RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- It’s the third week of January and the River Falls wrestling team has only competed in one match.
Normally teams would have a dozen or more matches in the books by this point in the season. But this is not a normal season.
First the WIAA modified the start of the season due to COVID, then the River Falls School District pushed back the start of all sports to Dec. 7. Then the Wildcats had their first three matches of the postponed due to contact tracing and quarantining. River Falls finally hit the mat for a 52-15 win over Rice Lake Jan. 7, but then Mother Nature interfered and forced the Wildcats scheduled trip to Eau Claire North last week to be cancelled due to a snowstorm.
“The season has been different, that's for sure,” River Falls coach Kevin Black said.
Black and the Wildcats had high hopes going into the season. Led by the team’s four seniors--Ethan Cernohous, Elliot Hampton, Marcus Cudd and Nathan Ottum-- and three returning All-Big Rivers Conference first teamers-- juniors Vito Massa, Miles Longsdorf and Tyler Haydon-- the team had high expectations.
“We have a good team of wrestlers,” Black said. “This season would have been a special one and would have really put wrestling on the radar again in River Falls. We had a lot of momentum coming into this season at all levels, so it's difficult to be in a situation that feels like a setback for the program.”
Fortunately, Black said the program is set up for the long haul.
“We're set up to have a few years of good wrestling happening after this year, too, and we're going to keep building at the lower levels,” he said. “For our current seniors and juniors, we all wish this season could have been something they were familiar with and something that rewarded their commitment and hard work over the years.”
For now, Black and the Wildcats are focused on the short term. They’re scheduled to host Menomonie this Thursday, Jan. 21, and a home quad Saturday, Jan. 23, before opening the postseason at the WIAA Division 1 regional at Eau Claire North Saturday, Jan. 30.
“As a team we made a commitment to each other for these three weeks that we have scheduled and will give everything we can to make these three weeks meaningful and memorable,” Black said. “There is a lot that's out of our control and our kids are learning a good lesson to focus on controlling what can be controlled and roll with the punches otherwise. It's tough though, because how do you keep a teenager focused and positive when they don't have a clear goal or things are predictable and concrete? Children struggle with that ambiguity and that's why we've reduced it all down to these three weeks and that's where our focus is.”