OFSAA eye-opener drives Muskie girls

Dan Falloon

Last year’s trip to the all-Ontarios opened the eyes of the Muskie girls’ soccer team.
The black-and-gold—gunning to make their third-straight OFSAA appearance—are looking to improve on last year’s showing in Kenora, where they were hit hard by injuries and lost all three games.
“We played well at OFSAA, but I think that it gave them a wake-up call that we need to be training harder, training more, if we want to compete with those OFSAA-level teams,” stressed coach Sarah Noonan.
Even with a short bench, Noonan realized the lack of top-flight competition in this area was another strike against Fort High’s chances, although she hopes the team has a better idea of what to expect should they qualify for the all-Ontarios in Sarnia in June.
“Because of the league, it’s hard to expose the girls to high-level soccer,” she reasoned.
“It’s competitive within our league but to have those southern Ontario teams come down, where they play soccer year-round and have indoor and outdoor, it’s good for [the girls] to see that calibre of play.”
Noonan is taking a step in the right direction, spearheading a five-team tournament here May 14-15, attracting Dryden, St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora), St. Patrick’s (Thunder Bay), and a club team from Winnipeg.
 “[With] Fort Frances being in the middle of Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, I want to start drawing those two cities and have a central meeting place so us NorWOSSA teams can start playing against Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, but also they can play each other,” she explained.
“I’m sure Thunder Bay doesn’t travel eight hours to Winnipeg.”
The Muskies also are slated to play in a tournament hosted by Winnipeg’s St. John’s-Ravenscourt on May 7-8, where they expect to see more stiff competition.
With a strong contingent of returning players, the black-and-gold are aiming to take down the NorWOSSA competition when season action starts here May 5.
“Always our goal for the season is to win NorWOSSA. That’s what we want to be doing every year,” Noonan stressed.
The Muskies benefited from divisional realignment in 2006, where Thunder Bay schools were placed into a “AAA” category.
The NorWOSSA teams, meanwhile, were slotted into the “AA” division, meaning the NorWOSSA champ punches a ticket straight to the provincial showdown rather than have to advance from the NWOSSAA level.
“Before, we had to beat out the best Thunder Bay team in the next step,” Noonan recalled. “It was really hard for us to ever make it to OFSAA.
“Now, we just have to be the best in NorWOSSA and we’re planning to make an OFSAA trip every year,” she enthused.
“That’s what we want.
“Now, between us, Dryden, and Kenora, the NorWOSSA champ goes to OFSAA.”
The Muskies opened pre-season action here last Wednesday with a 3-0 victory over the Rainy River Owls.
Noonan said she was impressed with her team’s ability so early in the schedule.
“It was nice to have the scrimmage against Rainy River early in the season,” she remarked. “We looked pretty good out there.
“I’m happy with how we’re moving the ball,” she added. “The skill looks pretty good.
“It’s pretty decent soccer for this point in the regular season, so I’m excited to get into the regular season.”
The second-year coach also is encouraged by the fact she has a pillar of strength at each position to lead the charge all over the field.
“I count on my returning players quite a bit, the Grade 11s and 12s in particular,” said Noonan.
“On the defensive line, Anikka McTavish, midfield Nicole Mueller, and up front we have Sara Roach.
“Having strong players in each of the three positions on the field just makes us strong when you can count on those players,” she noted.
“It’s nice to have that experience.”
Roach scored once in Fort High’s win over Rainy River while her sister, Courtney, tallied once while also forcing Rainy River to score on itself.
“To put three in the net in a scrimmage is pretty good,” Noonan lauded.
The Muskies also benefited from a short winter as the onset of sunny weather left the pitch playable weeks earlier than in past seasons.
“It was nice that we got to get outside early,” enthused Noonan. “We always start the beginning of the season indoors, but fortunately we were able to start outside.
“It’s beneficial for our outdoor game that we get outside as early as we can.”