HUDSON, Wis. -- If there’s one message high school athletes across the state have received loud and clear this fall, it’s to adapt so there can be a season.
So when the players on the Hudson boys’ soccer team learned the Big Rivers Conference is requiring them to wear masks for games this fall, it didn’t take long for them to come around.
“When they found out we had to wear these masks for games themselves, they were like, coach, I don’t know if I can wear a mask and run like I want to run,” Raider coach Steve Sollom said. “But when it gets explained -- well guys we either have to do this or we’re not going to be able to have games -- then it’s OK, let’s do it. It’s a price worth paying if you can get the chance to play, and we’re playing.”
The Raiders opened their 2020 season with a 5-0 victory at home against Menomonie Tuesday, Sept. 15. Both teams wore masks, there was plenty of hand sanitizer on the sidelines, and spectators were limited to the families of Raider players only, masked up and spread out in the Raider Stadium bleachers.
The scene was a welcome one for Sollom, who also coaches the Raider girls’ soccer team that lost its season when the coronavirus began sweeping the nation last spring.
“It was fabulous just to have a game and have the kids running around against another team,” Sollom said. “I wasn’t sure we’d ever get to this. Last spring we didn’t, so this is fantastic for us, it’s fantastic for the kids, and honestly, the winning and the losing part? You play to win obviously, but really just to be able to play, the result isn’t important.”
Important or not, the result was a victory for Hudson. Trevor Nava-Barber scored twice in the opening nine minutes and Paul Phillipson one-timed a cross from Josh Davis in the 22nd minute to give the Raiders a 3-0 halftime lead. Darren Chukel nailed a 30-yard shot in the 48th minute and Phillipson sent a left-footer into the far corner from 15-yards out with 20 minutes remaining to make the final 5-0. Lucas Biederman and Toby Schneider each played a half in goal as the Raiders outshot the Mustangs 23-1.
Sollom said it was good to get everybody in the game, and a big reason for that was the mask mandate.
“It’s hard to run in a mask, and the boys get winded a lot sooner,” he noted. “But I told them, we’ll do our best and we’ll sub when we have to sub and then we’ll sub some more. We have a lot of depth compared to other teams, so in that regard it’s a little bit of an advantage. If you’re going to have to sub more you like to have a deeper bench and we played everybody both halves and had a bigger rotation than we normally would.”
Another thing the Raiders will have to get used to this season is the schedule. Missing this fall will be the twice-a-season showdowns with Big Rivers Conference rival Eau Claire Memorial and the cross-state, overnight trips to tournaments to face top-ranked opponents. Instead of a 20-plus game regular season and playoffs, the Raiders are looking at a nine-game regular season with no guarantee of a postseason this fall. But Sollom said maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
“For better or for worse the focus, especially for a varsity program at a big school, is on winning,” he said. “You want to win, you play to win, you train to win. I think the focus now is on participation, which is maybe where it should be in the first place. The kids get a lot out of this, win, lose or draw, and we don’t want to take that away from them. So that gets to be more of the focus, and it probably should be more of the focus all the time.”
Sollom said he gives a lot of credit to his players for making the adjustments that allow them to have a season at all.
“They’re being very patient and resilient with the whole thing, because it’s tough,” he said. “But the kids will tell you, it’s other things besides the games that are kind of the memory builders. The competitiveness of it? We want to win. We want all those great things. But just to be out and playing this year is a bigger deal than the win, lose or draw part of it. And they understand that.”
Two nights later the Raiders won again, this time beating the Mustangs 8-1 in Menomonie.
Joey Grikis scored the first two goals but a defensive lapse led to a Menomonie penalty kick goal to make it 2-1 at halftime.
After what Sollom described as “a little halftime pep talk,” Hudson took over in the second half and got goals from Philipson, Teig O’Kelly, Nava-Barber, Shawn Berger and Chukel.
The Raiders will face Chippewa Falls in a home-and-home series this week -- Tuesday, Sept. 22, at Chippewa Falls and Thursday, Sept. 24, in Hudson.