Muskies players, coaches reflect on soccer seasons

By Daniel Adam
Staff Writer
dadam@fortfrances.com

Boys’ semifinal loss doesn’t define them, girls seek a repeat next year

The Muskie boys and girls’ seasons ended on very different notes this year. The boys were dethroned in their semifinal against Dryden, who went on to win the NorWOSSA title. This is the first time since 2010 that the Fort High boys went home empty-handed.

The girls meanwhile capped off an undefeated regular season with two shutout wins in the playoffs to crown them the 2022 NorWOSSA champs.

“Undefeated. It’s pretty wild to think about. It was kind of like the perfect season,” said head coach Caitlin Wilson. “After everything being cancelled for so long, it was nice to come out with a bang.”

In regular and post-season games, they outscored opponents 26-3. It’s safe to say the Muskie girls’ pandemic comeback was stellar.

“Everybody’s been talking about getting back to normal after COVID,” said Wilson. “It’s a nice reminder that maybe we don’t want to get back to normal. Maybe we want to get back to excellence. Maybe we want to get back to something better than normal, and try for something above what we thought we could do.”

Wilson, who is serving her first year as the Muskies’ head coach has been playing soccer her whole life.

“When the opportunity came up to coach the girls, I thought, ‘of course,’ like, why wouldn’t I?” she said. “I wanted to share some of my love of the game with the next generation.”

She said her favourite parts of coaching have been watching the girls improve and seeing friendships blossom.

“I just liked watching them build those relationships and gelling together so well like they did as a team,” said Wilson. “It was such a short season, but I feel like the girls made some lifelong friendships with their teammates. That was really heartwarming to see.”

Grade 11 rookie Angel Bauman said the connections with her teammates made this year special.

“Just how fast and how well I connected with them was great,” she said. “It got me comfortable attending Fort High.”

Bauman joined FFHS this fourth quadmester after attending SCAP in Emo.

“I was so impressed with Angel’s work this year,” said Wilson. “She’s always in the right place at the right time, and is super sportsmanlike. I’m so excited to work with her again.”

Bauman said she felt the team could have done well had they attended OFSAA.

Wilson said the team opted out of OFSAA before the season started because of the snow that stayed on the ground so late. She wanted the girls to have a longer season.

“We were only outside practicing on the field for a couple days before our first game was scheduled,” said Wilson.

Their first game was against Rainy River, who they beat 5-0. Their next game against Dryden was cancelled because of lightning. They went to Kenora twice for a set of games and a tournament outside of league play. They won their next two games in Fort heading into the playoffs. They beat the Beaver Brae Broncos 2-0 in the semifinal, and won the NorWOSSA championship 3-0 over the Dryden Eagles.

“We’re obviously thrilled with how well everyone did this year,” said Wilson.

She said while she wished to give awards to all her players, there were a few standouts.

When it comes to key contributors, it’s hard not to think of senior co-captain Kathryn Fischer. Wilson said Fischer’s cheerful manner set the tone for whatever challenge they faced.

“Whether it was a cold and windy practice, or a blistering hot day with multiple games, we knew that her infectious optimism would make the day awesome,” said Wilson.

Her on-field performance was just as crucial.

“Whenever she stepped out onto the field, we knew the odds were in our favour,” said Wilson. “Kathryn played a tremendous role in our having the best defensive record in the league, but also made some important offensive contributions.”

Fischer scored the second of three goals in their title game against Dryden. Fischer said she enjoyed having the NorWOSSA championship conclude her time at Fort High.

Kathryn Fischer shoots and scores the girls’ second goal in their championship game. Fischer, this year’s team MVP, is one of just two seniors.

“It was the perfect way to end my high school career,” she said.

Fischer wanted to recognize her coaches’ efforts.

“I want to thank Tyler [Ruppenstein], Cam [Lidkea], and Caitlin for all the time they put in,” she said. “They’re extremely committed. The season wouldn’t have been anything without them.”

Wilson reciprocated the appreciation to both her seniors.

“I want to say a huge ‘thank you’ for the time, effort, and mentorship you provided our young ones,” she said. “Best of luck.”

Fischer, the team’s MVP, and Tatum Glowasky, Fort High’s female athlete of the year are the only two outgoing seniors on the roster.

