Senior hoopsters ready to run-and-gun

The coming season for the Muskie senior girls’ basketball team should carry a disclaimer for spectators.
Warning: Shots will be fired from all directions. Blink at your own risk.
The Muskies plan to take a high-octane approach from the opening tip-off of the season tomorrow in Dryden as they look to avenge their loss to the Eagles in the NorWOSSA final last year.
“Last year, because we had larger players, we tried to work the clock and be patient on offence,” said Muskie head coach Darren Johnson, who has eight players back from last year’s squad.
“This year, we want to get the shot up as quick as possible,” he noted. “You’re not going to see any height, but you’re going to see some hustle.”
With team captain and starting centre Carling Barton standing the tallest of all the Muskies at just 5’9”, Johnson said it will be bombs away for his entire team.
“Every one of our girls will be shooting [three-pointers],” he pledged. “They’re pretty pumped. They knew since last year we were going in this direction.”
Barton’s role will be different than in years past as she’ll be setting more screens and taking fewer shots in the new offensive scheme. But the student, one of three in the Muskies’ lineup, isn’t losing any sleep over the transition.
“I’m not worried about the shot opportunities . . . I like to pass more, anyway,” she remarked. “It’s just going to be harder to get rebounds playing this way.”
Johnson hoped the uptempo style will be the difference against the Eagles, favoured to repeat as NorWOSSA champs and who boast two starters over 6’ tall in their lineup.
“We split with Dryden in the regular season, then had 25 more shots than them in the final but lost,” he recalled.
“Dryden is huge, so we want to get the ball down the court as fast as possible so they can’t get back on defence,” Johnson stressed.
And Barton’s not about to back down in the face of Dryden’s imposing twin towers.
“We’re not going to go out and be scared of anyone,” she vowed. “If we go and work hard, we’ll be fine.”
Two players Johnson will be relying on to carry the offensive load are veteran guard/forward Danielle McGee and returning forward Tricia Smith.
“Danielle is quick and gets a lot of lay-ups off of turnovers,” said Johnson. “I played her at guard last year but this year, I plan to play her a lot at the ‘three’ spot [small forward].
“Tricia’s just a stud. She can play against anybody,” he added.
Rookies such as forward Carley McCormick, the Most Valuable Player on last year’s junior squad, and guard Stephanie Mattson also should bolster what Johnson considered an extremely deep unit.
“From the top player on the roster to the last, there’s not that much difference in talent,” he said. “Every one of these girls is an athlete, and every one of them at some point has been a starter.
“I have no concern about whomever we have on the floor.”
< *c>Junior girls
Depth also is a strength of the Muskie junior girls’ squad, although their emphasis will be size over speed.
“We’re bigger than the senior team,” coach Mike Busch said of his two-time defending NorWOSSA championship team, which is returning six players from last year’s team that beat the Kenora Broncos in the final.
“It’s tough to pick a team out of 47 players trying out,” he admitted. “But I think the team we’ve got here gives us a good nucleus for next year.”
Busch isn’t kidding when he promises all 15 of his players will see significant court time.
“I’ll never have a set starting five, and I won’t have a set 10 or 11 who travel [for road games],” he vowed. “It will depend who we’re playing. If we play a team with all small, quick guards, I don’t want to play all our [bigger] Grade 10s.”
Rookie Grade 9 guard Katie McTavish, whom Busch described as a “firecracker,” will fill the role of defensive stopper when facing opponents boasting speedy backcourts.
The contributions from the veterans will be essential to the juniors’ success although Busch pointed to rookie Grade 10 forward/guard Taylor Harnett as one newcomer with the potential to light up the scoreboard.
“Taylor’s looked good in practice,” Busch said of Harnett, one of the late cuts from last year’s squad. “She’s worked hard on her game during the summer. I think she’ll be a big asset for us.”
Talented veteran forward/guard Rebecca Cornell knows the other NorWOSSA teams would love nothing better than to knock the Muskies off the top of the mountain.
“It’s a little bit of pressure to repeat what we did last year,” said Cornell. “But we’ve got a good mix of veterans and newcomers. I think this team is going to work together well.”
Both Muskies hoop squads face their first tests of the NorWOSSA season tomorrow in Dryden.
Their first home games will be against the Kenora Broncos this coming Tuesday, with the seniors tipping off at 3:30 p.m. in the large gym.
The juniors will be in action on the same court immediately following that game.