To say the Muskie boys' soccer team has been impressive over the last decade would be a massive understatement.
The NorWOSSA landscape has been painted black-and-gold for the last eight brilliant seasons and the Muskies are hoping they can secure a ninth-straight NorWOSSA title and with it—another trip to the all-Ontarios.
Muskie head coach Chris Sinclair knows that feat will be no easy task.
“I don't think we have felt any extra pressure, and to be honest it's not something that we really bring up,” Sinclair said of attempting to win a ninth-straight league title.
“Yes, eight straight championships is very impressive and we would love to add a ninth to that list. But each year is its own year; we can't judge our success based on previous teams,” he stressed.
"We just need to come with the same work ethic that they've had for the past couple weeks and continue to build as a team.
“From an opposition's perspective, they know how many we've won, and both Kenora and Dryden I'm sure would love to end the streak,” he warned.
"So yes, our guys need to realize that these other teams are going to want to beat us that much more, but at the same time, we can't let that get to us.
“We have to play each game as its own and not worry about what we've accomplished in the past,” Sinclair urged.
“We are going into this year as we do every year with one goal in mind—and that is making it to OFSAA and focusing only on what we have to do to get there.”
New to the squad this year are Grade 12s Jace Jackson (defence), Cam Bowles (defence), and Cooper Witherspoon (midfield); Grade 11s Brady Meeks (defence) and Lamar Lucas (midfield); Grade 10s Declan Webb (midfield/wing); and Grade 9 rookie Brandon Croswell (striker).
The returnees include goalie Jacob Albright (Grade 11), defencemen Brady Bodnarchuk (Grade 11), Austin Armstrong (Grade 12), and Ashton Cousineau (Grade 10), midfielders Ethan Carlson-Jourdain (Grade 12), Cole Magill (Grade 11), Connor Nelson (Grade 11), Brant Spuzak (Grade 12), Nick Hahkala (Grade 12), Matt Begin (Grade 11), and Peyton Avis (Grade 10), along with strikers Brett Allan (Grade 12), and Riley Argue (Grade 12).
The Muskies will officially open the season at the annual St. John's-Ravenscourt tournament slated for this Friday through Sunday in Winnipeg.
To help get them better prepared for the tourney, the black-and-gold hosted the Rainy River Owls for an exhibition match last Thursday at Fort High.
Argue scored twice in that one while Allan also bulged the twine to lead the Muskies to a narrow 3-2 win. Jacob Albright earned the victory in goal.
“Preparation has been coming along nicely so far. I thought the scrimmage/exhibition game with Rainy River was great to show us some areas that we need to tighten up and improve in going into the season next week and get ready for our Winnipeg tournament this coming weekend,” said Sinclair.
"We have been working mainly on our positioning up-and-down the field, focusing on where to be in different situations.
“Also, focusing on fundamentals of soccer, making firm passes on the ground, shooting from smart areas, getting shots onto the net,” he noted.
“All the little things that make the difference in games. It's a lot easier to see from games what areas we need to work on, which is why it is always great to go to Winnipeg for the SJR tournament before our season gets going,” Sinclair enthused.
Sinclair also feels that his team's biggest strength this NorWOSSA season will be its speed.
“We are a very fast team. We have a ton of speed up and down the wings, so we will be looking to play the ball into the middle and make plays and runs from there to generate our offence,” he noted.
“So in terms of strength, I think our offensive ability is one of our greatest attributes. Another area that I think we are going to be strong is our strength. "We have a fairly older team this year, with a lot of Grade 11 and 12 players,” he remarked.
"I think this is going to help us get the ball and keep the ball, which is how we want to play.
“We want to play a possession game and make them chase. So by skill and strength, I believe we can accomplish that,” Sinclair reasoned.
Fort High will host both the Dryden Eagles and Kenora Broncos in the NorWOSSA regular season-opener next Wednesday (May 8).
Dryden then will host on May 15 while the regular-season finale will take place in Kenora on May 22.
The NorWOSSA playoffs then are slated for May 29 in Dryden, with OFSAA to follow on June 6-8 in North Bay.