Wildcats regional champs

River Falls captain Olivia Bell hoists the regional championship plaque to the delight of her teammates after the Wildcats defeated Holmen 7-1 in a Division 2 regional final Saturday night, Jan. 12, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / Star-Observer photo

River Falls’ girls’ soccer coach Charles Conley started counting through the years.

“The last time we lost was 2013,” he noted. “So 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and now 20. Yeah, seven in a row.”

That’s seven regional titles in a row for the Wildcats, and tenth in the last 11 years. The latest came Saturday night, June 12, when the Cats scored four goals in the last 20 minutes to post a 7-1 victory over Holmen in a Division 2 final at home.

Despite having plenty of chances in the first 60 minutes, including hitting a number of posts and crossbars, the Wildcats found themselves clinging to a 3-1 lead after Holmen converted a penalty kick 15 minutes into the second half.

“We hit the crossbar once or twice and they cleared a couple off the goal line. Nothing happened in the first half,” Connolly said. “And I told the girls, three goals is not enough. Then they get the PK and I thought, well, we’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

The dam started to burst when Alexis Syzmanski converted a pass from her twin sister Lindsey for her second goal of the game in the 71st minute. Alexis Syzmanski struck again, unassisted five minutes later before assisting on a goal by Kaitlyn Cudd with just over six minutes remaining.

Alexis and Lindsey Szymanski hooked up again with 4:09 remaining for Alexis’ fourth goal of the game to make the final 7-1.

“Something clicked,” Connolly said. “I don't know if it was the fourth goal or what, but something clicked and all of a sudden they couldn't get out of their own end.”

Lindsey Syzmanski scored the Cats’ first two goals of the game and Alexis Syzmanski converted a pass from Olivia Bell just before halftime to give River Falls a 3-0 lead. That lead looked tenuous after Holmen converted the penalty kick, but it was all River Falls after that.

“I think there were some nerves,” Connolly said. “We have some young kids on this team and missing last year didn't help. So playoff experience isn't necessarily there. And I think in the first half there were just a lot of nerves. I told them hey, if we play this way next week, we may not get out alive. So we've got to sharpen up some things.”

The win came four nights after the Wildcats needed just 39 minutes to pile up 10 goals in a 10-0 regional semifinal win over Sparta. The top-seeded Cats will now host No. 3 New Richmond, who knocked off No. 2 Onalaska, 2-1, in their regional final Saturday night, in a sectional semifinal game this Thursday, June 17, at 7 p.m.

Connolly said the Wildcats will be OK if they play like they did in the last 25 minutes against Holmen.

“Hopefully we can put together a full 90 minutes,” he said. “We've had spurts, but I think that's yet to come. I’ve seen it all, and sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way. But hopefully we finally put together a full 90 and play our best game yet.”

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