Jr. hoopsters finish with split at home tourney

Dan Falloon

The Muskie junior girls’ basketball team was able to handle its Friday opponents fairly easily, but couldn’t carry that same success over to Saturday.
The black-and-gold romped to a 49-5 win over St. Pat’s in the opener of their home tournament on Friday afternoon, then steamrolled Westgate in a 58-14 rout later in the day.
Fort High was unable to replicate the results the following day, however, as they were effectively shut down in a 31-12 loss to Hammarskjold and then a 20-9 defeat at the hands of St. Ignatius.
Head coach Dan Bird noted while Saturday’s opponents were tougher ones, the black-and-gold didn’t come out with the same gusto as they did against Friday’s also-rans.
“Friday worked well,” he enthused. “Both those games, things were falling.
“The girls were loose, and as far as their choices of shots, their choices were good,” he added.
“We shot a pretty good percentage on Friday, but those are probably against two of the weaker teams in the tournament.
“We knew Saturday was going to be a much tougher affair. They [the players] just didn’t seem as loose,” Bird conceded.
In their first game Saturday, the Muskies kept things close with Hammarskjold, staying within four points until the start of the fourth quarter, when the Vikings began to take advantage of the frazzled hosts.
“We were playing with them and we were getting good shots, but they just weren’t falling,” Bird recalled.
“We had a good opportunity there to take a lead.
“They scored early in the fourth, and it’s almost like some of our players wanted to take the game on themselves,” he added.
“We lost that team offence, and then our defence got stretched out.
“They didn’t know just to stick within their area of coverage on our zone defence, and we stretched it out too much,” he remarked.
With the defence running a little ragged, a pair of talented Vikings found the holes and began to pour in a good number of points.
The Muskies also hung tough with St. Ignatius later Saturday until the Falcons eventually were able to grind down Fort High’s spirit.
“They just wore us down about two-thirds into that game, then you started to see the separation in the two squads,” Bird explained.
“Our girls were scrambling too much on defence, again, late in the game.
“We couldn’t contain their guards bringing up the ball,” he noted. “They were patient on their offence and we were impatient on our defence.
“They just took advantage of it.”
As for Friday’s affairs, playing in a blowout can be just as difficult for the winning team to handle.
Bird said he tries to handle such situations as learning experiences, stressing clean execution of fundamental skills in preparation for tougher games.
However, the tactics learned on Friday were thrown a little by the wayside Saturday as the black-and-gold tried to do a little too much a little too quickly.
“When you know you’ve got good control of the game, like at halftime, then you just try to instill in them that this is the opportune time just to treat it as a practice,” Bird reasoned.
“Do everything that we do in practice to execute it.
“Against tougher teams, the girls will rush things,” he added. “Even what they do individually to set up a shot or move the ball around.
“When they’ve got that nice comfortable lead, you can just see it.
“They’re doing all their fundamentals right because they’re comfortable and they’re moving the ball as a team,” he said.
Bird felt the Muskies could have been in the game with a more consistent effort as the occasional letdown resulted in opponents piling up points.
“We were telling the players, ‘You girls can stick with them, it’s just that you have to learn to play four quarters of basketball,’” he noted.
“‘Any teams that are good teams, or even better than us, those are the games where you have to learn to play four solid quarters offensively and defensively.’”
A handful of Muskies played particularly well over the weekend. Alanna Walsh, for starters, put in a key effort throughout.
“Alanna was steady, offensively and defensively,” Bird lauded. “Like all the players, they had some defensive lapses in there, but she was pretty steady, probably our most steady player.”
Meanwhile, there were a couple players who Bird said had outstanding games Friday, but couldn’t quite harness the same magic Saturday.
“Celia Berry had a really good day on Friday, and we were hoping for that to carry over into Saturday, as well as Wynona [Kavanaugh’s],” he noted.
“Out of those two guards, we probably got good play out of them every game, but we needed, on Saturday, for them to be like that for four quarters.”
Lastly, rookies Sarah Bagacki and Keira Lindgren took advantage of their time on the floor.
“When we put them out there, you could really see them trying their best,” Bird observed.
“Even though they made a couple mistakes, we know that when they came off, they recognized what they did wrong.
“We’ll need those players, especially come November,” he stressed. “We’ve got to feel confident putting them in there.”
The juniors played their final road game of the regular season yesterday in Kenora, with the Broncos to complete the home-and-home series here on Tuesday (Nov. 2).
“Kenora’s the most improved team in NorWOSSA,” Bird said. “They’re doing what we did for the last two years, just play a really strong zone defence and making it tough for teams to score.
“We lost that edge so we have to get that back,” he stressed.
The squad then will close out the regular season here next Thursday (Nov. 4) versus Dryden before Fort High hosts the NorWOSSA playoffs Nov. 10.
In other court action over the weekend, the Muskie junior boys’ volleyball team participated in the annual “Pumpkin Smash” tournament in Dryden.
The team split into two squads—a primarily veteran lineup and a primarily rookie one.
The veterans went 11-1 in round-robin play, got past Queen Elizabeth (Sioux Lookout) in its first playoff match, but then fell 26-24, 16-25, and 10-15 to St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora) in the semi-finals.
The rookies, meanwhile, recorded a 1-11 mark in the round-robin before dropping a hard-fought 19-25, 25-23, and 13-15 match to Whitefish Bay in the playoff round.