It was just a year ago that the Muskie boys’ soccer team came through with an upset win over the Kenora Broncos to earn a trip to the all-Ontarios.
The black-and-gold shocked the favoured Broncos on Mitch Cain’s overtime goal to steal a 1-0 victory.
Fast forward 12 months and this time it’s the Muskies who find themselves with the bye to the NorWOSSA final, which goes this afternoon in Dryden.
Last year’s Broncos may have been looking ahead but Muskie head coach Shane Beckett was doing all in his power to prevent that from happening to his team.
Going into today, he was stressing the importance of the game at hand before even thinking “all-Ontarios.”
“They know first-hand that if you get a win in the first game [semi-final], you can ride that all the way through,” noted Beckett.
“There are a lot of kids on this team who did that last year.
“We can’t go in overconfident and we can’t go in thinking anything else,” he warned.
The host Eagles and Kenora Broncos battled it out this morning for the right to play the Muskies in the NorWOSSA final (the outcome wasn’t known prior to press time).
Although Beckett said Fort High wouldn’t know its opponent until just hours before game time, his charges were focusing on what they could control leading up to the game.
“We’ve got to do what we’ve done to get here and play our game and dictate the pace that we’ve been doing all year,” he reasoned.
“We know that if we dictate the pace that we’ve been doing all year, and we know that if we play our hearts out and leave it on the field, that we’ll get the right result.”
The pace Beckett refers to is a quick one—and he hopes his crew displays a killer instinct on the field instead of playing a more passive style.
“The big thing we’ve been pushing with our guys is to play on our toes and not on our heels,” he remarked.
“That just means getting out there and being aggressive and applying pressure all over the field, and forcing teams into mistakes and then capitalizing on those mistakes.
“It doesn’t really matter which opponent it is as long as we’re dictating the pace and that’s what we need to do.”
Beckett also noted the week of practice leading up to the game was no different than in previous weeks.
“Just more or less like every other week, you get into a routine,” he explained.
“You play Wednesday, you’re a little bit loose on Thursday because you had games, and then Monday, Tuesday you ramp it up and try to get ready.”
The Muskies suffered their first NorWOSSA defeat in the final week of regular-season action last Wednesday in Kenora, enduring a 2-0 blanking at the Broncos’ hands after having already earned the bye to the final with a 3-1 win over Dryden earlier in the day.
Anniss Seid, David Chambers, and Colton Spicer all scored against the Eagles.
Beckett said his players weren’t stressing over the loss since many starters were afforded some extra rest, with the reserves seeing increased responsibility.
“At that point, we had already cinched up first place, so it really gave us an opportunity to play deep into our bench and get those guys a ton of time so if we do need them on Wednesday [today], they’re going to be a little more seasoned and ready to go,” he reasoned.
“It also helps us in the future for next year,” Beckett added. “The more game time that the young kids can get during the regular season in meaningful game, the better we’re going to be in the long run.
“So that was our goal for the Kenora game.
“We had a Grade 9 keeper [Scott Parsons] in net and at no time did we have more than two starters on the field, so it really was a developmental game for us,” he concluded.
Beckett underlined the point that playing time over the course of last Wednesday’s matches was evenly distributed, so he felt the day played into the meaning of a “true team effort.”
“All 23 players played more than an hour of soccer, so there wasn’t necessarily one standout,” he recalled. “Every single kid, right from player no. 1 to player no. 23, left everything on the field in that heat and really showed what kind of a team we really are.”
Beckett said he was pleased with the progress he saw from his younger players, even though they were unable to get anything past the Kenora keeper.
He felt the effort was there, and while the finish wasn’t, it’s a trait that’s poised to develop.
“The real difference between your first line and your second line is that the first line, when they get an opportunity, they score, and the second line is learning to do that,” he explained.
“Kenora capitalized when they had their couple of chances and we just couldn’t put anything away in that game.
“The score line of 2-0, I don’t think, is indicative of what was being shown on the field.”
But while Beckett said the Muskies weren’t dwelling on last Wednesday’s game too much, that doesn’t mean Kenora has forgotten. And that added bit of confidence might come into play in the event the Broncos advance to today’s final.
“They might be,” he acknowledged. “They’re well-coached, and their coach is going to be using that for motivation, just like we would.
“Regardless of who you’re playing against, you get a win, you get a win. . . .
“They’re going to try to use that the best that they can.”
On the other hand, Fort High can take some wisdom from the defeat given the bitter taste can be washed away with a championship win just a week afterwards.
“It pained us to lose,” Beckett remarked. “We didn’t like to lose, and I thought that for the majority of the game, the kids that were out there really carried a lot of the play and dictated the pace of the game.”