Coming off a 3-1 record at last weekend’s second exhibition tournament in Kenora, the Muskie girls’ soccer team is confident it will be moving on to the NWOSSAA playoffs.
Of course, they have to win NorWOSSA gold first.
Because the Muskies finished the exhibition season with a 6-1-1 record, they’ll be seeded second at NorWOSSA—which goes today and tomorrow at Westfort—behind the Beaver Brae Broncos.
The black-and-gold will be in a pool with St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora), Red Lake, and Rainy River with Beaver Brae, Dryden, and Sioux Lookout in the other one.
The Muskies opened round-robin play against Rainy River at 9:30 a.m. today (the score was not available by press time today). They play Red Lake next at 5:50 p.m. today, then wrap up tomorrow at 9 a.m. against St. Thomas Aquinas.
The top two teams in each pool will advance to the semi-finals, with the top team in each pool playing the second-place team in the other. Those games will be played tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. and 3:20 p.m.
The NorWOSSA final, pitting the two semi-final winners, will follow at 6:30 p.m. That winner will advance to NWOSSAA later this month at the home of the North Shore of Superior champs.
The Muskies’ lone loss last weekend in Kenora was a tough 2-1 decision to the host Broncos. While that ultimately cost them the top seeding at NorWOSSA, head coach Struchan Gilson said admitted he’d rather lose a game then than when it counts in the playoffs.
“We’re in good shape,” he stressed. “I’d prefer to lose now and not on Thursday [in the finals].”
Gilson said they’ve been working on improving their positioning on set plays this week leading up to the NorWOSSA showdown.
“We cannot give up those type of goals,” he warned. “We had poor markings on set plays. If you give up goals on set plays, then all you are doing is asking for trouble.”
Still, the Muskies were impressive in their first game up in Kenora last Friday morning against the Dryden Eagles. Strikers Chrissie Thomson and Laureen Cousineau each scored a pair of goals while Tanya Hughes and Sarah Vanderplaats added singles en route to the 6-1 victory.
Thomson currently leads the team with eight goals in league play while Cousineau, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago, is right behind with seven.
“We have been getting the ball to them [in the middle] and they have gotten tons of chances,” said Gilson. “They have missed chances but that will happen.”
But Cousineau made the most of her chances in the Muskies’ second game against the Red Lake Rams. Trailing 1-0 with just about 12 minutes to play, she first capitalized on a penalty kick, nailing a perfect shot in the top left corner of the net to tie the game.
Then with just five minutes left, she capped off her heroics by drilling a shot from about seven yards out past Red Lake’s keeper to earn the win.
“We were down in their end the whole time in the second half but we had a lot of missed chances,” said Gilson, who looked particularly nervous on the sidelines until Cousineau’s game-winner.
“We played terrible,” he added. “We are a better team than that but I think we played down to their level and I think that’s what sometimes happens when you play a weaker team.”
Against Beaver Brae on Saturday morning, the Muskies ran into one of the tougher teams at the tournament. It was a back-and-forth game, with both teams playing well and generating their share of chances.
The Muskies got on the scoreboard first when Sarah Noonan blasted through the middle and beat the Kenora keeper for the 1-0 lead. But the Broncos exploded for a pair of goals just five minutes apart—both on corner kicks—then held on for the 2-1 win.
“We did a very poor job of marking and we basically gave them a pair of free shots,” grumbled Gilson. “Our cover on corner kicks was pathetic.
“They had two players within minutes all alone in front of the net for a free shot,” he recalled. “You play well for 89 minutes and then one minute you make a mistake and give up a goal—you can’t do that.”
On the plus side, the Muskies had little trouble in their final game Saturday, dumping the Sioux Lookout Warriors 7-0 score while using several bench players.
Thomson scored three times in that one while Tea Vahamaki added a pair. Cousineau and Hughes also scored, with Allison McIvor earning the shutout between the pipes.
Gilson said he was particularly pleased with the play of Vahamaki, a Finnish exchange student who has fit in well this season with the black-and-gold.
“She is good in attacking and she has phenomenal instincts,” he enthused. “She knows where to run and she plays particularly well in the open space. She’s a tremendous team player.”