Senior hoopsters basking in golden glow

Lucas Punkari

It’s been nearly a week since the Muskie senior girls’ basketball team hoisted the NorWOSSA trophy in Kenora after knocking off the Dryden Eagles 32-20 in the league final last Thursday night.
But as the squad continues to prepare for the NWOSSAA championship this weekend in Thunder Bay, that feat still had yet to really sink in for some of the players.
“We are all flying high right now and we are all in shock really,” enthused Grade 12 guard and team captain Adriane Gurski.
“We were in third place going into the [playoffs] and we knew that we could beat Kenora in the semi-final, but we ended up coming out on top in the end,” she smiled.
“We went into the day feeling a little unsure of ourselves,” admitted Grade 12 forward Alanna Walsh.
“But as soon as we got that, we had that determination and the drive to go out there and win,” she stressed.
Having finished the regular season at the bottom of the three-team loop with a 2-6 record, the Muskies were the underdogs going into their semi-final battle against the second-place Kenora Broncos on their home court.
But the black-and-gold had won their previous two meetings against the Broncos, which gave them some momentum heading into the playoffs.
“I personally think that they [Kenora] were actually overconfident going into it,” Walsh reasoned.
“It was at their home court and I think they had a feeling that this was going to be an easy win.
“But we knew that we were capable of beating them, and we just had to bring it out,” she added.
After jumping out to an 11-6 first-quarter lead, the Muskies steadily built on that cushion over the rest of the contest en route to a 32-20 victory.
“It was kind of similar to our last two matches with them, where we learned to play man-to-man with them, and we focused on two of their key players at forward and at guard,” Muskie head coach Dan Bird explained.
“The girls stepped up to the challenge and our forwards really controlled the boards in that game, plus we limited those two players to just six total points on offence.
“They really controlled the tempo out there, and we just played at a fairly steady pace offensively,” he lauded.
Leading the Muskie attack was Gurski, who was the only player to get into double digits during the semi-final with a 12-point outing.
“I just really wanted it,” she stressed. “I was doing stuff that I don’t normally do out there, and I was taking more chances during that game as a result.
“I also got put on the [free-throw] line a lot and I was able to make most of my shots there,” she added.
Having knocked off the hosts, the Muskies were pumped up about playing the final that night—even though they knew they’d be in tough against a Dryden Eagles’ squad they had been unable to beat all season.
“I think we had a lot of excitement after getting the win in the game before, and I really think that playing in two games is definitely an advantage at NorWOSSA,” Walsh reasoned.
“Although we were very nervous as we had never beaten Dryden before, but [coach] Bird figured out a game plan for us and were able to shut down their key players.”
With Eagles’ sharpshooters Morgan Church and Alana Benson being in held in check, the Muskies once again took advantage of a quick start, jumping out to a 15-5 lead at halftime.
“When we started out with the lead in the first quarter, we really started to think that we could actually win this,” Gurski recalled.
“We would usually have bad first quarters and we would never get ahead like that,” noted Grade 11 forward Sarah Bagacki.
“To get a lead like that really got our confidence going, and that momentum was probably the biggest thing that helped us to win the game.”
Despite being up 23-15 heading into the final quarter, Bagacki still was worried about the Eagles storming back, especially as they had lost two close games to them earlier in the season.
“It was more nerve-wracking towards the end of the game,” she said.
“In the first half, things were pretty comfortable out there, but then you remembered that you lost a couple of games late to them in the past.”
The Muskies made sure any comeback bid was thwarted by outscoring the Eagles 9-6 in the final quarter to clinch Fort High’s first NorWOSSA senior girls’ basketball crown since the 2009 season—setting off a wild celebration on the court at the final buzzer.
“Honestly, it was a pool of tears,” Gurski said.
“Everyone was jumping around and I was personally on the ground passed out as I couldn’t believe what had
Thursday’s win also had special meaning for the Grade 12 players on the team as eight members were able to cap their NorWOSSA basketball careers with a league championship.
“That has definitely been a goal of ours since we’ve been in high school,” Walsh stressed.
“Once we got to the senior level, we really wanted to win NorWOSSA. And now we have a chance to move onto NWOSSAA and hopefully make it to OFSAA.”
In order to advance to the all-Ontarios, which will be held Nov. 22-24 in Sault Ste. Marie, Fort High will have to win a best-of-three series against the St. Ignatius Falcons, who won their third-straight Thunder Bay title on Monday night with a 47-36 win over the Hammarskjold Vikings.
While they’ve yet to face the Falcons this season, the Muskies know they’ll be in tough against a very talented squad.
“They have a lot of good players, so we have to be quick on defence and shut them down as they have a lot of taller girls,” Walsh noted.
“We also have to make sure that we are patient on offence out there, and not make any stupid mistakes.”
The official start times still were being determined as of press time, but Bird expected the best-of-three affair to get underway at 3 p.m. on Friday at St. Ignatius.
A second game would go Saturday at 9 a.m., with Game 3 (if necessary) tipping off at 1 p.m.