“That’s pretty exciting for us for next year,” said Wilson. “I feel like there’s lots more in store for Muskie girls soccer in the next couple of years.”

Even with a young team, the girls came out on top. The Muskies never stopped.

That includes the boys, who aren’t seeking sympathy after a 2-0 semifinal loss.

“The season overall was a win for me. It was a win for the boys,” said Marlon Douglas, boys coach. “I’ve seen these boys develop. They’ve grown, and they’ve improved every day. I think we were very successful this season with what we set out to achieve.”

The end of their 2022 campaign was seen more as an unfortunate result than a tough defeat.

“Overall, I think the boys did what was required of them. They showed the passion for the game. They were there, they showed up, they were playing at high intensity, they were moving the ball. It’s just unfortunate to have lost that semifinal,” Douglas said. “It’s not like we were outplayed. We just weren’t clinical enough to finish off the opportunities we created.”

In an extremely physical game, Grade 11 defenceman Fletcher Klug said they struggled offensively.

“We couldn’t put anything in the back of the net,” he said. “I thought we outplayed them, we just missed a couple big moments.”

“I thought we played a really good game,” said Emerson Evans, one of the team’s captains. “We came out hot and had a lot of chances, we just ran into a hot goalie at the time.”

This loss snaps a Muskie boys’ 11-year undefeated NorWOSSA streak. The last team to have won it before then — the Dryden Eagles.

“Dryden knew what it took to beat us in that they would have to come with intensity; that they would have to fight,” said Douglas. “It’s not like they were going to come in here and walk away with the trophy without a fight.”

The playoff loss is one of only two blemishes on an otherwise undefeated season. The boys also tied Beaver Brae on a trip to Kenora.

“Even though we don’t have the trophy this year, I still consider us a winning team,” said Douglas. “The team is comprised of winners. Myself, I am a winner.”

Both Muskie teams were mostly newcomers as two years of organized sports were lost. Klug, who himself is a rookie said the team executed well despite their inexperience.

“We came together and worked well as a unit,” he said. “I think we had a lot of improvement, and I think improvement is success.”

He attributes his team’s achievements to their commitment and competitiveness.

“We all have a really strong drive to win,” said Klug. “We’re a team that pushes each other to be better.”

Grade 11 defenders Emerson Evans and Fletcher Klug look on during a break in play in the boys’ semifinal game against the Dryden Eagles.

Evans, who won the team’s sportsmanship award said he was also pleased with the season.

“It meant a lot to be part of it,” he said. “I think we all enjoyed competing together.”

Despite breaking his nose in the season opener against Rainy River, Evans didn’t miss any other game.

The team dealt with lots of injuries this season — a concussion, a broken shoulder, multiple quad injuries, some blistered toes, and a winded player who could hardly breathe.

Douglas said that while his team was plagued by injuries over the season, he would not accept that as an excuse for losing.

“I think Dryden deserved that trophy,” he said. “I never want the story to be ‘because Fort Frances had injuries, they couldn’t have won.’”

The loss doesn’t mean players or coaches are ashamed to be Muskies.

“It’s a team that’s there for you when you’re down, a team that pushes you to be the best person you can be on and off the field,” said Klug. “It’s made me a better person and soccer player.”

“To be a part of the Muskies, it means a lot to me,” said Douglas. “It’s a community that I feel I belong to.”

Douglas is also in his first year coaching Muskies soccer, and has played the sport for most of his life.

“If the ball is out there, you’re probably going to find me there too,” he said. “Soccer means a lot to me; whatever I do, I put my heart in it.”

With every teaching job he got, Douglas said he coached soccer there too.

“I always believe that there’s a lot that was invested in me through coaching,” he said. “So I always look to give back.”

Douglas said the most rewarding part of coaching has been to witness growth.

“Whenever you’re impacting lives, it’s very rewarding,” he said. “So to be a part of the success and development of this program, it means a lot to me.”

Looking to next year, returning players and coaches see the opportunity for success.

“Because we’re such a young team, got some really good development, and aren’t losing too many seniors, I feel like we’re going to be a very dominant team next year,” said Klug.

One of Douglas’s goals for next year is to establish a culture.

“So when new players start coming in, they can see the identity right away and know that this is Muskies soccer,” he said.

But his main goal is to return the NorWOSSA trophy to a familiar cabinet.

“I’m looking forward to next year already,” he said.

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