Crusaders and Marauders boys’ soccer programs gear up for regionals

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Joseph Takali of the Carlton Crusaders battles a member of the Yorkton Sacred Heart Saints during a game in Prince Albert earlier this season.

The Carlton Crusaders and St. Mary Marauders boys’ soccer teams find themselves facing different scenarios going into this weekend’s 3A regional tournament in Warman.

As the top overall seed in the event, the Crusaders have earned a bye to Saturday’s final and have already clinched a spot at next weekend’s 3A provincial championships in Saskatoon.

“If there’s one thing that might be missing for us it’s having that pressure to get into the tournament in a must-win game,” Crusaders head coach Mark Odnokon said.

“However, if we can pick up a victory Saturday, there’s a good chance of us being one of the top five seeds in Saskatoon next weekend and avoiding one of the top teams in the province. Our guys that are returning understand how close we are to the provincials and that this is one of those weekends that we’ve been building for all year.”

Meanwhile, the Marauders are in must-win territory Friday afternoon, as they’ll play the host Wolverines in a semifinal match that will determine which school will earn a spot at the provincials.

“It’s going to be a unique situation for us,” Marauders head coach Dwayne Gareau said. “Warman has been a successful program in the past, but we haven’t faced them in a number of years.

“We have some older guys who have been through the regional process that we will be relying on, in addition to the energy that our younger players bring to our lineup.”

As they look to reach the 3A provincials for the first time since 2016, the Marauders will be attempting to qualify for that event with one of their younger lineups in recent memory.

“Soccer is pretty unique compared to every other team sport at the high school level, as you don’t have a junior program to start out in,” Gareau said. “As a result, you have Grade 9’s playing against Grade 12’s, which can be quite a challenge.

“At our two tournaments this year in Saskatoon (hosted by the University of Saskatchewan) and Prince Albert (hosted by Carlton), we showed that we could compete with the top teams in the province, but we just lacked the overall consistency that you need in those matches against them.”

After finishing in fourth place at last year’s 3A championship in Estevan, the Crusaders have fielded a veteran side at three tournaments this year in Martensville, Prince Albert and Yorkton.

“Our Grade 10 and Grade 11 players have been with us for awhile now, so they have a great knowledge of how we like to play as a team,” Odnokon said.

“We’ve had some growing pains along the way, but I think our 5-1 win over Yorkton Sacred Heart in our home tournament was a big turning point for us. It really showed our guys how we can play if everyone buys in to our systems.”

Meanwhile, the Crusaders and Marauders girls’ programs will be competing at a 3A regional tournament in Lloydminster this weekend.

The Marauders will square off against the host Holy Rosary Raiders Friday in a semifinal game that will determine which team will advance to the provincials.

The Crusaders, who will serve as the hosts for next week’s tournament, will await the winner in Saturday’s final.