Senior hoopsters hungry for more Squad to host NWOSSAA final

It was suiting to deem it as a David versus Goliath match-up.
The Muskie senior girls’ basketball team—the best team during the NorWOSSA regular season with a 7-1 record—represented Goliath while the unheralded Kenora Broncos were David.
But despite their first-place showing, and a bye to the league final here Friday evening, the squad was feeling the pressure.
“You lose and you’re done for the season,” said Ashley Whalen. “I think we all realized that, so we were all nervous and scared.”
The stakes were high. Lose and you’re out; win and you move on. The pressure of success that was crushing on the Muskies’ shoulders probably equaled the immense burden they already had placed on themselves.
“I did feel it. I was hoping the girls didn’t feel it, but I think we all did,” noted head coach Mike Busch. “When you get into a one-game playoff, it doesn’t matter what kind of season you have. Anything can happen.”
It was the old cliché—they had everything to lose while the Broncos had everything to gain.
“Sport is great that way, and that’s why we all love it because anything can happen and the underdog can come through,” Busch reasoned.
Luckily for the Muskies, the Broncos forgot to bring their slingshot.
The black-and-gold were able to eke out a 31-25 win in a see-saw affair that saw them start out slow (really slow), but avoid the upset with a strong finish that gave the team its fifth-straight NorWOSSA title.
And as the Muskies let out a purifying breath in the aftermath, it was impossible to discern joy from relief.
“I was nervous, and I don’t get nervous for basketball games, but everyone was kind of quiet and jittery,” said Laura Busch, who helped the cause with six points.
“I don’t know why, but today [Friday] was weird.”
“I didn’t want this to end. I wanted to continue, but there was pressure,” admitted Whalen. “We had to keep everybody calm and help each other, and just play.”
The team’s exhaustingly hard-to-watch slow start (it was 6-5 for the Muskies after the first quarter and just a 13-10 advantage at halftime) saw them fall short on chances in the offensive end, but their dominating defence kept them in the game.
“It’s true. We do win on defence,” said Whalen. “We’re stronger on defence than we are on offence. We’re still a little shaky on offence, but on defence we’re strong.”
Carley McCormick stepped up as the offensive leader with 12 points against Kenora, but it was players like Megan Soderholm, Mackenzie Caul, Rebecca Cornell, and Busch on the defensive end, and the contributions from the bench, which proved to be the difference in the narrow victory which easily could have turned into a humiliating loss.
“The bench came out strong for us today,” said Busch. “They gave the older girls a rest so they could go in the last six minutes and finish this game.”
In their first team meeting of the season, the Muskies set out three key goals for themselves:
•go undefeated in the NorWOSSA regular season (they finished 7-1);
•win NorWOSSA (did it); and
•win NWOSSAA (we’ll soon see).
Certainly the black-and-gold will be in for a tough test when they host the Thunder Bay champs Nov. 26-27 in the best-of-three showdown with a berth to the all-Ontarios on the line.
It’s still unknown who they will be facing, but the Churchill Trojans are expected come out of the always talented conference this season.
The Muskies faced the Trojans in tournament action four times this year, winning one of those games.
That one win, where they allowed just three points in the second half, came the only time they played here in Fort Frances, so the Muskies will be looking to take advantage of the home court.
“These girls are a lot closer to beating Thunder Bay than they were last year,” said Busch. “They have to come here this year. They have to come into our house.”
But everyone must step up. From the starters to the bench, the young to the old, everyone must add a new level to their play, which they have up to now been doing.
“The difference between now and the beginning of the season is our younger girls got better and our older girls got more confidence in the younger ones,” said Busch.
“Our bench has to play huge for us,” he stressed. “Our five starters can play with their five starters. Our six girls on the bench have to be able to play with their six girls on the bench.”
But the Muskies were allowed to celebrate for at least a bit before they “get back to business.” They posed for pictures with their gold medals wrapped snugly around their necks, and the NorWOSSA trophy placed in the middle and welcomed like an old friend.
And one thing was clear—the Muskies have become the gold standard. What beluga is to caviar and Boardwalk is to Monopoly, they are to NorWOSSA senior girls’ basketball.
With the echo of applause filling the gym, the Muskies—even though they fulfilled their pre-season goal of winning NorWOSSA—are not yet satisfied and already were thinking two weekends ahead to where their true ambitions lie.
“People should come out and watch because we’re the home [team] and we’re going to win,” said Whalen. “We’re going to show them what basketball is all about and show them that girls can kick butt.”