Junior Muskies feast on Eagles

They had practised a countless number of times since the season began back in September.
Some 256 minutes of basketball had been played, their record stood at 5-3, they were the top team in NorWOSSA, had a bye into the league final, and were the host team for the playoffs.
Still, the Muskie junior girls’ basketball squad was a bag of mixed emotions heading into action here Friday as some players were excited, others confident, and some scared.
“I think our team was nervous and scared, but we knew that we did it before so we couldn’t be cocky because that could lose you the game,” said Michelle Cournoyer.
“A couple of weeks ago, we were really nervous because we knew that we’d be in the final,” said Justine Chiefson.
“I was excited. I was ready to play,” giggled Jessica Woodgate.
“We were pretty confident, but we knew that we could lose if something happened and we didn’t work as a team,” echoed Alyssa Holliday.
But as the game clock counted its way down to double zeros, and the score flashed 50 points for Fort High and just 35 for the Dryden Eagles, players on the Muskies’ bench had their backs hunched over, their knees cocked, and their hands slightly bent below their knees—ready to cut through the air in victory once the final buzzer sounded.
And as expected, when the horn did blow, total chaos erupted on the gym floor as the Muskies tackled each other while the Eagles slowly walked to their respective bench with their heads hunched over in disappointment.
“I’m so happy,” said a smiling Emily Haggberg as she proudly showed off her new accessory—a NorWOSSA gold medal. “We beat them three times and only lost against them once, so we were very confident that we could do this.”
With a gym packed full of supporters serving as a backdrop for the moment Friday, the Muskies—gold medals swaying from their necks—were all smiles as their victory slowly began to sink in.
“I’m speechless. I’m very proud of the girls,” said head coach Michelle Mosbeck. “I’m proud of them for working hard all season and refocusing after their loss to Kenora [the previous week].
“So it was nice for them to come out and work their hearts out, and get the win,” she added.
The game itself was a blowout as Holliday dropped 19 points against the Eagles, who had beaten the Kenora Broncos in the semi-final earlier Friday.
In fact, Holliday would have scored even more if she were not relegated to the bench due to a calculated Eagles’ shoulder in the second quarter.
“I turned around and she came running full speed at me, and I got her shoulder on my face,” recalled Holliday, who didn’t seem to be feeling any ill effects from the collision after the game.
“I went in there and I just wanted to try my hardest. It was my last game as a junior and I wanted to get lots of points,” she added. “My goal was to get 20 points and I almost got it.”
Her teammates didn’t feel shortchanged, though, as everyone on the team contributed to the victory.
Like Eddie Arcaro riding a racehorse, starting point guard Kristina Caul controlled the game’s pace with an exceptional display of dribbling and speed.
Providing a twin tower presence underneath the basket was Cournoyer and Chiefson (“I boxed them out,” said Chiefson) as they grabbed any rebound near their reach.
Woodgate and Haggberg, meanwhile, were constant threats on the perimeter.
And with strong defensive sets, crisp offensive plays, and a rotation that saw them go deep into the bench, the Muskies simply dominated the game from start to finish.
“Everybody clicked and we really came together as a team,” said Cournoyer. “It was just great.”
There was an elegance to this team as they steadily improved with each game, especially the way they were able to balance their stifling offence with a dictating defence—which came into full fruition when it mattered most.
“Everyone on the team contributed to this. We all played together and I’m just so glad that this happened,” said Holliday.
“This is just a blast and I love it. I’m still in a haze,” smiled Chiefson.
Still, as the Muskies celebrated, there was cause for sadness. The season was over. Come Monday, there would be no practice. There would be no more games. No more trips on the road. No more challenges.
“I am sad that it’s done because it was really fun this year,” said Woodgate. “There were a lot of fun people on the team.”
“It will be sad because you develop a bond with the girls and you become such good friends with them, and it is sad,” added Mosbeck.
It would have been nice to see the Muskies advance further than NorWOSSA to see how they might have fared, but at the junior level there is no yellow brick road that leads to the all-Ontarios.
But nothing could take away from the Muskies’ win. They deserved what they got. They worked hard for it. And now they were the champions.
“It’s nice to finally be rewarded for all our hard work. Not just mine and Marla’s [assistant coach Marla Simpson], but the girls’ hard work,” said Mosbeck.
“I’m more excited for the girls because they’ve been working so hard,” she added. “It’s just an amazing feeling and I can’t really describe it.”

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