A classic Northern Badger
It was a fitting end to the Northern Badger Wrestling Classic Friday night, Dec. 29, when Wildcat senior Mitchell Williamson had his arm raised in the final match of the two-day tournament after posting a 3-1 sudden victory over Noah Novotney of Boyceville in the heavyweight championship match.
Williamson's win came in the 852nd match of the two-day tournament and clinched the Division 1 team title for the Cats while lifting them past Boyceville into second place in the final overall team standings. It also gave River Falls its first individual Northern Badger champion since Sebastian Larson in 2014.
Boosted by four wrestlers in the semifinals, the Wildcats won the Division 1 team title with a score of 245.5. Division 2 champ St. Croix Falls won the 44-team overall title with 252 while Boyceville, the Division 3 champion, placed third overall with 243.
River Falls coach Kevin Black said the Cats wrestled with the style and pace they've been trying to establish all season.
"It felt like a few things clicked," he said. "We were offensive, aggressive and pushed the pace. Our guys hustled back to the center after each break and really opened some eyes in northwest Wisconsin. I had several coaches mention to me throughout the tournament that our kids looked really good. We've been knocking on the door for a few years and everyone knows we're coming, but Thursday and Friday was the first time we put that style on display and exceeded the expectations of others in the wrestling community."
Williamson rolled through his first three matches with pins before earning a 13-3 major decision over Mikel Louis of Luck/Frederic/Grantsburg/Siren in the semifinals. He and Novotney were deadlocked at 1-1 after three full periods of wrestling in the title match before Williamson scored two points in overtime to earn the win.
"I'm happy for Mitchell that he was able to close out the tournament with a championship," Black said. "We've had a handful of finalists over the last few years, including one at heavyweight each of the past three years."
Nathan Fuller also reached Friday night's finals at 152. Fuller earned a spot in the semifinals with a pair of wins and a major decision before beating state qualifier Brady Spaeth of Cadott, 16-9. He dropped a close 4-3 decision to Jacob DeMeyer of Rhinelander under the spotlight in the finals to take second in his weight class.
"Nathan Fuller impressed everyone with a huge semi-finals win over one of the best kids in the state," Black said.
Glen Pendleton and Chance Kamrowski were semi finalists at 160 and 195 pounds, respectively before both finishing third. Pendleton defeated Justin Malean of Boyceville, 7-4, in the third place match at 160 while Kamrowski received a medical forfeit from Ty Sanford of Prescott at 195.
"Chance Kamrowski and Glen Pendleton both came within inches of knocking off top ranked kids," Black noted. "Glen really solidified himself a serious threat for the rest of the season. He beat three past state qualifiers. At this time last year, he didn't even know the starting positions or rules and now he's 15-5 with some big time individual wins. He just keeps getting better every single time he steps on the mat."
The Wildcats also got important placement points from Michael Rebozo, Garnett Ripley and Bennett and Spencer Cernohous. Rebozo finished fourth at 126 pounds and Ripley was ninth at 220 while Bennett Cernohous finished 11th at 106 pounds and Spencer Cernohous was eighth at 120.
Black said the Cats had a couple of nice days at the Northern Badger, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.
"We're not even close to the expectations we have for our program, however, this is some good evidence for us that we're on the right path," he said. "We've consistently been in the top 10 at the Northern Badger in part because we usually have a full team. This year we really had a chance to win the tournament in spite of a few setbacks. A lot of people in the wrestling community are used to seeing River Falls competing for team titles and it's important that we continue to do so week after week and year after year. As a program, we put a lot of time into making the Northern Badger a top-of-the-line event. It's great for our volunteers, fans and athletes to be in contention right up until the final match."
The Cats will host Eau Claire Memorial in a Big Rivers Conference dual Thursday, Jan. 4, before competing at the New Richmond Invitational Saturday, Jan. 6.
"Now that we've tasted some team success, we have to stay disciplined and keep getting better," Black said.