After 16 years, the Muskie boys’ soccer team finally has its sights set on the promised land.
And regardless how the team got there (advancing as the NWOSSAA silver medalists), the excitement level is still high as the black-and-gold prepares for their first all-Ontario tournament, which will be held next week in Sturgeon Falls (near North Bay).
“It’s a big thing,” said starting striker Matt Basaraba, whose team enters OFSAA with an 11-3-1 record this season. “We’re really excited. It’s the first time we’re going.
“We really feel privileged to be a part of it.”
“The program has improved by leaps and bounds over the years,” echoed FFHS co-athletic director Greg Ste. Croix. “We have quality individuals involved.”
Usually, only the NWOSSAA gold medalist moves on but because the St. Ignatius Falcons (Thunder Bay) earned silver at OFSAA last year, the conference was allowed to send its top two teams in 2002.
St. Ignatius will be back (as the top-ranked team) after going 2-0 at the NWOSSAA showdown Saturday in Thunder Bay, including a 2-0 win over the Muskies, who earned the silver medal by going 1-1 (having beaten the North Shore champion—Mani-touwadge—3-0 earlier in the day).
The Muskies will be part of the four-pool, 16-team OFSAA tournament which starts Monday. They’ll leave town by bus Saturday around midnight, and will be guaranteed three round-robin pool games (two on Monday and one on Tuesday morning).
The top two teams from each pool will advance to the playoffs, which run Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday.
Cracking the medal round will be tough but the team is keen on setting realistic goals, said Muskie co-coach Ben Andrusco
“I think we’ll be very competitive. Our goal is to win a game. I think we can do that,” said Andrusco, who coaches along with Rick Chambers.
“We know teams going down there are going to be tough,” added Basaraba. “We just want to go down there and try out best.”
The Muskies actually controlled play in the early going against St. Ignatius at NWOSSAA but a lucky bounce in front of keeper Dan
Poperechny allowed Mike Sousa to scored the first goal before the halftime whistle.
“We came out really strong. We held play for the first 20-25 minutes,” said Andrusco. “After that goal, we were deflated. We lost our intensity.”
John Zussino added an insurance goal for the Falcons in the second half.
Earlier Saturday against Manitouwadge, the Muskies got a first-half goal from Tyler Barker off a tough angled cross kick. Then in the second half, Jeremy Wilson scored from 25 yards out before Barry Selin iced the win on a semi-breakaway.
Poperechny earned the win between the pipes.
Andrusco said it was a good experience to play well against Manitouwadge and be tested by the Falcons as a preview for OFSAA next week.
“The system we’ve been using worked quite well against [the Falcons],” he noted. “The only problem was we didn’t generate much offence.
“St. Ignatius, like a lot of teams down there, is a better defensive team. We might look at generating some more offence. Maybe put a third striker.
“It’s something to look at [this week in practice].”
Off the field, the team is keen on fundraising around town to help with travel costs. While in Sturgeon Falls, Fort High will host a Bingo on their behalf on June 11.
Basaraba said there’s a lot going on in the days leading up to OFSAA but hopes the team will savour the experience.
“For most of the guys, this will be the biggest soccer games they’ll play in,” he said. “We’re just hoping for the best.”