Saturday, October 25, 2014

Muskie boys’ soccer gunning for ‘four-peat’

Shane Beckett isn’t using the ‘D’ word in regards to the Muskie boys’ soccer team.
But he’s thinking about it.

“With 20 returning players out of the 25 we have, 10 of those having gone to OFSAA the last three years,” noted Beckett, who once again will lead the black-and-gold from the sidelines as they chase their fourth-straight NorWOSSA crown.
“I wouldn’t say this is a dynasty team but it’s getting there,” he proclaimed.
Preparing to defend their spot on top of the mountain has been severely hampered by a spring that’s been more wintry in nature.
Both the Muskie boys’ and girls’ pre-season action has been reduced to this past Friday’s get-together with the Rainy River Owls at Fort High and this weekend’s trip to Thunder Bay to face the Thunder Bay Chill on Saturday and then the St. Patrick’s Saints on Sunday.
The following day, both squads launch the NorWOSSA regular season with home games against the Kenora Broncos and Dryden Eagles.
“Not having the regular amount of exhibition games to get warmed up makes you feel bad as a coach,” admitted Beckett, who is carrying more players than what one would find on an average high school roster.
“We don’t necessarily want to carry such a big team,” he noted. “But while [Fort Frances Youth Soccer] does a great job to get kids interested in soccer, it’s missing that competitive aspect.
“If we cut down the number of players we have, we don’t know how good those who are cut are going to be coming back to try out next year,” Beckett reasoned.
“We’ve got five-seven Grade 11 starters right now and it’s been working for us so far,” he continued.
“We cut the kids when we see a natural break in talent between groups of players.”
While taking home NorWOSSA gold has been par for the course the last three seasons, Beckett has firm designs on getting more out of his team this time around should they make it to the OFSAA ‘AA’ championships June 5-7 in Leamington.
“We’ve got to switch the kids’ belief of how good they actually are,” stressed Beckett, whose team went winless at last year’s OFSAA tournament.
“They have to learn to play like they never believe they are out of a game.
“They say before a Winnipeg tournament or an OFSAA that they can win,” he remarked. “But they still play like they’re just happy to be there.
“The kids have to expect more of themselves.”
Beckett’s crew is fairly young this season, with four returning Grade 12s acting as the most battle-tested contingent.
“Derek Kaemingh is in [his] third year with us and has taken a leadership role,” said Beckett. “He’s a fullback and probably going to be our sweeper.
“He learned a lot playing in men’s league last year and looks poised to be the man out there for us.
“I would rather have him at midfield,” Beckett admitted. “But centre back is our No. 1 position and we need strength back there.”
Fourth-year Muskie Tyler Ruppenstein will be looked to as an offensive catalyst, with Beckett citing his play-making and striking abilities.
Meanwhile, attack-minded third-year defender Kirk Johnson is an “absolute workhorse” in Beckett’s eyes.
“He will never say he’s tired,” lauded Beckett.
“He’s learned what he’s capable of and what he can do on the ball.”
Johnson will be joined by fourth-year veteran Connor Botsford on the back end, whom Beckett applauded for his growth and maturity as a player.
“He has perfect timing as a defender and, like Kirk, he is learning how to move the ball forward instead of back,” Beckett said.
“Between him and Derek and Kirk, they’re going to live on the field,” he added.
“They have paid their dues the last few years. This is their year to lead the team from the back.”
The fifth Grade 12 on the team is brand new to Muskie soccer—but not to black-and-gold brilliance.
Braden Webb was named the most valuable player of both the Muskie football and boys’ hockey teams so far this season, and Beckett already envisions using his athleticism to great advantage.
“I’m not sure where he’s going to go, maybe the outside at the midfield,” Beckett remarked.
“But he can fly like the wind and he sees space like a natural already,” he noted.
“I wish he had tried out for us last year.”
Goalkeeping will rest with returnees Ben Whitburn and Gavin Richardson, along with rookie Cole Tymkin—and the old hands had best not rest on their laurels.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do in goal,” admitted Beckett.
“The returnees could be starters but so could Cole,” he noted. “He’s an incredible athlete.”
Whitburn played the first half while Tymkin took over to start the second half in Friday’s 3-1 win over Rainy River, which was played in rainy, chilly conditions.
Connor Bujold, Christian Audette, and Maxwell Williams scored for Fort High.
The Muskie girls also plucked the Owls’ feathers Friday as Claire Hyatt scored twice to fuel a 4-0 victory.
Angela Cole and Katie Sinclair had the other goals while Amy Penner and Elizabeth Allan shared the shutout.
Monday’s action gets underway at 10 a.m. with the Muskie girls battling Kenora, followed by the Muskie boys and the Broncos at 11:30 a.m.
After Dryden and Kenora square off in a girls’-boys’ doubleheader at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., respectively, the Eagles and Muskies will meet at 4 p.m. (girls) and 5:30 p.m. (boys).

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