Upsets on the pitch Muskie girls lose out in three-team shootout

The only question was whether they would be facing the St. Ignatius Falcons or the St. Patrick Saints of Thunder Bay in the NWOSSAA final?
So complete was the Muskie girls’ soccer team’s domination heading into the NorWOSSA tournament last Wednesday in Kenora that it seemed inevitable that they would win their ninth league title in 10 years.
So cool and lethal was an offence that routinely had beaten their opponents by at least three goals. So airtight and opportunistic was a defence that had not even allowed a goal so far this year.
So balanced was a team that had a plethora of veterans and rookies.
They were elegant in their play-making. Conscious of their abilities. And confident in their thinking.
So why was Nikita Mansbridge crouched over the bench with her arms in her face sobbing quietly? Why did players like Mel Herr, Katie McTavish, and Blaire Harnett have tears flowing down their faces as they walked towards the bus?
Why did Rebecca Cornell, Rylee Broman, and Kate Basaraba have looks of confusion draped across their faces?
Why did the team walk away from the pitch with their heads hung low and their hearts feeling heavy?
The Muskies had just done the unexpected—they had lost.
After beating Dryden in their first game by a surprising score of 1-0 (surprising in that it wasn’t by a wider margin), the Muskies next faced the host Kenora Broncos a few hours later.
“Our first 10 to 15 minutes were kind of jittery,” Cornell said about their game against the Eagles, whose best chance came on a penalty shot in the second half that was steered aside by Shannon Gibson.
“We had bus legs and they already had a game under them [a 1-0 win over Kenora],” she added. “We had lots of chances, but their goalie is really good despite her injury [an ankle sprain suffered against the Muskies a few weeks ago].”
Then in a classic David (Broncos) vs. Goliath (Muskies) matchup, David once again was able to come out on top.
The Muskies admittedly played their worst game of the season while the Broncos played their best on a field whose dimensions were considerably smaller than what the black-and-gold were used to.
That obviously affected their play, which usually sees a style where they use their speed along the wings to create chances for their strikers in the middle.
“It’s hard to get anything going on this field because the ball is always out and the nets aren’t regulation, so it’s hard to go from a field that is regulation to a field that isn’t,” noted Muskie assistant coach Char Bliss, who had taken over the reins from head coach Caroline Spencer, who was attending a police conference in Gravenhurst, Ont.
“We couldn’t get anything doing because there wasn’t any room. I don’t think this is acceptable for a NorWOSSA game,” Bliss added.
Think of a basketball player and how they’re used to playing with a 10-foot high rim, and then change that height to eight feet for a championship game.
That’s the uncomfortable feeling the Muskies had during the game against Kenora—and it didn’t help matters that the weather conditions were becoming monsoon-like.
The Broncos neutered the offensively-loaded Muskie attack with such efficiency that Fort High’s undefeated and no-goals-allowed pre-season seemed like a mere footnote that already had been filed away and collecting dust.
The final score read 1-0 for the Broncos, and that’s when things got interesting. You see, all three teams had 1-1 records and the same goals for/against differential, so a three-team shootout would be needed to decide the NorWOSSA champs.
Each team selected five shooters (the Muskies’ choices were obvious in Michelle McFayden, Mansbridge, Broman, Basaraba, and Cornell), with each shooting once against each of the other two teams’ keepers (the Muskies went with Gibson).
But since a three-team shootout is such a rarity, it only took two kicks before there was confusion.
Kenora was up first and scored against Gibson, then Mansbridge followed with her attempt going against Kenora’s keeper. She scored, but the linesman went up to the referee and told him that she shouldn’t have been up.
The whistle had blown, though, which indicated the official was ready to see the shot. But he then decided to disallow the goal.
“It’s not my fault they messed up,” Mansbridge could be heard saying on the pitch.
In Mansbridge’s next attempt on Kenora’s keeper, which would come 15 shooters later (with Dryden having scored four goals, the Muskies three, and Kenora two), she would miss and that seemed to have been the turning point in the shootout that lasted for close to half-an-hour.
Dryden ended up winning with seven goals overall, followed by Kenora in second with five and the Muskies would finish third with four.
“That was retarded,” said Cornell, who had just played her last game in a Muskie uniform along with Kristen Roehrig, Amy Saunders, Leanna Kaemingh, Taylor Harnett, Broman, and Basaraba.
“There has to be a better way than that. Somehow, there has to be a better way.”
“That should be us,” said Broman as she watched Dryden collect the NorWOSSA trophy that has called Fort High home for 13 of the past 18 years.
“We went undefeated all season long and didn’t even have a goal scored against us,” she added. “This is not right. This isn’t right, and it’s just ridiculous.”
Is the team that deserved to win sitting on a bus crying and waiting to go back to Fort Frances?
“Definitely,” said Bliss. “Definitely, definitely, definitely.
“The Muskies are so much more skilled in absolutely everything than those two teams here,” she added. “And I wouldn’t be so disappointed right now if I didn’t know that and I think they know that, too.
“[This shootout] is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen,” Bliss fumed. “This is ridiculous, and I’m still in shock that it came down to this and that our girls ended up in third.”

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