Muskies close to being set for season

Their season essentially can be only two games long.
Now hold on there. What’s that you said? How can a season last only two games?
Well, that can be a possibility for the Muskie boys’ soccer team as they look towards their schedule, which can only be a measly four weeks long (depending on if they win NorWOSSA).
Things will kick off tomorrow (April 28) as they face Rainy River in an exhibition game at 5 p.m. at Fort High and they already have booked a bus for a tournament in Winnipeg this weekend.
“[The exhibition game] is a good thing because it lets us have a real look at our systems and our personnel before we get into Winnipeg, and that’s a good thing because we’re going to play some high-level competition when we get out there,” said Muskie head coach Shane Beckett, who is looking forward to the 12-team tournament, but especially their game against Glenlawn Collegiate, who is in their pool and is a team the Muskies always have had “intense games” against.
But the results they put up tomorrow, or in Winnipeg, or in any other tournament don’t mean squat unless they are able to fare well at the NorWOSSA qualifier, which is slated for May 18 in Kenora.
So, in effect, they could win every one of their games by a wide margin but lose at the NorWOSSA qualifier and their season would be done.
That doesn’t sit well with Beckett, who also wears another hat as the league’s convener (this is his first year with the title).
“I really don’t know why it’s so short,” Beckett remarked. “I think maybe because a lot of the schools in our region are farther north than us and they don’t have access to their fields because of snow.”
This is the first year the ‘A’/‘AA’ divisions will have separate all-Ontarios and that’s why things have been shuffled the way they have been.
The Muskies are part of the ‘AA’ conference along with Dryden and Beaver Brae (Kenora) while the ‘A’ conference will consist of Rainy River, St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora), Red Lake, and Queen Elizabeth (Sioux Lookout).
All of the games played by the ‘A’ schools, whether exhibition or in a tournament, simply will go towards how they are seeded in their NorWOSSA championship tourney.
“I’ve debated why we don’t have the regular season just like basketball and volleyball teams have [eight games in their season],” said Beckett. “And as a convener, I’m trying to see if we can make the season a little more meaningful.”
But the main streak of light in the change is it will create two leagues with more balanced competition. Previously, on the other hand, a team constantly would be blown out by the other and that isn’t healthy for either team (it creates cockiness in the constant winners and solitude in the repeated losers).
“It’s allowing us to play a more even level of competition,” noted Beckett.
“Just like the hockey team and the other teams in NorWOSSA, it’s not good to play those smaller schools sometimes because you’re winning by so much, and nobody likes to get beat by 10 goals.”
Another change that would be beneficial to the Muskies, if they were to advance to NWOSSAA, is that those championships would be a best-of-three series rather than just the one deciding game as in previous years.
But how is the team preparing? And how close are they to be being ready?
It is too soon to tell, says Beckett, while watching his team close out their practice by running a “Polish Mile” (the team running in a line with the person in the back running to the front, all the while singing in unison).
“Why aren’t you running, Beckett?” asked Jacob Esselink since assistant coach Jodi Easton was running with the team that was singing a song that couldn’t be distinguished.
“Because I’m talking to the press,” Beckett replied. “And she’s a better runner than me.
“We might be ready by our tournament,” he added. “We want to see who clicks with who. It’s not always about the most talented guys, it’s about the chemistry that is out on the field and that’s an important thing to look at.
“We’re establishing the team rules, and teaching of systems and expectations on the field, and trying to apply those to game situations, but it’s difficult because you don’t have much time to do it in,” he admitted.
But Beckett has had help from the Netherlands.
Niels Nijssen, a foreign exchange student from the land of the wooden shoe, has been a steady stream of information for the team and has provided Beckett with valuable information in regards to the proper set-up of systems and drills.
“He is very helpful, and I’ll be honest that I haven’t played soccer at a high level,” said Beckett, who plays for Gillons’ in the Borderland Men’s Soccer League.
“Winning the ‘Ball Blast’ is the biggest thing as a player I’ve ever done, and to have these exchange students [also Arnold Bergner, who is from Germany and potentially could be the team’s sweeper] come with their experience is great because I’m humble and I’ll ask,” he noted.
“I’m passionate about the game, I read about the game, and I spend 20 minutes during my PRT [prep time] just looking at soccer drills,” Beckett said.
“But it’s one thing to read about it, it’s another thing to see it.
“And these guys have seen it, and rather than having guys spend half an hour to get the kinks out on how a drill works, it now takes five minutes and away we go,” Beckett concluded.
In a season that quite possibly can be only two games long, the often-used expression that “every minute counts” especially holds true here.
Muskies’ schedule
•April 28—exhibition game versus Rainy River at Fort High (5 p.m.)
•April 29-May 1—St. John’s Ravenscourt tournament (Winnipeg)
•May 6-7—tournament (Fort High)
•May 13-14—tournament (Dryden)
•May 18—NorWOSSA championships (Kenora)

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