The Muskie junior boys’ basketball team got to witness a gold-medal celebration on Friday afternoon.
Unfortunately, it happened at the opposite end of the court.
Clutch baskets in the second half helped the Kenora Broncos to a 49-42 upset win over the black-and-gold in the NorWOSSA final in Dryden.
Sean Huziak and Brady Bodnarchuk led the way offensively for the Muskies, each netting nine points.
Head coach Angela Petsnick admitted the outcome was hard to take.
“The boys were devastated,” she remarked.
“They all had such high hopes for the season-ending game.”
The Muskies had earned a bye to the final after finishing the regular season in first place with a 7-1 record.
But as with any disappointment in life, Petsnick believes the players can learn and grow from the heart-breaking loss.
“I think teams learn more when they lose games because they are forced to grow,” she reasoned.
“Every time we beat Kenora this year, they came back stronger and stronger.
“They came out with a very strong press, which we were prepared for,” Petsnick added. “But little mistakes here and there kept us from pulling ahead in the game.
“When the game is that close, every mistake is magnified . . . for both teams,” she stressed.
Petsnick was pleased with the effort her squad had in the final, and feels they have nothing to hang their heads about.
“I have gone over the game in my head and there is really nothing we could have done differently,” she said.
“Everyone left everything they had on the court and I could not have asked for more . . . except a few more baskets!
“We had an awesome season,” Petsnick enthused. “We played in four tournaments and won three of them.
“We only lost one league game this year prior to the championship.
“Unfortunately, the final game did not come out in our favour [but] it happens,” she reasoned.
“Am I upset? You bet! I would not be a coach if I was not competitive.”
Looking ahead, Petsnick noted the junior team only will have four players eligible to return, so next season will be a rebuilding one.
But she is intrigued to see how her exiting players fare on the senior squad.
“I look forward to watching these boys play for the next two years as seniors,” she remarked.
“They are a talented group of basketball players!”
The Muskie seniors, meanwhile, advanced to the NorWOSSA final after routing the Broncos 67-33 in their semi-final showdown Friday morning.
Cole Kowalski scored a team-high 26 points while Austin Brown chipped in 12.
“We followed our game plan,” said co-coach Bryce Coyle.
“We wanted to pressure them [Kenora] early to try and get out to a quick lead so we could balance the minutes out knowing we would have another game that day should we win.
“Once we got out to a lead, the guys didn’t let their foot off the gas, which allowed us to increase our lead and get our starters some rest in the second half,” he explained.
But it was a much different result in the final against the Dryden that night, as the host Eagles were the ones who cruised to a 73-44 rout to claim the gold medal.
Kobi Ward scored a team-high 14 points while Aaron Bujold added 12 in a losing cause.
“We were definitely disappointed with how we executed on the offensive end, but a lot of that was due to how [Dryden] defended us,” said Coyle, who team finished the regular season with a 4-4 record.
“They did a good job of disrupting the flow and timing we wanted to achieve on the offensive side, and they were really aggressive in terms of sending a player out early on the break,” he noted.
“We often had a tough time recognizing that and they got a lot of easy baskets as a result, especially in the second half, which really helped them start pulling away in the game.”
Still, Coyle feels the Muskies had a strong season overall and was pleased with their efforts.
“It was definitely a disappointing way to end but there were a lot of positives to take from the year,” he remarked.
“We ended up playing some of the top teams in our region–whether it be Dryden, St. Ignatius, and even some of the top team from Manitoba–which I think was a good learning experience for our players.
“I want our guys to have to play those teams to see how high-level teams and programs operate, and maybe they see areas that they need to improve on individually,” he added.
Moving forward, Coyle believes the future of the senior squad does look bright.
“The juniors had a very strong season and there looks like a lot of promise on that roster, with many of them coming up to the senior level next year,” he enthused.
“Some of our key players also have the option to return, if they choose, so we will see what they decide to do with their schooling in the fall.
“We also had some solid development with our Grade 11 players,” lauded Coyle. “On the whole, there looks to be a lot of positive things to look forward to.
“It will be up to the players to see how much they want to continue their development over the summer,” he added.