Muskies blank Owls in exhibition

Like a piano falling on a Looney Tunes character, the feeling hit Caroline Spencer.
She started her walk to the pitch relaxed and cool like Bugs Bunny, but halfway onto the field is when her dormant character—resembling a nervous Daffy Duck—came to the surface.
“I wasn’t nervous in the slightest until we started walking out to the field, and about halfway across I went, ‘Oh man, I hope we’ve been doing this right’” Spencer said.
You see, Spencer is in her first year as head coach of the Muskie girls’ soccer team (taking over from long-time coach Struchan Gilson) and last Thursday afternoon was her first game in that role.
The game came against the visiting Rainy River Owls in what was deemed as exhibition, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t important.
On the contrary, it marked the first chance for Spencer and her coaching staff to see the players in a game situation and begin the process of establishing a starting lineup.
“For my purposes, it was a great game to see where we’re at and I am very happy with where we are at,” Spencer noted.
So just what did she see in the 3-0 win?
“I saw the girls doing what we’ve been doing in practice and using the drills that we’ve been using without even thinking about it,” Spencer remarked.
“They’re seeing the field,” she added. “They’re making those two-touch passes without thought and they’re controlling possession of the game.”
The game essentially was a wash as the Muskies controlled the ball for almost three-quarters of the game. Their dominance could be seen by how many shots they had on the Owls’ net—an astonishing 22.
It started with Blair Harnett, who found the back of the net 20 minutes into the first half.
An illegal throw-in gave the Muskies possession deep in the Owls’ zone, and Katie McTavish did well in putting a cross on the net that initially was saved. But the sprawling keeper couldn’t collect the loose rebound, which left Harnett with an easy goal.
Less than five minutes later, McTavish scored her first goal in a Muskie uniform when she beat the keeper on the short side after a rush down the right wing.
“I’ve always been the little one,” McTavish, who stands only a hair over five feet tall, said in explaining her scoring drought over the years.
But McTavish surely will be a key part of the winning formula the Muskies are trying to figure out.
The black-and-gold plan to implement a two-striker format with Kate Basaraba and Rebecca Cornell, so it will be the responsibility of the outside halfback to cross the ball into the middle for the strikers.
The scoring threat posed by Basaraba and Cornell most likely will hold defenders in the inside, which should lead to shots from 15-20 yards out for players like McTavish, Rylee Broman, Mel Herr, Jolene Veldhuisen, Natalie Desjardins, and other mid-fielders.
Those are shots the Muskies will have to capitalize on.
“We only had three goals, but the shots were there and that just means we need some more practice,” said Spencer, who would see Cornell score the Muskies’ final goal early in the second half after putting a knee to a cross from the outside.
With almost a month until their first game of a season that is only four weeks long (but could go longer if they win NorWOSSA, which the team has done for eight of the past nine years), it was especially rewarding for Spencer to see the players starting to see how the drills they use in practice can be applied in a game situation.
“It’s nice to be able to say to them, ‘This is what you were doing, and this is what we do in practice, and now we’re starting to see it on the field.’
“Rylee Broman came off the field and goes, ‘Spence, I can’t believe it. I’m seeing things. I’m looking up. It’s that numbers-passing drill you make us do,’” recalled Spencer.
Actually, the Muskies could have won by a much greater margin over the Owls as Basaraba, for one, had an array of scoring chances but was just off by the most minute of margins.
The English-like weather here last Thursday (cold and muggy, with a few stints of rain) seemed to affect Basaraba’s play.
“She hasn’t been at school the last two days, so she came to school today [Thursday] so she could play this game and she probably shouldn’t have been playing,” noted Spencer.
“But she’s a soccer player.”
Soccer players want to play, but unfortunately the three exhibition games the Muskies had lined up against teams in Winnipeg last weekend were cancelled.
Which left the players upset, to say the least.
“Everybody is so disappointed because everyone was really looking forward to going so we could try some things out,” said McTavish.
Those feelings also were felt by Spencer. “I’m hugely disappointed,” she remarked.
How disappointed?
“Hugely disappointed,” Spencer stressed. “You can’t replace games with practice. You need those games to build on the things you’ve been working on in practice.
“And if you don’t get that reinforcement that it’s working, then it’s no good.”
Leading up to the NorWOSSA championships on May 18 in Kenora, the girls’ squad will host a six-team tournament this Friday and Saturday at the St. Francis Sportsfields.
They’ll also play in a tournament in Dryden on May 13-14.
“I told the girls that we’ve lost an away tournament, so it just means we most certainly have to go to Thunder Bay [for NWOSSAA] and then OFSAA because we have to make up for it,” Spencer said.