If you want tough competition, sometimes you have to seek it out.
That's what the New Richmond boys soccer team did, traveling to the Madison area to face two strong opponents. The Tigers took losses in both games, but they are a better team after making the trip, according to Tiger coach Darian Blattner.
On Friday, the Tigers lost to Monona Grove 4-2, in a game that was tied 2-2 until late in the action.
On Saturday, the Tigers faced state-ranked Oregon in a matchup of teams that competed at the WIAA Division 2 state championships last year. The game was scoreless at halftime and the Tigers trailed 2-1 with 15 minutes remaining. Oregon scored twice in the final two minutes to defeat the Tigers 5-1.
The Tigers went in search of fast, intense games. They found them. Monona Grove struck early, but the Tigers regrouped and tied the score on a goal by Caleb Armstrong. The score was 1-1 at halftime. Monona Grove got the first goal of the second half, but the Tigers answered again. This time it was Jovani Perez-Sanchez scoring, with his first varsity goal, on an assist from Jack Burmood.
Monona Grove scored twice in the final 10 minutes to complete the 4-2 win.
Blattner said the scoring from Armstrong and Perez-Sanchez is big, because the Tigers will need younger players to step up into big roles against strong opponents. Blattner said Tiger leading scorer AJ Johnson had two defenders on him wherever he went during both games this weekend.
Oregon is ranked among the top five Division 2 teams in the state. Like the Tigers, they seek out tough competition. This weekend, Oregon will face Eau Claire Memorial and Hudson. So Saturday's game between the two 2017 Division 2 state qualifiers was a matchup worth watching. The Tigers showed what they are capable of in the first half, which ended scoreless.
Oregon scored the first two goals of the second half, before Johnson scored for the Tigers. Johnson was able to score on a counterattack after the Tigers forced Oregon into a turnover. The scored stayed 2-1 until Oregon scored in the 75th minute. Oregon scored twice in the final four minutes of the game.
Blattner said these games provided what the Tigers were looking for.
"It was a level of play we don't see often. For us to have the success we want, other kids will need to step up. We competed with both teams for big chunks of the game," Blattner said.
He said facing two strong opponents with little turnaround time is similar to what the Tigers could face in a sectional semifinal and final situation later in the season.
The Tigers will play two road games this week. They'll head north to Hayward on Tuesday and head south to River Falls on Friday. Tigers will play at home next Monday, hosting Osceola.
The Tigers built on that success on Tuesday, winning at Hayward, 8-0.