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Ben Smith

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Greatness of soccer event widely known

– I know who that school is down there, even if Greg Mauch doesn’t. I know because the Internet is a wonderful thing, and you can find stuff on it.

And so I know the team Mauch’s Canterbury Cavaliers are playing right now, Dewitt High School, is from Dewitt, Mich., two hours or so up the road. I know Dewitt is named after Dewitt Clinton and is home to 4,507 souls by the latest census. I know if you’re bypassing Lansing on your way to, say, Mackinaw City, you’ll see an exit for it on I-69, right before you get to U.S. 127 and points north.

I know Dewitt’s nickname is the Panthers, and it has a student population of 916. And I know it was ranked No. 1 in Michigan’s Division II at the end of last season, before being upset 2-0 in the regional semifinals by Spring Lake.

What I don’t know is what Mauch thinks about playing a school he never sees here at the top of the season. Or what Concordia thinks about playing Eaton Rapids, Mich. Or what Norwell thinks about playing Grand Ledge, Mich., or what North Side thinks about playing Kalida, Ohio.

There are two ways to look at opening your season against out-of-state strangers here at the Snider Invitational in the Shindigz National Soccer Festival, and one is that it’s hard to prepare for out-of-state strangers. The other is that it doesn’t matter, because it’s all about your own preparation, and the Soccer Festival prepares you like crazy.

“Oh, it’s fantastic,” Mauch said Saturday after Canterbury pried the lid off with a goal in the last three minutes of the first half and went on to rout Dewitt 4-0. “A chance to play a top quality team from Michigan. … How can it get any better to start the season?

“What is anybody else going to show you that you haven’t already seen?”

Amen to that, concurs Mauch’s senior goalkeeper, Chase Walker.

“It’s always a benefit to play quality competition,” he said when it was done.

And besides, unless Lionel Messi showed up in Dewitt colors, the only scouting report pertinent to Canterbury was the one on itself.

“We just play our game,” Walker says. “I don’t think we’ve ever gone into a game thinking, ‘All right, this player’s good, this player’s good, we’re going to move our game around them.’ It’s always been, ‘All right, mark them up, and we’re going to play our game and then go from there.’

“Honestly? I do like playing these high-caliber teams I don’t see before, just because you can say, ‘All right, this is where we are, and this is what we can learn from it.’ ”

And so on a golden Saturday afternoon Canterbury and Dewitt had at it, and with 2:23 left in the first half Jasmin Habibic got the Cavs going with a deft side-foot strike that ducked inside the right post. Then Walker made a bunch of saves, and then came a three-goal deluge in the last 12:27, and somewhere in there, at halftime, a little guy with hair the color of copper – he couldn’t have been more than 3 – kicked off his sandals and ran barefoot onto the billiard-table grass.

Happily, he ran and ran, swinging his leg mightily at a mini-soccer ball, sprawling to the ground with high drama when he missed. His noontime shadow puddled tinily at his feet.

Not a bad old day, all in all.

“We’re pretty happy,” Mauch said when it was done.

And then: “This is just a great event.”

That he does know.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.