It followed her around. Every corner she turned it would be there.
The monkey was tracking Kate Basaraba’s every step. Watching everything she did in practice and how she in turn put that forth on the pitch.
This monkey came came to life after only one game, which was the Muskies’ first of the season. The life began a few weeks ago against the Rainy River Owls, in a game that Basaraba didn’t score.
This is the kind of pressure Basaraba is facing. But it is somewhat justified for one half of the Muskies’ striking line and one third of the captain’s unit was a member of the Lakehead Express (under-19) of Thunder Bay this past summer.
The Express were tops in their conference, which stretches into Minnesota, and her teammates, and especially Basaraba, were keen to see what she learned and how it would help the team in a game that she “lives for.”
So after that first game where she didn’t score, heads turned and they were scratched. Things got worse for the team, as three slated games in Winnipeg were cancelled, which only let the monkey grow from a chimp into a gorilla.
But then came this past weekend’s tournament that was hosted by the Muskies and it was there where Basaraba not only got the monkey off her back by scoring seven goals over four matches, but then proceeded to stomp on its neck.
Did you get that pesky monkey off your back?
“Oh yeah,” chuckled Basaraba after the tournament, which the Muskies won.
Here’s how it played out for the black-and-gold:
First up was the Rainy River Owls in a game the Muskies entered with smiles on their faces from the sunny conditions, and left gleaming as they would put up a 5-0 score line with goals provided from Erin Kaemingh, Alyssa Holliday, Hannah Firth, Katie McTavish and Basaraba.
The Knights of St. Thomas Aquinas were slated next and it was the Dynamic Duo in Rebecca Cornel and Basaraba that shined brightest in a game that was exceptionally played by the whole Muskie team.
The two strikers would score all five of the Muskies’ goals with Basaraba notching the hat-trick and Cornell with the other two, and when one wasn’t scoring the other one would be helping the other score.
“Me and Becka have played together for four years and we’re almost like one,” said Basaraba. “We know each other blind.
“I think we’re dead even players, and when players are on her then it frees up room for me and if players are on me then it frees up room for her,” Basaraba added.
“At least it’s not double digits,” one Knights defender was heard saying.
A double digit win would not follow against the Red Lake Rams on Saturday morning, but a win is a win, nonetheless—this one of the 3-0 variety.
Basaraba had two goals, but it was a superb strike by Rylee Broman that raised the eyebrows the furthest. A throw in from Katie McTavish deep in the Rams’ zone was collected by Basaraba, who proceeded to tap it to Broman, who took a shot from outside the 18-yard box and then watched the ball catch in the strong wind and droop over the outstretched hands of the keeper.
“I’d like to think it was me, but the wind did help it,” Broman joked.
The Muskies would then face their biggest challenge in the form of the Dryden Eagles, which would be the championship game.
And it was a game that was sloppily played by the Muskies at stints during the match, but when they did show their true form they capitalized on two opportunities to win 2-0.
The first goal came early in the first half when Cornell was able to sneak a leading pass for Basaraba through the Eagles defense, which led to sprint for the ball between Basaraba and Dryden’s keeper.
The two collided. The ball popped through and headed towards the net. The ball then hit the inside part of the post. Basaraba then casually tapped it in for the go-ahead goal.
The only problem was the Dryden player remained down and stayed down for quite a while grasping her right ankle, which seemed to have been broken from the collision that was an aggressive, but clean, play from both players.
She was then carried off the pitch by two of her players, while a group huddled behind saying, ‘Who’s our backup?”–“We don’t have a backup?”–“So what are we going to do now?”
Good question, but one whose answer left Dryden, who entered the match undefeated in three games, with an inexperienced keeper between the pipes. Cornell would take advantage late in the first half on what was probably the Muskies’ most eye appealing goal of the tourney.
Collecting the ball thirty yards out, Cornell proceeded to play the part of Ronaldo (one of the world’s best dribblers and strikers) and weave her way like a well-crafted quilt through the Eagles’ defense and rip a shot from 10 yards out to give her team a 2-0 win.
It was around at this time when an ambulance parked near Dryden’s bench to collect their fallen keeper. The first half whistle would sound, and the Muskies would make their way to the pitch, but started to revert from their crisp play into one of slopiness.
“When we played our way in making those two-touch passes and moving the ball, we scored and they [Dryden] didn’t know what to do. And when we got into a bit of a panic and then started kicking and chasing we didn’t know what to do,” said head coach Caroline Spencer.
“As coaches we have to make sure they don’t revert back to that. We’ve got to work on a few different drills that will help them with their passing, and work on a bit of team building,” Spencer added.
But with Erin Kaemingh playing solidly in goal and Nikita Mansbridge anchoring the defense, the Muskies were able to steer clear of danger when it stepped onto their doorstep.
“I’m very pleased with her play,” said Spencer of Kaemingh, who has been steady in returning to the team after rehabing from a car accident a little while back.
“One thing she was concerned with was not being as aggressive as she normally is and she came out and took it to them and as a goalie that’s what you have to do,” Spencer added.
Added Kaemingh: “It was nerve racking at first, but once they start coming at you then you kind of remember everything.”
And what of the play of Mansbridge?
“That girl is shining. She really has come into her own the past two seasons,” Spencer responded. “She’s really evolving into a team leader. She may not be a captain, but she is certainly a team leader. And when I send them out I say, ‘Nikita—you’ve got the defense’ and she takes them.”
The Muskies remain undefeated in five matches this year and have outscored their opponents by 13 goals and have yet to allow one. Their next test will come this weekend in Dryden, in what will be their last time tournament before the NorWOSSA championships that will be held in Kenora next Wednesday.
And if things go as they have been going, the tough part for Spencer will not be unlocking the doors to the Muskies’ potential (that they have been doing), but trying to unlock the doors to the player’s cars themselves, which is what she had to do when one of her players came to her stating she had locked her keys in the car, which was running.
And after a few tense minutes, Spencer came through, just like she’s been doing for the team this year, and thus, just like how the team has been doing for the coaching staff.
It followed her around. Every corner she turned it would be there.