The Muskie boys' soccer team set two goals for themselves heading into this season.
The first was to clinch a first-place bye to the NorWOSSA final and the second was to advance to OFSAA.
Fort High has already accomplished the former, dispatching both the Kenora Broncos and host Dryden Eagles last Wednesday to secure the first-place bye with a perfect 4-0 record.
That has set the Muskies up favourably to accomplish their second goal of advancing to the all-Ontarios, slated for June 6-8 in North Bay, but they know they have a lot of work ahead of them and still have their final regular season games today against the Broncos and Eagles in Kenora to get through first.
“It is very rewarding to have the No. 1 spot locked up, it allows us to play our bench a little more, giving a little more time to rest,” said Muskie coach Chris Sinclair.
“Having said that, I think we still need to go into next week's game with the mindset that we have to win both games,” he stressed on Friday
"We are going to play one of those teams in the final and we can not give them any confidence going into the NorWOSSA finals.
In what has been a common theme so far this NorWOSSA season, the Muskies were dominant in their games in Dryden last Wednesday.
Playing without regular goalkeeper Jacob Albright, who had the day off for maintenance as he's battling an injury, the black-and-gold opened play in the afternoon with a 3-0 shutout of the Broncos (1-3).
Brant Spuzak, Lamar Lucas, and Brett Allan all netted the goals in that one.
Brady Meeks—who took over in net in the second half of the Muskies' 1-0 win over the Sioux Lookout Warriors in the bronze-medal game of the Broncos Challenge Cup tournament in Kenora—stood tall between the pipes to earn the shutout.
The Muskies then followed that up with a 4-1 pasting of the host Eagles (1-3).
Spuzak tallied again while Connor Nelson, Peyton Avis, and Riley Argue also found the back of the net to pace the Muskies' offence.
Meeks earned his second-straight win in goal.
“Jacob Albright had the day off for maintenance. He has been battling an injury, so giving him some time off seemed like the smart and obvious choice as we will need him going forward,” noted Sinclair.
“Having said that, I thought Brady Meeks did an excellent job filling in,” he lauded.
"So in terms of confidence, I think regardless of who is in the net, our team is playing the same way, which is great for a coach to see.
“I think that is what is special with this team—they are a very tight group and they show confidence and are positive with everyone,” he enthused.
Sinclair felt that the Muskies' biggest key to success last week in Dryden was their ability to control the ball.
“Especially in our first game against Beaver Brae, we were able to control the play by keeping possession of the ball,” he recalled.
“In our second game against Dryden, we got away from that,” he conceded.
"We started trying to force passes, carry the ball by ourselves, or just kick it away without taking a look. Both Kenora and Dryden are hard working teams, and when we start giving the ball away, it plays into their favour.
As mentioned, the Muskies were slated to conclude the regular season today with a double-header against the Eagles and host Broncos, with the outcomes not known as of press time.
The NorWOSSA finals then are set for next Wednesday (May 29) in Dryden, with OFSAA to follow on June 6-8 in North Bay.
Sinclair stressed the importance of his squad approaching the final games of the season much as they have the first four.
“We need to tighten some areas up and make sure we are ready for NorWOSSA finals. We need to stay healthy as we will need everyone for our final game, so being smart and keeping our composure on the pitch,” he urged.
"One of the biggest challenges that our team will face is just that overconfidence. In NorWOSSA league play, we have outscored our opponents 14-1.
“Going into this week and the finals, we can not just think that we are going to win because we finished first,” he stressed.
"Yes, it was one of our goals going into the season, but our next goal is finishing the job and advancing to OFSAA.
“Both those teams have improved throughout the year and it is not just going to be handed to us,” Sinclair reasoned.
“Keeping our focus at our goal, and playing to our strengths at all times, is going to be the biggest challenge for the guys,” he predicted.