The 2017 season-opening tournament at Wausau couldn't have gone any worse for the New Richmond boys soccer team.
So, to come home from the 2018 tournament in Wausau healthy, and with a win to boot, the Tigers are viewing last Tuesday's trip to Wausau as a major success.
The Tigers came out of the tournament with a 1-0 record. The Tigers opened the day against Wausau West, but the host school scheduled this as a scrimmage. That worked fine for the Tigers. West is a talented Division 1 program and the Tigers fell behind 4-0 in the first half. The Tigers began to jel in the second half, which was played to a 1-1 draw.
"It took us a little time to mesh," New Richmond coach Darian Blattner said of the first half. "Wausau is good...fast and they possess the ball well."
The Tigers then faced D.C. Everest, a team that beat them 3-1 in the tournament last year. New Richmond junior AJ Johnson opened the scoring and Everest tied the game with three minutes remaining in the first half. The score stayed 1-1 until 10 minutes were left, when Johnson was fouled. Johnson's about as good as you'll find at penalty kicks and he was on target again. That stood as the deciding goal in the Tigers' 2-1 victory.
These games were a chance to work young players into the lineup. Carson Hare started at sweeper against Wausau and Michael Benedict started in a defensive role. Joe Casey made his first varsity start and Jordy Lyons saw his most significant minutes.
With five hours between games, the coaches made some decisions and brought three freshmen into the lineup for the second game. Blattner said the freshmen were brought in to counteract the speed D.C. Everest possesses and the move worked.
The coaches wanted to see players in game conditions before making some decisions. Blattner said senior Nick Cheslock will play stopper, not just for his defensive skills, but because that position is vital in starting the Tigers' offensive attack.
Blattner said goalkeeper Ryan Landt played well in both games. He said the goals scored by Wausau were the result of inexperienced plays by the Tiger defense.
While the 2017 season didn't start well for the Tigers, it did end well, with the team earning its second straight trip to the WIAA Division 2 state championships. The Tigers are fostering dreams of another trip to state this season.
The Tigers have a week between games to work on all that they learned from the tournament. The Tigers will be in action in a 7 p.m. start Tuesday at Osceola. The Tigers and Middle Border Conference rival Amery will tangle for the first time on Thursday at the NRHS soccer field.