Wildcats show figurative teeth, sources say 'plaque goals' not literal

By Joe Peine
Posted 9/14/23

The River Falls Wildcats soccer team beat the Wausau West Warriors by a score of 2-1 on Saturday in River Falls.

It was a back-and-forth game throughout the first half. With 34:00 on the clock, …

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Wildcats show figurative teeth, sources say 'plaque goals' not literal


The River Falls Wildcats soccer team beat the Wausau West Warriors by a score of 2-1 on Saturday in River Falls.

It was a back-and-forth game throughout the first half. With 34:00 on the clock, it was still tied up 0-0. However, less than a minute later the Warriors would get on the board with a shot in the corner of the Wildcats’ goal. The game would go into the half 1-0 in favor of Wausau.

The second half was much like the first. With 27:00 on the clock, it was still 1-0. Things heated up rapidly though.

At 27:20, River Falls had a break away score by winger Jonas Longsdorf to tie things up 1 all. Then, less than a minute later, Longsdorf was pushing the goal once again. Rather than give up the score, the Warriors tripped Longsdorf intentionally, which resulted in a penalty kick.  Adam Koger, head coach of the Wildcats, opted to put in #24 Joey Butz to take the shot. He did not disappoint, faking out the opposing keeper and putting it in the left corner of the goal to take a 2-1 lead.

The momentum had completely shifted towards the home team at this point as, just 90 seconds later, River Falls was back on Wausau’s doorstep. Butz got the ball on the right side with a big lead on the defender, but they were closing in. The shot was there, and he took it, but barely missed wide left.

Down by one in the closing minutes of the game, the Warriors started playing at a noticeably up-tempo pace, pushing hard to try to tie it up. That didn’t stop the Wildcats from trying to tack on though as they had yet another near score that barely went wide.

With the lead in hand and the final minutes ticking away, River Falls kept playing solid defense, doing a good job of keeping the ball on Wausau’s side of the field and away from their control. However, at 38:20, with less than two minutes to play, the Warriors rushed the field on a breakaway towards the Wildcats’ goal. With a tie in sight, Wausau’s shot sailed high.

That would be the last shot on goal for the game as the Wildcats would drain the clock down to 0:00 to win 2-1. River Falls is now even at 3-3 on the season.

This is Butz’s fourth year on the varsity squad. He’s been one of the Wildcats’ top performers this season, but he still feels like he left a goal on the field Saturday.

“I couldn't see it very well so I was deeper than I thought I was. I probably should have taken one more touch to get like a better angle at the goal,” Butz said. “I’ve got three goals this season and a couple assists, so I’m feeling pretty solid.”

Fans of Wildcat soccer will know that River Falls has had a lot of success in the last couple years, going to state two years ago and the regional finals last year. He says hopes are high to go back to the postseason.

“We lost, like, our ‘guy for the past two years, Zack Nye. He graduated last year. So, we've got a lot of young players, but we’re starting to figure it out,” Butz said. “We hope to make a pretty far run in the playoffs and then compete for a conference championship. We have Hudson next week. They're probably the best team in our conference, so we have to come ready to play.”

Player turnover isn’t the only personnel change this year though; they’ve also experienced a complete turnover on the coaching staff. In fact, head coach Adam Koger and assistant coach Charles Conley are actually the third such duo for River Falls in the past four seasons, which can be difficult for a variety of reasons.

“I think for me, the biggest challenge is getting to know the boys, getting them to buy in and trust. They've seen a lot of success recently, and now they get a new face coming in,” Koger said. “I’m the third coach for our seniors. They had a different coach for the last couple years, and they had one coach the year before that. So, that’s a lot of different voices, and it's hard sometimes to communicate new objectives, new standards, and have everybody kind of meet those and try to raise the bar if we can.”

Coach Conley says overall they’re happy with where they’re at so far this season and they’re tracking with their goals.

“We kind of expect the slow start. It's a tough transition with new coaches. Obviously, previous coaches are different, and getting players to buy into our style,” Conley said. “We played with New Richmond really, really well on Thursday. They're ranked highly, and we thought that was a very winnable game. We might take some lumps here early on, but our hope is to find our peak here toward the end of the year and try to get at least the one plaque and the regional final.”

This isn’t just coach speak, either. Koger says the team as a whole has dedicated themselves to realizing these aspirations as well.

“We want to make a run in the playoffs. We sat down and had a meeting at one point and the boys want to win a plaque. So that starts with a regional final victory, then that would take two wins. And then hopefully a sectional final, which would get us on to state,” Koger said. “As such we played in Richmond pretty tough earlier this week, and they're ranked in the state. So we know we can play with them. So that's, I think, a believable goal.”

With Hudson on deck, this next game will be a barometer for the Wildcats for how much work remains to be done if their post season plaque goals are going to become a reality.

“We’re at Hudson on Tuesday, that's a big one. Hudson and Eau Claire Memorial are the cream of the crop in this conference. We beat both squads last year, but Hudson still won the conference,” Conley said. “With our youth and inexperience, we're hoping to be able to hang in there. Memorial came in on Tuesday last week, and it was 1-0 until the final 30 seconds of the first half. Even in the second half, it was really back and forth besides maybe 15-20 minutes of the game where they broke it open. We're hoping we can have kind of a similar game against Hudson too, minus the 15-20 minutes.”

River Falls travels to Hudson High School Tuesday night to play the 5-2 Raiders. The game begins at 7 p.m.

River Falls Wildcats, soccer, Big Rivers, Pierce County, Wisconsin