Muskies face tough challenge against Colts

Since the season began, the Muskie senior boys’ basketball team has been waiting for the chance to face-off against the Hill-crest Colts—Thunder Bay’s top dog and their NWOSSAA rival from a year ago.
The defending champs invited the Colts to their home tournament and tried to organize exhibition games, only to be turned away.
Until now. The two teams will battle it out in the best-of-three NWOSSAA final starting here Friday—with a trip to the all-Ontarios on the line.
“Yes. This is what we wanted,” said Muskie co-coach Paul Noonan, whose team won their third-straight NorWOSSA title with a 54-44 victory over the host Kenora Broncos on Friday.
“It was something we were expecting.”
The Muskies swept the Colts 2-0 in last year’s NWOSSAA showdown in Thunder Bay, but the roles are clearly reversed this time around. The Colts return with a strong core of players with an extra year under their belt.
They romped through their city league with a 13-1 record before dumping Hammarskjold 42-27 in Monday’s final.
Meanwhile, the Muskies have had to adjust to losing four of their starters from a year ago. And while they enjoyed another strong NorWOSSA season at 6-2, and then the victory in the league final over Kenora, the black-and-gold aren’t sure how they stack up against some of the top tier teams.
They lost to Fort William Colle-giate (Thunder Bay) in triple-overtime at their home tourney in December, and struggled against some of the Winnipeg teams in other tournaments.
But Muskie co-captain Travis Derkson said he likes the underdog label being bestowed upon them.
“I’d say there’s a little less pressure this time around,” he noted. “We’ll try our best. They are the stronger team coming in.”
“I think [being an underdog]give our guys an opportunity to play loose,” echoed Noonan. “[But] we know we’ve got our work cut our for us.”
OAC students Jamie Algie and Jock Gemmell have been leading the way offensively all season—and will be looked upon to do so one more time if the team hopes to return to OFSAA.
Noonan said Derkson is a potential third scoring option who can give the Colts headaches underneath. “He’s capable of doing it. He can help us inside this time,” the coach remarked.
Guards Voung Pham and Kevin Gemmell will have to use their speed in the backcourt to find their inside threats. And the Muskies received a blow when sixth man Faical Cheblaoui recently quit the team.
“It’s certainly going to reduce the depth on the bench,” Noonan said on Cheblaoui’s departure. “If you get a guy like Jamie or Jock in foul trouble, that’s one less option.”
Meanwhile, Hillcrest head coach Wayne McGill admitted his team hasn’t seen the Muskies play this season and so isn’t sure what to expect.
“We feel we can play a variety of styles,” McGill said. “It’s a situation where we’re going to have a look in that first game to see what type of team the Muskies are.
“We’re expecting a tough weekend,” he added.
The Colts are anchored by 6’8” post-threat Riley Jones. Russ Yurick, Steve Zapior, and Matt Kirychuk round out a very balanced attack that has beaten opponents by an average of 10 points this season.
But Noonan said his team is just concerned with playing their game and then seeing how things pan out.
“We’re going to have to play our best basketball with the heart and spirit they showed [at Nor-WOSSA]. If they can bring that into [this] weekend, we can beat them,” he stressed.
Game 1 is set for Friday at 1:45 p.m. at Fort High, with Game 2 on Saturday at 10 a.m. Game 3, if necessary, will go Saturday at 2 p.m.