The Muskie junior girls’ basketball team used its press to impress at the NorWOSSA playoffs here last Wednesday.
The black-and-gold busted out the press in both the semi-final and final, first downing the Kenora Broncos 21-15 before shutting down the Dryden Eagles 36-29 to earn their second-straight NorWOSSA gold medal.
The press played a particularly important role in the final as Fort High fell behind 19-9 in the second quarter after the Eagles reeled off 12-straight points.
The Muskies then put on the press, getting a couple of quick baskets before the half to cut the deficit to 19-13 at the break.
The black-and-gold took total control in the third, reeling off 10-straight points to start the frame while outscoring Dryden 18-4 overall in the quarter.
“In the second game, once we got our press established, that’s where we made our comeback,” noted Muskie head coach Dan Bird.
“Dryden’s a good team but when the girls realized that they could come back that quick, they knew that what we practised, if they did it right, we had a great chance to win,” he added.
“You could just see the confidence level come up on our bench.”
Muskie captains Alanna Walsh and Sarah Glover raved about Bird’s game-planning as it helped the black-and-gold get back in the game before digging too deep a hole.
“When someone brings that sort of play onto you, it screws up your game,” explained Walsh, whose nine points in the final led the team.
“They started making silly mistakes and we fed off that.”
“It’s very intimidating,” added Glover, who scored six points against Dryden, as did Keira Lindgren.
The pair felt the strategy allowed the Muskies to really get rolling, forcing the Eagles into a powerless position.
“We kind of switched roles,” noted Glover.
“In the first half, we were making silly mistakes, and then in the second half, they were making silly mistakes,” echoed Walsh.
Mistakes aside, Bird felt the main reason for their first-half struggles was that the effort wasn’t quite up to snuff, causing the hosts to fall behind early.
But once the press was instituted, the Muskies got fired up and gained confidence.
“We were dragging our feet [in the first half],” Bird acknowledged. “At halftime, they listened.
“If we start out that way in the second half, all we need is two hoops and you’re going to see the worry in their faces,” he had told his players.
“They jumped on it. They took advantage of it.
“It was nice to see the girls work that hard at the end of the season and have it pay off like that,” Bird added.
Bird was thrilled with the play of his two captains.
“A player like Alanna Walsh, she stepped up to bat when we needed her most,” he lauded. “She has been struggling down the stretch, but she stepped it up when we needed her most.
“I was really happy to see that,” he enthused.
“Glover really controlled the boards today [Wednesday], as well as our other forwards that were on the court,” Bird continued.
“We had a few lapses there, but overall we controlled the boards in both games and that was the difference.”
In the semi-final that morning against Kenora, Bird was thrilled to outlast the Broncos—a team that had given Fort High trouble over the course of the season and certainly not a squad the Muskies could look past.
He said shutting down Kenora’s big guns was key, and that’s exactly what his team did.
“Kenora’s played tough, and that’s a team we were really concerned about,” Bird admitted. “They have two solid players and we kind of shut them down.
“We stuck with them for three quarters, and our new press paid off,” he added.
Walsh and Glover had another secret for the team’s success: unity.
“Once you get closer as a team, you play better,” Walsh reasoned.
“Once one person starts cheering, the whole bench gets going, gets pumped coming out.”
The pair also lauded the coaching staff of Bird and Mike Krueger for helping to pump up the team in the close games.
“Mr. Bird and Mr. Krueger, they’re great coaches because they know what to say, they’re never too hard on you,” said Walsh.
“They know what to say to get your head in the game.
“You can’t get down,” she stressed. “That’s the thing with Mr. Bird. If you get down, you’re going to play worse.”
That confidence and the closeness of the players kept the atmosphere on the bench positive as the team fought to battle back.
“We all just supported each other,” Walsh remarked. “When someone made a mistake, you didn’t get mad at them.
“We said, ‘Okay, you got this, you can do it.’
“Positive energy really helped us out in the second half.”
Glover added although several players will move up to play on the senior squad next year, the team plans to remain close off the court.
“We’re going to keep this bond throughout our years,” she stressed.
“Sports makes friends.”
Bird said he’s excited about the prospects of his returning players given a number of Grade 9s had key roles leading up to the league crown this year.
He said he hopes to see the players return in the spring as the team will get together to play in a tournament or two.
“We’ve got some good Grade 9s coming down the stretch,” Bird enthused.
“That’s a real confidence builder for our program for next year.”
And so was the win as the younger players learned how to overcome some adversity—and figured out how to win the hard way.
“It’s one of those wins that you want to experience, to come back like that,” reasoned Bird.
“That’s going to pay dividends.”