Even though the scoreboard shows the Muskies girls’ soccer only won one game at their home tournament over the weekend, the team is taking much more from the experience.
The Muskies, still looking for their first goal in NorWOSSA play heading into today’s regular-season finale in Kenora, are riding an offensive wave after blitzing Winnipeg’s Hanover Hype for seven goals in two match-ups, including a 5-3 victory in Saturday’s consolation final.
Muskie head coach Sarah Noonan was encouraged not only by the goal-scoring in and of itself in Saturday’s game, noting the team had improved in the nuts and bolts of scoring, not just the finish.
“It was actually a really good game, the girls played awesome,” she enthused.
“It came at a good time. They seemed to put everything together.
“They were scoring, they were passing,” Noonan added. “It was like they were able to put everything into action that we’ve been practising.
“It was definitely a benefit to have these tournament games this weekend.”
The charge was beginning deep in the Muskie zone, starting from the keeper.
“Our attack was coming up right from our goalkeeper,” Noonan lauded. “We were getting good distribution from our keepers.
“Even just a short pass to the defence, and then a good series of passes through the midfield and up to the forwards.
“It was something we hadn’t been doing, so it was nice they put that all together,” she remarked.
Nicole Mueller and Jessica Caul each struck twice in the consolation final while Courtney Roach rounded out the scoring.
Fort High was able to pull out the bronze medal after going winless in the round-robin, sandwiching a 4-2 loss to Hanover between a 1-0 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora) and a 3-0 shutout to eventual champion St. Patrick’s (Thunder Bay).
Roach and Mueller hit the twine in the loss to Hanover.
Noonan was particularly impressed with the effort against St. Patrick’s as the defensive line put up a solid showing in slowing down an offensive juggernaut.
“They’re a really good team out of Thunder Bay,” she said. “They scored a lot of goals so, actually, our defensive effort against them on Saturday morning, I think that was the least amount of goals they had scored in a game.
“We held them to that.”
The Muskies are taking positives from the extra repetition as Noonan felt most aspects of the game seemed to click into place.
“I think that, as a whole, we took a step up in our game,” she noted. “Defensively, our back line just got used to our 4-4-2 system that we run.
“[We were] just learning ‘Who should I cover,’ ‘Where should I shift,’ ‘I’ve got two girls, what should happen’ and they just figured that all out.”
A big part of the improvement came from the players being louder on the field, thereby covering off more opposing players.
“[They were realizing] ‘Oh, I get it. This is where I need to be, and if I’m covering this player, the midfielder will come back and mark this girl,’” Noonan observed.
“They communicated a lot more and they’re pretty confident on the back line, so that was pretty good to see.”
Noonan felt the effort put into hosting the tournament was worth it for her team in the end, given they were able to look at three new opponents and, primarily, get the system up and running.
“It was some good minutes for those new players to get some more games under their belts. The exhibition tournaments are always good for team development that way.
“I might not get every single player on during a league game, so it’s a good opportunity for the younger players to get some more minutes and get used to playing with the rest of the team and learn the system,” she reasoned.
Noonan said the Muskies’ leaders also lived up to their billings as co-captains, noting Annika McTavish and Nicole Mueller have been the squad’s most useful players so far this season.
“Annika McTavish has been really versatile for us,” she pointed out. “I’m able to use her anywhere on the field.
“I can put her on the defensive line, that’s where she played primarily last year. I can put her in the midfield and she distributes the ball well.
“She can carry it up herself if I wanted her to run on the front line.
“Same with Nicole Mueller.”
Noonan also has been pleased with the development of Roach, who, in an offensive sense, has been able to fly under the radar for much of the year but emerges quickly with a chance to score.
“She’s kind of that smaller player that you don’t expect, [and you] maybe underestimate her,” Noonan said. “But she just fights hard and she’s aggressive, and she just finds a way to score.
“That’s that special talent that you can’t really teach. She just puts the ball in the net.”
However, Roach seems to take pride in getting under the skin of defenders so she doesn’t exactly stay invisible until the ball sits a couple of feet in front of her.
“She often comes out and kind of says, ‘Oh, that girl’s getting pretty mad at me,’” recalled Noonan. “It’s pretty funny.”
The Muskie girls dropped both NorWOSSA games last Wednesday in Dryden—3-0 to Kenora and then 2-0 to the host Eagles—but Noonan maintained the format of the league has allowed her squad to drop a few games in preparation for one or two winner-take-all showdowns at the NorWOSSA playoffs next Wednesday (May 26) in Dryden.
“Our focus has been we need to keep getting better, keep improving, figure out these things that maybe haven’t been going our way yet,” stressed Noonan.
“[We need to] figure out how to score, get the ball in the net, and we need to peak on that last day.
“Because of the format of our league . . . everyone makes it in, just us, Dryden, and Kenora.
“The team that wins it that day wins it all,” she noted.
“So as long as we peak on that last day, that’s really all that matters,” she concluded, adding the weekend tournament was “a step in the right direction.”