The monkey finally may have been yanked from the back of the Muskie boys’ soccer team last week—but bigger apes await at the NWOSSAA showdown June 1 in Thunder Bay.
After delivering strong regular seasons the past two years only to be beaten in the NorWOSSA final and semi-finals, respectively, the black-and-gold won their first league title in three years last Thursday in Kenora.
“I’m glad guys came through. It was such a big win, nice to finally get it,” said co-coach Muskie Rick Chambers after his team edged the Dryden Eagles 1-0 in a shootout to advance to NWOSSAA.
The Muskies now sit at 10-2-1 overall and await the champions from the Thunder Bay and North Shore of Superior leagues.
And the boys, like the girls’ team which also won NorWOSSA last week, are welcoming the extended break due to injuries.
“We need the time to heal up. Mostly bumps and bruises, nagging injuries,” said Chambers, who shares coaching duties with Ben Andrusco.
“Throughout [the NorWOSSA] tournament, they just compounded. Everyone seemed to be dropping.”
Both their victories last Thursday afternoon were close affairs. In the semi-finals against the host Kenora Broncos, the two-time defending champs, Matt Basaraba scored on a header on a set corner throw in the early going.
“After that, we just defended the lead very well. We played great defence,” said Chambers, despite the fact Nathan Miller was given a red card in the second half, leaving the Muskies down one player.
But the Broncos couldn’t get the equalizer.
A tired Muskie squad then moved on to the final against the Eagles, who had upset the black-and-gold in pool play the previous day, but couldn’t finish their chances during regulation time.
In the shootout, Basaraba and Bryce Witherspoon scored on their attempts before the Eagle tied it at 2-2 after beating Dan Poperechny on their third attempt.
Bryan Chambers broke the tie with a high shot that sailed over the Dryden keeper’s right. No one scored after that and NorWOSSA gold belonged to the Muskies.
“Shootouts are a game of chance. Not the way the game should be won,” said Chambers. “[But] we probably would have been playing until midnight.”
The Eagles had needed a 4-2 shootout win over Red Lake in the semi-finals to advance to the final.
The victory also was sweet revenge for the Muskies, who had lost to Dryden in last year’s semi-finals and their first pool game Wednesday in, that’s right, another shootout.
They evened up their record with a 7-0 win over St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora) later Wed-nesday to finish second in Pool ‘A’ and advance to meet Kenora, tops in Pool ‘B,’ in the semi-finals.
Jeremy Wilson, Chris Plett, and Tanner Kaemingh led the way with two goals each against the Saints while Simeon Nussbaumer added one.
Chambers was quick to praise his whole team for giving good minutes for the injured players.
“They all played great. [Co-captain] Jamie [Algie] was a catalyst out there. He carried the team for long stretches,” he said.