In his first two seasons as head coach of the Muskie boys' soccer team, Chris Sinclair had yet to achieve success at the all-Ontarios.
That changed last week in Windsor, however, as the black-and-gold nabbed a tie and a win on the first day of action last Thursday to get off on the right foot.
“That first win on Thursday was very important,” Sinclair said.
“When we tied our first game Thursday morning, it felt like a win," he noted. ”The boys were excited and [it] kind of opened their eyes that they can play with and compete against the top teams in Ontario.
“Then to move on to our next game and get a win was so huge,” he stressed.
“It gave us confidence and put us in a very good spot to move on to the quarter-finals.”
Fort High kicked off action in Pool 'B' at the 20-team tournament with a 2-2 draw against Father Bressani CHS on Thursday morning.
Cam Lidkea and James Gushulak netted the goals for the black-and-gold.
The squad then followed that up with a 3-0 shutout over Gordon Graydon Memorial SS that afternoon on goals by Lidkea, Brett Allan, and Nick Hahkala.
“That first game of the tournament was our best game of the season,” Sinclair said.
“I think that was key to our success as it gave the kids that feeling of pride and the mentality of not just being down there to be there, but to be down there to compete with the best teams in Ontario,” he noted.
But the Muskies' aspirations of nabbing a quarter-final berth were not to be as they lost both of their games Friday to finish shy of the playoff round.
The Muskies were blanked 3-0 by Holy Cross SS in the morning before narrowly falling 2-1 to the host ÉSC L'Essor that afternoon.
Sully Shortreed tallied the Muskies' lone marker of the day.
Sinclair was pleased with how his squad played defensively each game and stressed the importance of having that mentality.
“We were able to shut down teams and that allowed us to give up few chances,” he recalled.
"Teams down there have such good ball movement so if you start chasing around the ball, that's where it can get ugly.
“We didn't remain conservative and played very good positionally, especially protecting our net,” he added.
“Another thing we did to have success was capitalize on our chances," Sinclair said. ”The past two years of going down there, I believe we scored one goal in the two years.
“This year, we put the ball in the net and although we got shut out one game, it wasn't from a lack of chances,” he noted.
“We generated lots of good scoring opportunities each game, which contributed to our success.”
Sinclair felt as though the team, as a whole, played extremely well at OFSAA and wasn't going to praise the efforts of just a few players.
“To talk about just one player who stood out during the week would be impossible,” he stressed.
“Everyone played an important role and I believe that is what contributed to having success.”
Teamwork makes the dream work, and Sinclair felt as though his squad did a great job of playing as a unit.
“Cole Kowalski and Jacob Albright each played two games in net and were again unbelievable this week,” he lauded.
"In our second game, we got a lead, which allowed us to play some of the guys who don't play all that much a little more.
“All of those kids played great," he enthused. ”It allowed them to gain confidence in themselves and have that experience moving forward into the future.
“The excitement, passion, encouragement, and will to be successful from all 20 players was everything that I could hope for and ask for from a team,” Sinclair enthused.
The Muskies will have a different look next season as they will be losing seven players to graduation, including captains Lidkea and Kowalski, along with Gushulak, Cole Allan, Aaron Bujold, Shortreed, and Kaden Nelson.
“They have all left a lasting impact on the program, and should be proud of what they have done and accomplished the past four-five years playing on the team,” Sinclair lauded.
He believes that despite losing those players, the squad still should be highly-competitive next season as Fort High chases a ninth-straight NorWOSSA crown and yet another berth at OFSAA.
“We have a very solid group of Grade 11s that will be the senior class next year,” he noted.
"Most of which who have been with me since their Grade 9 year.
“They know what it takes to have success and we will be relying on them to fill the voids of the players we are losing,” he stressed.
Sinclair lauded the play of his Grade 10 players this year and also has high hopes for them moving forward.
“The way they have developed and matured from last year to this is astonishing,” he remarked.
"Some of our key players this year are only in Grade 10, which is great for the program.
“They have high expectations from themselves moving forward, and I am fully confidence that each of them will continue to grow and continue to surprise me as a coach,” he added.
“Finally, we had two Grade 9s this year who were great," Sinclair said. ”Both Ashton Cousineau and Peyton Avis got better and better throughout the year.
“They are both terrific athletes who gained confidence in themselves on the soccer pitch and will be looked at for more of an impacting role next season.”
Sinclair also praised the efforts of his coaching staff, whose unwavering dedication helps to make the Muskie boys' soccer program a successful one.
“I would like also like to thank my assistant coaches who put just as much time into this program as anyone,” he said.
“Both Mike Sande and James Pavier have influenced these kids in the most of positive ways,” he noted.
“The three of us would like to remind the team that they should be proud of what they accomplished this season,” Sinclair concluded.
“And we will be looking for title #9 next year.”