Junior hoops squad rounding into form

Jamie Mountain

To say the Muskie junior boys’ basketball team wowed in Kenora over the weekend would be an understatement.
The squad won all three of its games in convincing fashion en route to capturing the Kenora Invitational Tournament title.
Fort High opened play Friday with a 44-8 romp over Whitefish Bay, which was filling in for Pelican Falls as they couldn’t make the trip.
Wyatt Richards scored a team-high 10 points, with Brady Meeks adding nine.
Caleb Allan and Brett Schram chipped in with six points each while the Muskies also had strong rebounding from Ayden Gushulak.
Then on Saturday, the Muskies cruised to a 46-26 triumph over the Atikokan Voyageurs.
Michael Vanderaa led the way with 13 points, with Brady Bodnarchuk netting nine.
Allan and Meeks both added six.
It wasn’t all good news against Atikokan, however, as the team lost Jesse Jourdain to an ankle injury.
Then facing the host Broncos in the tourney final, Richards had 16 points to pace the Muskies to a 52-41 win.
Vanderaa and Sean Huziak chipped in with nine each while Bodnarchuk added eight.
“We played a really solid game against Kenora this weekend at the junior KIT tournament,” enthused coach Angela Petsnick.
“Our starters got into a little bit of foul trouble early on in the championship game, so I had to rely on our bench to step up,” she noted.
“We were using a zone defence for the first time this season, and although it worked pretty well against Kenora, man-to-man worked much better,” Petsnick added.
“So we switched defence halfway through the game.
“[But] we still have some work to do on finishing underneath, as sometimes it was the second shot that went in,” she said.
The juniors were scheduled to face the Broncos again in NorWOSSA regular-season action yesterday back in Kenora, but the game was postponed due to inclement weather.
A make-up date will be announced in the near future.
The Muskies (4-1) then will host Kenora tomorrow at Fort High, with tip-off now slated for at 1:30 p.m. instead of the original noon start time.
Petsnick wants to see a strong finish from her team heading down the stretch so they can reach their ultimate goal.
“Our goal right now is to finish the regular season strong and head into the playoffs in first place,” she remarked.
“So that means we have to beat Kenora this week.
“Overall, we just have to keep cool heads and play our game,” she noted.
The Muskie seniors, meanwhile, have battled their way to a 2-3 record five games into the eight-game NorWOSSA regular season.
Coach Bryce Coyle has been pleased with the squad’s work ethic for the most part, but admitted staying focused in games has been a challenge.
“We have a hard-working group and, up to this point, they have shown a strong work ethic in games and practices, which helps a lot,” he remarked.
“Our biggest weakness right now is that we have a hard time sustaining our physical and mental focus for a full 40 minutes,” Coyle explained.
“I still think we don’t really realize how hard it is to do that,” he added. “And until we want to make the choice to really commit to meeting that goal, then we will really have to grind out every game we play in.”
After having yesterday’s game against Kenora cancelled due to the weather, Coyle believes tomorrow’s home showdown against those same Broncos will provide a good challenge for the Muskies.
“They have played us tough all year and I know that won’t change,” he noted.
“Defensively, they are capable of making life tough for us and offensively, they can get hot for stretches and put some points on the board in bunches when they get rolling, which obviously tests us defensively.
“It really comes down to us being able to keep a constant focus for a full game and not have these glaring lapses on either end of the court,” Coyle stressed.
“If we can really start improving in that area, I think we won’t face quite as many uphill battles as we have up to this point in the season.”
Heading into the stretch drive, Coyle said he would like his players to steadily improve their mental focus.
“We just want the guys to keep working hard, and really start to self-assess what they are doing on the court during practices and games in order to help minimize some of our mental mistakes,” he remarked.