Close, but no cigar for Muskie squads all season long

Another OFSAA appearance. Another missed opportunity.
It’s been a memorable year in Muskie athletics, but not all of those memories are of the fond variety.
The Muskie boys’ soccer team is the latest high school team to ride the highs and lows of competition, culminating in a disappointing end at last week’s all-Ontarios in Hamilton.
After pulling off an upset in the NorWOSSA final here two weeks ago, the team then carried that momentum to Hamilton last week—only to fall short by one win of advancing to the quarter-final round for the first time in Fort High’s history.
To make matters worse, seven of those players were part of the Muskie hockey team that suffered similar heartache at the provincial showdown in North Bay back in March, twice relinquishing third-period leads in pool play to the eventual silver- and bronze-medalists (St. Marcellinus and Upper Canada College).
Who knows how the script would have been written had they held on to win those games in North Bay or had netted an extra goal or two in Hamilton?
What ifs don’t carry much weight in sports, but I can guarantee 100 percent that the long bus ride home would have been made easier with an OFSAA medal around their necks.
But hey, the past is in the past and hopefully the players returning next fall will learn from it and come back hungry and determined to write a happier ending to the script.
As we close the book on the high school sports year that was, let’s take a quick look back on how things played out.
The badminton program sent two doubles teams to the always-competitive OFSAA championships, once again living up to its billing as the smalltown badminton program that could.
A dedicated group of volunteer coaches and parents have continued to develop badminton players in this community who are capable of going into big cities and be unfazed by the level of competition they face there.
It’s a daunting task that often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in a sport that’s often overlooked in these parts.
Josh Strain, meanwhile, carried the weight of the recently-reborn Muskie track and field team after his fifth-place showing at OFSAA a year ago—and maybe bore the burden of those expectations with his 16th-place showing in the senior boys’ high jump in Toronto this time around.
Strain deserves props for advancing to the provincials in the one discipline despite an injury that nearly derailed his aspirations completely while competing at the NWOSSAA championships in Thunder Bay.
For the record, Strain claimed gold at the regional meet despite not being able to run at full flight.
The Muskie senior boys’ basketball squad dominated their NorWOSSA opponents all season long—and looked poised to advance to the all-Ontarios before the Westgate Tigers stopped them in their tracks.
The team travelled to the less-than-friendly confines of their NWOSSAA opponents’ gym in Thunder Bay, and were disposed of in back-to-back games, effectively squashing their hopes of an OFSAA appearance in what was the last game in black-and-gold for a strong core of graduating seniors.
But the Muskie junior boys’ basketball team had a successful season en route to NorWOSSA gold and will graduate some premiere players into the senior program next fall that should help make up for some significant losses.
Meanwhile, the two levels of girls’ volleyball battled Dryden tooth-and-nail all year only to fall victim to their rivals in the NorWOSSA playoffs at the “Fish Tank” in front of a throng of supporters from the school and community.
Both teams lost in three-straight sets, but the effort displayed by the seniors in what nearly turned into a third-set comeback was one of the highlights of the winter on the local sports scene.
Seeing the players sacrificing their bodies and jumping over or into chairs to keep rallies alive really showed a level of commitment normally reserved for professional athletes motivated by dollar signs.
The boys’ volleyball teams struggled against stiff competition, never really generating much momentum nor challenging for the league title. That program is a work-in-progress which pales in comparison to the powerhouse Dryden Eagles’ volleyball institute.
The girls’ hockey team rattled off 22 wins in the first half of the season, and looked to be well on their way before running out of gas and losing out in the NorWOSSA semi-finals to the Kenora Broncos.
Broncos’ goalie Stephanie Ferguson stole the show in the third-and-deciding game of the series, stopping a Muskie barrage in the third period en route to a 4-3 win.
The boys’ hockey team dominated NorWOSSA play all year long and had success at out-of-town tournaments—living up to its storied history as a premiere program.
Both goalies—Jameson Shortreed and Devon Stromness—just will be in Grade 11 next year and both got key minutes in the playoffs and at the all-Ontarios.
A potential group of fifth-year returnees are talking about coming back, as well, and nine players from Grade 9-11 from last year’s squad will be back a year older and wiser.
Another successful season certainly looks to be in the cards, with no more uncertainty behind the bench like at this time a year ago as Shawn Jourdain again will be in the driver’s seat a little older and wiser himself.
Rewinding the tape back to last September, the Muskie football team looked promising out of the gate by winning two of its first four games in the Winnipeg High School Football League.
Unfortunately, it was a classic case of smoke and mirrors as the team fell to 2-5 by season’s end and was promptly drop-kicked by the Garden City Fighting Gophers in the opening round of the playoffs.
The team will undergo a changing of the guard with the bulk of the team’s core graduating this spring, but has a nucleus of incoming coaches in place looking to rebuild the program back to respectability.
The team intends to hold a camp later in the summer to determine interest levels and assess talent.
Football has had a tough time recruiting, and it seems multi-sport athletes are reluctant to play the game for fear it will interfere with their goals in other sports.
Graduating seniors Matt DePiero and Blake Wepruk proved you can play both hockey and football with no overlap or conflict, and hopefully more will follow in their footsteps if the program is to succeed.
Here’s to a good athletic season that certainly kept me busy—and entertained—these last seven months.
Until next time . . . keep your stick on the ice and your feet inbounds.

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