One goal down, another one to go.
That’s the mindset for the Muskie boys’ soccer team as it prepares to start the OFSAA ‘AA’ championships in Windsor tomorrow morning after capturing the NorWOSSA crown last Wednesday in Kenora.
“We felt like we played a lot better last year than what we finished, so our goal this year was to go all the way and we were able to come out and do it,” said fifth-year player Dave Chambers said.
“Now our goal has changed, and we want to make it out of the round-robin and gain a playoff spot at OFSAA,” he added.
The black-and-gold, playing in Group ‘C’, will begin their provincial quest at 10:30 a.m. (EDT) tomorrow against St. Paul (Mississauga) before facing the Kennedy Clippers (Windsor) at 3 p.m.
The Muskies return to the pitch Friday at 11 a.m. to play St. Joseph’s (St. Thomas), then conclude their round-robin schedule at 2 p.m. against Theriault (Timmins).
“I think making the playoffs is a real possibility for us,” said Muskie head coach Shane Beckett.
“We have a team that is definitely capable of making it to the playoff stage, and once you get there, who knows what can happen?” he reasoned.
Fort High clinched the all-Ontario berth—their second in three seasons—with a 1-0 victory over the Kenora Broncos in the NorWOSSA final just after hours after edging the Dryden Eagles by that same score in the semi-final.
“We asked the guys all year long to just work hard, and they put everything together at NorWOSSA,” Beckett enthused.
“They worked their butts off and left everything out on the pitch, and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” he added.
Beckett believes one of the key factors to his team’s success last week was heading up to Kenora on Tuesday night and staying in a hotel, instead of travelling by bus early in the morning on game day.
“Having that extra rest in a bed, and having a lack of ‘bus legs,’ really helped us tremendously,” Beckett stressed.
The semi-final against Dryden ended up being a evenly-contested affair before Brendan Cawston scored in the dying stages of the first half to give the black-and-gold a lead they would not relinquish.
“We knew that Dryden was going to be at full strength going into this game, and they played the best game that we had seen out of the all season,” Beckett noted.
“They had a phase in the game where they really started to take control of the midfield and really took it to us.
“If it wasn’t for [keeper Scott] Parsons making some good saves and our defenders making some great plays, it really could have been a different story,” he admitted.
After a quick break, it was time for the championship game against the host Broncos, who also had the crowd on their side to go along with the extra rest they had from getting the bye into the final.
“In the pre-game speech, I told the guys that ‘Kenora has everything, but we got them right where we want them,’” Beckett recalled.
“The boys just came out flying in the first 35 minutes, and I personally haven’t seen them play soccer like that ever,” he lauded.
After Colton Spicer found the back of the net on a volley just before halftime, the Muskies soon went into a defensive mode as the Broncos came rushing down the field to try and notch the equalizer in the final minutes.
“The last 10 minutes felt like 25,” Beckett stressed.
“Kenora had three corner kicks in added time to try and tie things up, but our guys did everything that they needed to do in order to win the game,” he added.
This year’s Muskie squad also is quite different from the previous ones Beckett has coached to the all-Ontarios, having previously led teams to the 2006 and 2009 provincial championships in St. Catharines and Hamilton, respectively.
“The first time we went, it was more of a make-shift team,” he remarked. “And though our skill set this year matches the team from ’09, our work rate is better bar none.
“Plus, even though Parsons is only in Grade 10, we previously had rookie Grade 12 goalkeepers when we’ve gone to OFSAA, so having that experience between the pipes will also be a key difference,” Beckett said.
This will be Parsons’ second trip to OFSAA in the last couple of months—having gone with the Muskie boys’ hockey team to the ‘AAA/AAAA’ all-Ontario’s in Toronto back in March.
“I think I will be a little less nervous this time around,” Parsons said.
“It’s still a huge deal to go there, of course, but I now have a better idea of what to expect this time around,” he explained.
While making it to the playoff round is the main goal for OFSAA, Parsons knows his team will have to start off on the right foot, especially in their opener against St. Paul tomorrow.
“How far we go is all going to come down to how we do in that first game,” he stressed.
“We feel that we can do really well down there, but it’s going to depend a lot on what happens in the opener.”