Senior Muskies repeat as champs

The Muskie senior girls’ basketball squad is going to the all-Ontarios. Any attempt to tell Carley McCormick otherwise will be instantly dismissed as worthless propaganda.
“We can do it,” an optimistic McCormick stressed not long after the Muskies completed a tour de force NorWOSSA campaign with a 36-24 win over the Dryden Eagles in the league final last Friday in Kenora—securing their second-straight title.
The black-and-gold now head east to play the winner of the Thunder Bay high school league in the best-of-three NWOSSAA final Nov. 21-22, with the survivor advancing to the provincial ‘AA’ showdown Nov. 27-29 in North Bay.
“It’s only in our head that we can’t beat [Thunder Bay],” said McCormick. “It’s a mental block we have to get over. We have the talent to do it.”
Muskie head coach Mike Busch, who joined seven of his juniors in making the jump to the senior level this year, isn’t foolhardy enough to sell any Thunder Bay team short.
But he’s not above waving the Fort High banner in staunch belief of his troops, either.
“We know NWOSSAA’s going to be tough,” Busch remarked. “The Thunder Bay players have the chance to play eight-10 months a year on club teams. The basketball players are dedicated to a single sport.
“But we’ll have two full weeks to prepare and rest our injuries,” he added. “We know we’re close. We can beat them.”
The Muskies rolled to a 6-1 mark during the regular season, earning a bye into last Friday’s final. And the shorter road to the title paid off as Fort High played vastly better than an Eagles squad that expended immense energy in fending off the host Kenora Broncos in a tightly-contested semi-final.
“Dryden had to go all out to beat Kenora,” said first-year Muskie guard Rebecca Cornell, who exhibited great effort on both ends of the floor despite playing with a heavily-wrapped shin injured several weeks ago.
“They were tired. At the end of the game, I felt bad for them,” she added.
In a scene reminiscent of last year’s NorWOSSA final, Fort High bolted out to an 11-4 lead after one quarter, then showcased an iron-clad defence for most of the opening half to lead 22-10 at the break.
“Sometimes, we’re not always together [on the same page] when we play,” said Muskie forward Trish Smith, whose seven points in the final was second on the team to Melanie Hyatt’s 13.
“But when we click, we’re awesome,” she enthused. “I didn’t want the season to end today. But we did make a lot of mistakes, including me, personally.
“We have to fix that before NWOSSAA.”
Brittany Kamm, who spent the spring playing with a number of the Muskies on the Fort Frances regional hoops team, led the Eagles with eight points.
The talented and fiercely competitive guard played her heart out, lunging for loose balls and driving the lane fearlessly despite a bad knee she suffered in the semi-final against Kenora.
< *c>Junior joy again
Meanwhile, the Muskie junior girls made up for a series of close losses in a 1-6 regular season with their second-straight one-point win over Dryden in a 37-36 semi-final thriller last Friday in Kenora.
Having beaten the Eagles the week before here in the NorWOSSA regular season finale for their first win of the year, the Muskies brought the same intensity—and even double the confidence—into their semi-final meeting with Dryden.
Jessica Woodgate, who paced the Muskies with nine points, scored six of them in the opening quarter to put Fort High ahead 11-10 after the first.
The second quarter was one Muskie leading scorer Janelle Williamson would rather have avoided. After picking up her third foul 59 seconds into the frame, the veteran forward went down with a knee injury less than two minutes later that forced her to leave the game.
A 17-13 Muskie lead soon disappeared as the Eagles went on a 7-2 run to hold a 20-19 advantage at halftime. But Williamson, with her heavily-wrapped knee in tow, came back to start the third quarter—giving the team a lift.
The tide turned even more drastically when Dryden’s Jen Harrison, who finished with a game-high 14 points, picked up her fourth foul with 4:32 left in the quarter, sending her to the sidelines for the next seven minutes.
The Muskies rallied to lead 30-28 after three quarters, setting up a nail-biting fourth quarter.
Harrison re-entered the game with 5:38 to play, but after Brooke Cassidy’s steal and lay-up put Dryden up 34-33, the Eagles’ top gunner was tagged for her fifth and final foul with 3:34 on the clock.
Natalie Desjardins hit one of two foul shots to tie the game, but Cassidy responded with a foul line jumper that made it 36-34 Dryden. Those would be the Eagles’ last points, though, as the Muskie defence clamped down over the final two minutes.
Desjardins again went one for two from the line to make it a one-point game. Then, after three consecutive offensive rebounds for Fort High, Woodgate made the third one count with a 12-foot jumper from the left side of the basket to boost the Muskies in front with 1:25 to go.
The final minute featured a great block by Desjardins on a Brittany Bembeneck 10-footer, an over-and-back violation against Muskie guard Katie McTavish, and a three-second call against Dryden with 3.9 seconds showing on the scoreboard.
But when the subsequent in-bounds pass was fumbled by Desjardins out of bounds, the Eagles were left with 1.5 seconds to craft a miracle.
The ball was in-bounded to the foul line, where a wild Dryden shot bounced off the backboard to the right of the hoop. The rebound was put back in by Dryden, but only after the final buzzer had sounded—negating the basket and sending the Muskies into a group-hugging frenzy.
“It was pretty stressful,” Muskie coach Michelle Mosbeck said in a massive understatement. “The heat was really on. Our last three games with Dryden have been one-point affairs.
“But beating them [the previous] week really helped the girls’ confidence.”
After the wild and woolly semi-final, the Muskies ran smack dab into an unforgiving Kenora squad, who took Fort High out of its game early to compile a 27-10 lead at halftime en route to an easy 43-19 victory to claim the NorWOSSA crown.
“Our passing wasn’t as good and we didn’t take time with our shots,” said Desjardins. “But we had a great year, and it was nice to balance it out by winning two of three at the end.”
Woodgate led the Muskies with seven points in the final while Williamson had five.
Mosbeck will have the nucleus of this team back next fall, losing only Williamson, Desjardins, and guard Mackenzie Caul to the senior ranks for certain as McTavish may come back as a third-year junior player.
“We’ll have a lot of depth next year compared to this year,” Mosbeck noted. “Next year we should be even stronger.”