It’s a little too familiar.
The Muskie boys’ soccer team enter the NorWOSSA finals in Kenora today as the top seed among the seven teams with a 5-0-1 record.
But co-coach Ben Andrusco said both he and fellow coach Rick Chambers know one bad game can cost them the title. Last year, Muskies were 8-0 in league play only to be upset in the semi-finals.
“It’s funny. It seems every year a team steps up and surprises us,” said Andrusco, whose Muskies are looking for their first NorWOSSA gold medal since 1999.
“Other teams think we’re the team to beat. It’s going to be a battle,” he warned.
Meanwhile, the two-time defending champion Kenora Broncos, who went 2-1-3 in league play so far this season, have no problem taking a back seat to the Muskies—for now.
“They’re a well-balanced team,” Bronco co-coach Todd Penner said of the black-and-gold. “They have a couple of standouts but they’re pretty deep.
“We look forward to playing them. It’s nice to have some good competition and have a good challenge.
“But we’ve only lost two or three guys from last year so we’re proud of our depth as well,” Penner added.
The top-ranked Muskies will face Dryden (seeded fourth) and St. Thomas Aquinas (seventh) in one pool while the other pool includes Beaver Brae, Red Lake, Rainy River, and Sioux Lookout.
The top two teams from each pool will meet in the semi-finals tomorrow (Thursday), with the two winners squaring off later in the day for the league title.
The league champ will host the NWOSSAA finals (featuring the winners of the Thunder Bay and North Shore of Superior associations) on June 1.
The black-and-gold are 7-1-1 overall so far this season, including a pair of wins in the second qualifying tournament in Dryden last weekend. They dumped Red Lake 7-0 and edged the Broncos 2-1.
Andrusco said their win over Kenora was a boost for the team.
“We wanted to go in as the first seed,” he said. “It gives us that mental edge going in. We wanted to let the guys know that they can beat [Kenora].”
Tyler Barker, Simeon Nuss-baumer, Kyle McTavish, Tanner Kaemingh, Chris Faragher, Chris Plett, and Andrew Mueller scored against Red Lake (three of them off penalty kicks) while Bryce Witherspoon and Jeremy Wilson tallied versus Kenora.
Dan Poperechny earned both wins in goal.
But the weekend was not without its minor injuries. Mueller, the team’s backup striker, sprained his ankle while starting midfielder Matt Basaraba is nursing a bruised shin.
“Those were our two main injuries. So, overall, we came out [of league play] unscathed. We were happy with the way the guys came out,” said Andrusco.
“Teams like Kenora and Dryden can be dangerous at times,” he noted. “We’re not worried about offence, it’s our defence we’re concerned with. Kenora showed us a few things.”
It’s a little too familiar.