Being unbeaten after three games would have most coaches smiling from ear to ear.
But Sara Roach knows she has some injury concerns to address that will make winning more games for her four-time defending NorWOSSA champion Muskie girls’ soccer team much tougher as the season progresses.
The first-year coach, who was an assistant on last year’s squad, saw her team post a 3-0 exhibition win over the Rainy River Owls here last Thursday on goals by Maggie Jean, Jamie Spencer, and Abby Sanders.
Then they hosted the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints for a pre-season doubleheader Sunday.
The Muskie rallied to tie the first game 1-1 on Jean’s second-half rocket and then posted a 1-0 triumph in the second one, with Pasquel Shortreed cashing in a first-half rebound that came off the post following Jean’s long-range free kick.
But both those games saw a veteran Muskie–a priceless commodity on a team that features only seven players out of 22 on the roster in Grade 11 and up–go down in painful fashion.
Grade 11 player Abby Sanders, who is slated to move up full-time from her defence position last year to the striker role, was filling in at her old spot in the first contest when she hurt her right knee after blocking a shot in the second half.
She had to be helped off the field.
“Abby did exceptionally well on both offence and defence in these games,” lauded Roach.
“She is a player that I can confidently play anywhere on the field.
“Unfortunately, we are not sure when she will be ready to play again,” she added.
Then in the afternoon rematch, Grade 12 mid-fielder Jess Steele re-injured a previous right-foot ailment in a battle for the ball and also was carried off to the bench.
“Jess also plays an important role for our team in the midfield and we have not yet heard about when she will be ready to play, either,” Roach noted.
“The loss of these two players means that some newer players will see some more field time, giving them an opportunity to improve and gain confidence on the field,” she added.
Steele seemed upbeat while sitting out the rest of the game, saying she had hurt the foot in the same spot before.
With proper rest and icing the affected area, she felt confident she would be back in action for the opening two games of the NorWOSSA schedule next Wednesday against the visiting Dryden Eagles and Kenora Broncos.
Injuries aside, Roach gave her team top marks for their efforts last week.
“Everyone played really well,” she remarked. “[Assistant coach Chantal Jodoin] and I were able to get everybody on the field multiple times.
“We shuffled players around and played them in positions that they normally wouldn’t be playing, and they all did really well.
“We believe the girls have gained some confidence throughout the past few games, which is crucial heading into league play next week,” Roach stressed.
Allowing only one goal in three games also did wonders for Roach’s mood.
“We have a very young defensive line, which includes many new players,” she noted.
“The strongest part of our defensive play the past few games is that we successfully kept the other team’s offence to the outside wings,” she recounted.
“We did not let the other team have many opportunities from the inside of the field, shutting them down offensively.
“We are going to be looking to improve our communication on the backline, as well as focus on breaking out of our zone upon repossession of the ball,” she added.
As for the offence?
“Our centre mid-fielders [Steele and Alina Eldridge] and wing mid-fielders [Jean] created a lot of scoring opportunities, which is great,” Roach said.
“The majority of our strikers are first-year players and are still learning, but with more practice, I am confident that things will fall into place and we will see more goals scored.”
Between the pipes, Roach got shutout work from newcomer Carmen Godin both Thursday against the Owls and in Sunday’s second game against the Saints.
Adyson Wilson-Hands moved back from her defensive fullback position to backstop the earlier tie with St. Thomas Aquinas.
“For someone who has never played as a goalkeeper, we are really proud of Carmen,” enthused Roach.
“She communicates very well and is also a very smart and aggressive player, which is exactly what the team needs.
“We are looking forward to see how she grows as a player throughout this season.
“Thankfully, Adyson came through for us when Carmen was unable to play in the first game against [St. Thomas Aquinas] and she did exceptionally well,” Roach added.
Fort High will face a stiff test holding onto its title in the face of what likely will be a much more experienced Dryden team that will look to capitalize on the fact several Muskies from last year’s team eligible to return decided against playing this season.
Roach is taking the situation all in stride.
“A younger team is fine,” she remarked. “We’re younger but more energetic.
“We’re willing to take the hand we’ve been dealt.
“We’ll adapt and move forward,” Roach pledged. “This group is all very coachable.”