-ranked wrestler in his weight class and Luke Killian going 13-2 since the New Richmond Invitational Jan. 6.
"Tyler Kliszcz has stepped in like a champion and scored some important team points for us," Black added. "Jordan Robinson and Logan Schretenthaler had huge pins in our dual meet against Chippewa Falls. Things are really picking up for kids like these guys. If we're going to keep improving, we need everyone to contribute and over the last few weeks we've had that. Our big guns need big points and everyone else needs to scratch and claw for every single point that's out there."
In addition to River Falls and Hudson, Saturday's regional will feature every other BRC team, except Rice Lake, along with Superior and host New Richmond. The regional team champion will move on to the team sectional Tuesday, Feb. 13, in Marshfield while the first four finishers in each weight class will advance to the individual sectional tournament Saturday, Feb. 17, at Wausau West.
Black said the team score will take care of itself, all the Wildcats can do is control their attitude and effort.
"If our guys go out with a great attitude and leave it all on the mat this weekend, I'll be satisfied—win or lose," he said. "This is a great opportunity for our wrestlers to stand up and be someone they've only been dreaming of up to this point of their career."