Soccer squads keen on repeating

They are the hunted, but the Muskie boys’ and girls’ soccer teams don’t plan to be running scared this season.
Both teams will be defending their respective NorWOSSA crowns from last year while the boys also can boast a silver medal from the NWOSSAA showdown, which earned them a trip to the all-Ontarios in Sturgeon Falls.
It’s getting to be old hat for the Muskie girls’ team to enter each season as the object of their NorWOSSA rivals’ attention.
Head coach Struchan Gilson’s charges have won five-consecutive league titles, and 12 in total during the squad’s 16-year existence.
One of the factors that’s kept putting the Muskies over the top has been their supreme conditioning and Gilson, who remains a devotee of physical fitness himself even in his retirement years, isn’t about to let that aspect of the game lag in his troops.
“We’re playing 18 games in a span of 21 days so we have to be in shape,” said Gilson, the team’s only head coach in its history, whose training routine includes a weekly running session at the hill beside the town’s sewage treatment plant.
“We have the talent base to win a sixth title in a row, but for the players, it’s whether or not they make it work on the field. It’s up to them,” he remarked.
Gilson pointed to key performers like defender and co-captain Megan Canfield, whom he calls the “anchor of the defence,” as well as fellow co-captains Carling Barton and Nicole Rogozinski, as the straws that will stir the Muskies’ drink.
“Megan is unbelievable, just an awesome player,” he enthused. “She’s been starting in the middle for me since she first came in Grade 9.
“Carling and Nicole are this team’s leaders. They do all they can to get all the kids involved as part of the team.
“This is a highly-skilled, extremely-motivated bunch,” Gilson continued. “I had a small turnout for tryouts, which was a real disappointment. But I’m really pleased with this team. They’re a joy to coach, and they want to play.
“What more could you want? They actually suggested to me they should do more sprinting.”
If there’s any area where Gilson isn’t sure what to expect, it’s in goal, where last year’s back-up keeper Amy Saunders (Grade 10) and newcomer Natalie Desjardins (Grade 9) will be in charge of protecting the cage.
“You’re talking about a second-stringer from last season and a rookie,” said Gilson. “But we’re so strong back on defence, they’re only going to face a minimum of chances, anyway.”
Such was the case during the first NorWOSSA qualifying tournament here two weeks ago when the Muskies went 4-0 against Rainy River, Red Lake, Kenora, and Dryden while not surrendering a goal.
“There’s been a lot of position switching from last year, but we’re used to playing with each other so it shouldn’t really matter,” said Barton.
“This is a really strong team,” echoed Rogozinski. “Everyone knows each other so well, and that can only help us play better.”
< *c>High expectations
Meanwhile, boys’ head coach Rick Chambers finds himself with a highly-experienced group to work with as 15 of his 22-member roster are in Grade 11 or higher.
“From what I’ve seen, we are the team to beat again this year,” Chambers said about a Muskie squad that caught a break when the St. Ignatius Falcons (Thunder Bay) won silver at the all-Ontarios in 2001, thus allowing NWOSSAA to send its top two teams to the provincial tournament last year.
“The veterans we have are very good,” he noted. “The problem is we’re not very deep. We can probably only put 14 of our players maximum into the game.”
At the first NorWOSSA qualifying tournament of the season here two weeks ago, the Muskie boys recorded a 2-0-2 mark—earning wins over the Rainy River Owls and Dryden Eagles while tying the Red Lake Rams and Kenora Broncos.
“With a couple of breaks, we could have had four wins,” claimed Chambers. “Offensively, we didn’t fare well. It’s called finishing. It needs to be worked on in practice. But that’s minor.
“Defensively, we were really strong. The back end really helped to support the forwards,” he added.
Up front, the Muskies will count on Jeremy Wilson, Matt Basaraba, and Bryan Chambers to lead the attack, along with Tyler Barker and Kyle McTavish.
On their own side of half, the black-and-gold will rely on Andrew Curr, Chris Faragher, Rick Ricard, and Andrew Mueller to stymie opposition goal scorers. Between the pipes, Chambers expects big things from keeper Dan Poperechny, an OAC student whom the coach calls “maybe the best goalie in Northern Ontario.”
“This is a very well-rounded team, and I definitely think we can go back to all-Ontarios,” Chambers predicted.
Both Muskie squads head to Dryden this weekend for the second NorWOSSA qualifying tournament, which will decide the match-ups for the league showdown May 14-15 in Kenora.
The NWOSSAA boys’ playoffs will be hosted by this year’s NorWOSSA champion May 31 while the girls’ tournament is slated for Thunder Bay that same day.