Mustangs qualify for OFSAA
The Saint Michael Mustangs got their act together at just the right time.
Following a roller coaster of a regular season, the Mustangs peaked at the proper time, capturing the Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association (SOSSA) boys AAA soccer title with a pair of impressive victories Thursday.
The Mustangs knocked off the defending SOSSA champion A.N. Myer Marauders 2-1 in semifinal action before topping Westdale of Hamilton 5-2 in the final which punched their ticket to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSSA) championships next week in Windsor.
“Little bit of a surprise but all the while within reach, but not without some adversity,” Mustangs head coach Pat Ricci said. “We had some ups and downs throughout the year, whether it be injuries, attendance at school, managing personalities.”
Ricci said the lightbulb went on last month and things started falling into place.
“We turned our season around three weeks ago and started to see who’s who,” he said. “The management of the group worked and the guys started believing and different things are in reach now.”
The Mustangs set the tone for the day with a strong effort in upsetting the Marauders.
“Probably the biggest game of the year knowing the level of the competition with Myer capturing SOSSA last year and being a big AAA soccer school, but we love those games,” Ricci said. “I set these guys up for that. I have a lot of athletes here and today was a true test and in the big moments, the big players came to play. It’s infectious.”
Joshua Salonen and Marco Panunto scored for the winners while A. Pingue replied for the Marauders.
The Mustangs made sure there would be no hangover from that win as they came out and scored a pair of early goals in the final.
“I preach that,” Ricci said. “I’m all about the first 15-20 minutes, tempo and pressuring and playing in their end and changing the mindset of the opponent by keeping the ball and hopefully gracefully putting one in the back of the net. If you can go up 1-0 it changes their mindset. They pass the ball quicker on their end, they might out their heads down. That’s what we’ve been doing the last month or so.”
Panunto and Max Marinas each had two goals while Salonen added one in the final.
“It feels good,” said Salonen, a 16-year-old, Grade 11 student. “We weren’t expecting it going in but we kept getting better as a team and kept working and kept scoring.”
Salonen was proud how his team found another gear in the second game despite the oppressive heat.
“It was quite exhausting because the first game was the toughest,” he said. “No one expected us to beat Myer and we gave it our all in that game and then we had to go again for another 80 (minutes) in the heat.”
The Mustangs will try and balance rest and keeping sharp as they prepare for OFSAA.
“At this point it’s going to be day by day and when we get there doing what we do,” Ricci said. “I usually know a little bit about our opponents but I know who we are. If we can keep doing what we do, I think we’ll be fine moving forward.”
Westdale defeated the West Niagara Wolfpack 4-1 in the other semifinal.
Manav Chirimar scored for the lone goal for the Wolfpack.
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