Court teams look to defend NorWOSSA gold

All four Muskie court teams will be gunning to defend their respective NorWOSSA titles this Friday in Kenora. But three of them will have to get through the semi-finals first to advance to the final and hopefully win gold again.
Only the Muskie senior boys’ basketball team, which finished atop the three-team standings during the regular season with a 6-2 record, earned a bye to the final.
The senior girls will meet Kenora in their semi-final, with the winner moving on to face undefeated Dryden. And both junior teams also will go up against Kenora in their semi-finals.
It all can make for a very long day.
“It’s one day,” said junior girls’ volleyball head coach Struchan Gilson, who will be participating in his 14th NorWOSSA playoffs behind the bench.
“It can be long and fairly stressful. We could be in there for 12 hours,” he noted.
Senior boys
The defending NWOSSAA champs have escaped the shadow of their departed big three (Evan Woodland, John Sivonen, and Gary Wager), who carried the load offensively last season, and they’re now a comparable team aiming to make a return to the all-Ontarios.
“They’re coming out of the shadow of those guys. You can see them high-fiving and really coming together,” co-coach Paul Noonan noted two weeks ago.
“They realize this isn’t the same team it was last year and they’re taking charge themselves,” he added.
The Muskies did have their two-and-a-half-year regular-season undefeated streak snapped last month. But with a 6-2 record and a second-place finish at their last tournament in Kenora in tow, confidence is still high.
“The team feels pretty good,” said forward Faical Cheblaoui, whose team went 3-1 against both Dryden and Kenora this season. “We expect a tough game in the final.”
But nothing is being taken for granted, stressed co-coach Al McManaman.
“The teams in this league can play very equally. We have to come out much better—a bit more intensity,” he warned.
The coaches have been juggling seven players in their starting lineup. They are anchored by leading scorer Jamie Algie and Jock Gemmell up front, with Dan Poperechny or Travis Derkson at the other forward position.
Voung Pham, Kevin Gemmell and Josh McMahon all have started in the backcourt.
“Whoever we put in has the ability to contribute for us,” said McManaman.
Senior girls
The Muskie senior girls’ volleyball team has several positives to draw upon as it look to defend its NorWOSSA crown Friday in Kenora.
Despite sporting a 2-6 record and a younger lineup this season, head coach Rick Wiedenhoeft said the girls have done nothing but improve since December.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” he said, adding a silver medal at an invitational tournament in Thunder Bay earlier this month has really helped boost the team’s level of play.
“I said all along it would be a steep learning curve and we would be building towards NorWOSSA.”
“They [Dryden] haven’t lost a match all year. It’s going to be tough for us or Kenora to knock them off,” Wiedenhoeft admitted.
But team captain Christin Thomson, one of four veterans from last year’s team that went on to win NWOSSAA, likes the position they’re in.
“The standings don’t really matter,” she said. “I think it’s an advantage to play in the semis because you get that one game under your belt.”
The focus this week has been on the Broncos, Thomson added.
“We beat Kenora the last two times we faced them. We’re fairly confident going in there,” she said. “We know we can beat them there. We just have to be on our game.”
Wiedenhoeft has toyed with the lineup all season, but said he’ll stick with his starters—Jamie Whitecrowe (setter), Thomson and Alison Hyatt (power), Trisha Smith and Linda Zimmerman (middle), and Danielle McGee (offside)—on Friday.
“They had to get used to playing with one another. At this point, you don’t want to mess with that chemistry,” he reasoned.
Junior girls
Like most coaches preparing for the playoffs, Struchan Gilson is tight-lipped about which lineup he’ll go with in the semi-finals against the host Broncos on Friday morning.
He has 17 players on the roster to juggle but, at the same time, is aiming to lead the junior spikers to their sixth NorWOSSA gold medal in the last seven years.
“We’ve been learning all year but the end of the exercise is to win NorWOSSA,” he said. “So I want to play the kids who will give us the best result.”
The Muskies went 4-4 during the regular season using a variety of lineups. All four wins were against Kenora, but Gilson said it’ll be hard to gauge things until the ball is up in the air.
“That’s the trouble with volleyball. Finding the six that work best together depends a lot on the opponent,” he remarked.
Junior boys
The Muskies have looked sluggish heading into Friday’s semi-final match against Kenora, dropping their last two games by an average of 20 points to finish the regular season with a 3-5 record.
Andrew Mueller, Dan McIntyre, Scott Bridgeman, and Mark Buist have been the Muskies’ most consistent scorers so far, but head coach Greg Ste. Croix is looking for his whole team to show a little fire on the court.
“I’m concerned with our intensity level,” he admitted. “I know if we play with intensity and desperation, then we can do extremely well, the sky’s the limit.
“If we don’t, it could be a short day.”
The junior hoopsters were 3-1 in their head-to-head meetings with the Broncos this season.