RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- Hudson boys’ soccer coach Steve Sollom said it was unfortunate that the WIAA Division 1 sectional seeding meeting was held two days before the Raiders faced River Falls this season.
Both teams went into Tuesday night’s matchup in River Falls unbeaten, with the Wildcats’ only blemish a 2-2 tie at Rice Lake back on Sept. 22. That’s likely the only reason Hudson was awarded the No. 1 seed in the six-team sectional while River Falls received the second spot.
“I told their coach it would be nice if we had the seeding meeting after we played you because we knew it was going to be a really good game,” Sollom said. “They’ve got a really good team, so we were happy to have some competition that was intense. We haven’t had that yet.”
The game lived up to the hype, with Hudson eventually scoring a pair of second half goals to walk away with a 2-0 win. The two teams played to a scoreless tie in the regular season finale two nights later, and if the seedings hold true to form, they could meet again in a sectional semifinal Oct. 29.
“Hopefully that’s the preview of what’s to come when we get to sectionals,” Wildcat coach Marcos Rodriguez said. “With Hudson being the one seed and us being the two seed, on paper it's destined for us to meet, and this might be the only time ever you get a Hudson-River Falls game to get to state.”
That’s because the Wildcats normally drop down to Division 2 for the postseason. But with COVID-19 keeping some teams sidelined and limiting the travel of the remaining teams, Hudson and River Falls find themselves in the same sectional bracket along with New Richmond, Onalaska, Chippewa Falls and Menomonie.
Both the Raiders and Wildcats received first-round byes for the postseason. Hudson will host either No. 4 Onalaska or No. 5 Chippewa Falls in one regional final Oct. 24 while the Wildcats will face either No. 3 New Richmond or No. 6 Menomonie in the other.
Sollom said he’s not real excited about the prospect of facing River Falls a third time in the playoffs.
“Playing somebody three times in a week-and-a-half or something like that may not be the greatest thing for us,” he said. “My theory is, every time you play somebody you get to know each other a little bit better and it gets a little closer each time. So I’m not real thrilled about playing a team like that three times in a week and a half.”
Tuesday’s first matchup between the two teams certainly had that playoff intensity.
After 20 minutes of feeling each other out the Wildcats made a big defensive stop when goalkeeper Ben Matheson came off his line to deny Hudson’s Trevor Nava-Barber on a semi-breakaway. Nava-Barber had a chance at his own rebound but it hit the post before his third chance was denied by sliding Wildcat defender Bryce Stacy and Matheson was able to get back and cover the ball.
“We were really unlucky to not score, and I’m not quite sure how we didn’t,” Sollom said about the sequence. “They had a really nice save and then they had a defender make a nice save and then the post made a save and I was starting to wonder if we were ever going to score.”
Hudson finally snapped the scoreless tie two minutes into the second half when Josh Davis sent a header off a corner kick by Sam Ross inside the far post. Five minutes later Ross chipped the ball over a Wildcat defender to his younger brother Sam, who flicked it with his head just up and over a leaping Matheson.
Thursday night had a different feel as both teams were missing players due to either quarantine or injuries. Sollom used the opportunity to start a number of his reserves as a way to reward them for their work this season.
“It was great for the kids who don’t often play, to get to hear their name in the starting lineup, to feel the nerves in warmups, and have the weight of knowing they will be directly responsible for winning or losing,” Sollom explained. “I want every kid to have that feeling at least once. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen every season, but the winning and losing isn’t as important as those kids feeling that they contributed.”
After a scoreless first half, the Raider starters didn’t fare any better against the Wildcats in the second half.
“I was disappointed when the regular starters took their shifts,” Sollom said. “The second half we really should have scored several. Their keeper made a great save on a point-blank shot, and we missed open goals twice. In all, it was about the result I expected.”
Sollom said he doubts that will be the last time the two teams will face each other this season.
“In theory we’ll see them in the playoffs again in a week or two,” he said. “And I’m sure that will be a heck of a game again.”