Jr. hoopsters earn consolation crown

Dan Falloon

In a sense, it was a good tournament that got the Muskie junior girls’ basketball team into a bit of a funk.
Now head coach Dan Bird is hoping another solid showing will help jolt the black-and-gold out of it.
The Muskies went 2-1 to capture the consolation crown at the Westgate tournament in Thunder Bay over the weekend.
Fort High is no stranger to tournament success, having won all three games by a combined 107-20 score at a season-opening showdown. But Bird felt that may have instilled a bit of complacency in his team.
The squad has been off-and-on in NorWOSSA play so far this season en route to a 2-3 record.
“This weekend was our biggest weekend,” Bird noted. “I think the girls and the coaches were pretty optimistic after the opening tournament and the way they were playing.
“It was good to see, but it kind of put them in a ‘Hey, we’re good’-type attitude,” he admitted.
“After a couple losses in league play, we’ve got to improve here.”
But Bird felt this past weekend was able to help the black-and-gold build towards victory the right way.
He started an all-rookie lineup in the second game of the tournament against a Westgate split-squad and the freshmen showed the sophomores the value of fundamentals—playing Bird’s system to a ‘T.’
“The second game, I started all my Grade 9s and played them for the full first quarter,” he noted. “They gave us a good comfortable lead and they just substituted it after that.
“It showed all our Grade 10 players, sitting from the bench to start, those girls were doing what we practised,” he added.
“I think the bench saw what was going on, and just by doing what we practised, we can play some good [defence] and some steady offence.
“This weekend, they really started listening, and sticking to our defence, how we work it, and the importance of being more patient on offence,” Bird said.
The player Bird felt best embodied the new attitude was Courtney Spade, who did exactly as she was asked and was noticed for it.
“She was the one that stuck out,” he lauded. “She was doing in the game the little things we were practising.
“To free yourself, to square up to the hoop, to challenge your player, those types of things.
“I think the bench noticed that,” he added. “Here she’s teaching the rest of the girls something.”
The Muskies won the Westgate game in a walk after losing a tight one to Churchill in their opener.
Then they routed Superior 49-24 to earn the consolation crown, garnering 20 points from Alanna Walsh in that one.
Sarah Glover, Jessica Robinson, and Jessica Spade all won player-of-the-game honours over the weekend while Walsh earned the overall team MVP award.
As well, Wynona Kavanaugh placed highly in a free-throw shooting competition, either tied for first or a close second, Bird noted.
In their opening game, the Muskies were sunk early as Churchill took advantage of accuracy from beyond the arc.
However, the Muskies switched up defensively and popped in a few points offensively, whittling a 13-point deficit down to six, although they could get no closer.
“They had a guard that got hot early on the three-point,” Bird recalled.
“We switched from a two-three to a box and one, and cut down on their three-point shooting.”
With no games in NorWOSSA play this week, the Muskies will see their next action this weekend when they host their home tournament.
The schedule has not been finalized yet as one school just dropped out to make the tournament a seven-team affair as opposed to an even eight.
However, some strong Thunder Bay teams still will be in attendance, and Bird is looking forward to the chance to face off against some quality regional squads.
The NorWOSSA teams should hold their own, though, considering the Muskies’ performance and that of the Dryden Eagles, who made the bronze-medal game of the Westgate tournament.
“It’ll be exciting for the girls. They’re really looking forward to it,” Bird enthused. “You like to look at it as an advantage playing on the home floor.
“We would like to have played St. Ignatius or Hammarskjold, and I think we’ll get that opportunity [this] weekend—some real good strong teams,” he added.
“Our league is competitive, definitely, with the Thunder Bay league.”
Overall, Bird has been happy with how the team has come along, although a handful of players in particular have stood out.
He lauded Glover, Kavanaugh, and Celia Berry for stepping up their own individual games as the Muskies get deep into the season.
“Sarah Glover is really starting to control the boards now,” Bird said. “She’s settling down as a key forward, and rebounding and igniting our fast break.
“Wynona is a legitimate starting guard,” he added. “She had a good weekend, which is what we were looking for.
“We tried a whole different bunch of combinations, but Wynona certainly settled in and is our lead guard.”
Bird also said Berry is coming along nicely at the guard position as a Grade 9 player.
“She’s starting to be a little more patient with the ball,” he remarked.
Bird does want to see the team’s depth develop so the Muskies can bring the pressure regardless of what lineup is on the floor.
“We want to have a strong bench in a couple of weeks when we host [the NorWOSSA playoffs on Nov. 10],” he noted.
“I want to be able to put in a player [from] the bench and count on them just to do their job.”