The Muskie boys’ soccer team came home with a title—‘C’-side champions—at a tournament in Kenora over the weekend.
But coach Shane Beckett felt his troops returned with something much more valuable—a better realization of the effort it will take to repeat as NorWOSSA champs.
Fort High stonewalled a challenge from rival Dryden in the ‘C’-side final, and Beckett felt his team’s pumped-up reaction was a step towards stoking the competitive fire.
“Because it was gut-check time and the kids played so hard, when they ended up winning that game in overtime, there was a ton of emotion out there,” he noted.
“You would have thought that the kids had won the World Cup, which was good,” Beckett added.
The Muskies were back in action today (May 12) in the second leg of the NorWOSSA regular season, taking on both the host Eagles and Kenora in Dryden.
Beckett noted tournaments are a chance for coaches to make adjustments in order to find winning combinations come the NorWOSSA playoffs later this month. But the mixing-and-matching wasn’t the team’s undoing in a pair of poor games early in the tournament—a 5-0 loss to Vincent Massey of Brandon, Man. and a 3-0 whitewashing by St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora) on Saturday.
“We’re always tweaking and shifting guys around, formation-wise, but this wasn’t a formation or a systems problem,” Beckett stressed.
“This was a work-ethic situation, and I think the guys have figured it out now that they can play with anybody if they put their minds to it.
“Work ethic-wise, we just weren’t being aggressive enough trying to win balls and we were on our heels a little bit too much, so we let teams run at us,” he noted.
“When you do that against good teams, they’re going to score goals,” he remarked.
The luck of the draw was against the Muskies for the second-straight weekend as Vincent Massey, the eventual tourney champs, and St. Thomas Aquinas, the ‘B’-side winners, both made strong showings in Kenora.
The black-and-gold also were faced with a tough pool the previous weekend at the annual St. John’s-Ravenscourt tournament in Winnipeg.
“Again tough pool,” Beckett sighed. “But we could have played with both those teams and we had the potential to beat both those teams.
“We just beat ourselves more than anybody beat us.”
However, Fort High came together in the playoff round, getting past Crocus Plains of Brandon 2-1 on goals from David Chambers and Anniss Seid before knocking off Dryden 1-0 in overtime in the ‘C’-side final on Chambers’ game-winner.
“As coaches, we tried to rally the troops,” Beckett said. “There’s two things that a team can do. They can either fold up and go home, or they can respond and play well.
“We learned a lot about the character of our team, and we came back the next day and their work ethic was outstanding.”
Beckett also felt the scores flattered both Crocus Plains and Dryden, with his charges controlling the play in both matches.
“They took it to the two teams,” he observed. “[Crocus Plains’] keeper absolutely stood on his head.
“It very easily could have been six or seven [goals].”
Meanwhile, against Dryden, the Muskie offence was prone to misfiring until Chambers came through in overtime.
“We had the majority of play and just couldn’t capitalize,” noted Beckett.
Still, the coach was thrilled his squad was able to salvage the weekend with Sunday’s strong showing—not only for the accolades but more as a measuring stick of growth.
“Going away to a tournament, you learn a lot about your team, and we came home, again, despite having that bad day on Saturday, the kids really rebounded and did a gut-check and we’re a better team now coming out of it again,” he lauded.
“We’re only getting better and that’s a good sign.”
The black-and-gold had kicked off the NorWOSSA regular season here against Dryden and Kenora last Wednesday, edging the Eagles 2-1 before battling the Broncos to a 2-2 draw after Kenora tied the game in the dying seconds.
“Considering conditions and all those sorts of things, we played really well,” Beckett recalled.
“It was unfortunate to give up that late goal against Kenora in Game 2 but I thought, all in all, we played really well.”
Like he stressed prior to the season, Beckett felt his team is anchored by its defence, although there still is work to be done.
“We moved the ball well, we defended really well,” he credited. “We were only conceding goals on set pieces, so that’s something that we need to work on.
“Defensively, in the regular flow of play, we just don’t allow goals.”
Meanwhile, with Colton Spicer, Jameson Shortreed, Davis Smith, and Andrew Gobeil all hitting the net last Wednesday, Beckett felt his offensive attack is on track.
“We scored four goals in those two games, so that’s also a good sign that things offensively have started to move in the right direction,” he remarked.
“We’ve been working a lot on that this year, so that’s a good sign moving forward.”
A major challenge to Fort High ended up being Mother Nature as the strong north wind that helped stake the black-and-gold to a 2-0 first-half lead against Kenora proved fatal in the latter stages.
“Trying to defend that wind, though, against Kenora for 40 minutes, it’s real tough,” Beckett conceded.
“It was heart-breaking to allow that one in the last minute.
“You take the wind in the first half because you always know that the wind can change, and we were just praying that it would die down a little bit there.”
Still, Beckett said that with Fort High’s style of play, the wind wasn’t entirely in the Broncos’ sails for the entire half as the Muskies were unable to make use of the chances they did create.
“Even with the wind coming at us, we still had some offensive threats,” he noted.
“In our style of play, we keep the ball on the ground and move the ball with short passes, so I thought going into the wind we’d still be all right with that.
“We had a couple opportunities there which we could have capitalized on, but that’s just how it goes,” he reasoned.
“That’s playing in the spring in Northwestern Ontario.”