After a six-year absence from the position, former Fort High principal Ian Simpson is back as a coach for the Muskies.
He and his daughter, Marla, are heading this year’s senior girls’ basketball team and he’s loving every minute of it.
“It’s wonderful being back,” Simpson remarked. “I’ve missed working with the kids and I’ve missed coaching.”
Simpson has 23 years of coaching experience under his belt spread across football, track, and basketball. And the Muskies will need every bit of that wisdom since the squad only boasts four returning players.
Gone are players like Laura Busch and Ashley Whalen, who were inside threats. So, too, are Rebecca Cornell and Carli McKinnon, who were the team’s scoring threats.
As such, the team will face a tough task if it hopes to claim its sixth-straight NorWOSSA crown (Mike Busch was the head coach for those teams, which did well against NorWOSSA competition but couldn’t get by the Thunder Bay teams at the NWOSSAA level).
“By normal standards, this would be a building year,” Simpson noted.
“I think we have a good group of athletes and I think we’ll take our lumps at the beginning of the season,” he added. “But by mid-season, we’ll be a team to be reckoned with.”
The Muskies will be counting on returning players like Katie McTavish to carry the ball up the court, Megan Soderholm and Janelle Williamson to be threats underneath the basket, and Natalie Desjardins to be a mid-range jumper and defensive stopper.
It should be interesting to see which player will be designated as the “go to” scorer when they’re in need of a basket. In fact, it very well might be one of the eight newcomers on the team.
Those kinds of decisions, of course, will be made by the coaches. And this weekend’s tournament in Thunder Bay, which will pit the Muskies against some tough Thunder Bay squads, should provide them with a base from which to build on.
“This will be a learning situation. We’re going to take time to look at the players and it’s going to be an opportunity to see other teams,” said Simpson, noting that because of the abundance of first-year seniors, the black-and-gold won’t be a fast-tempo team, though they won’t be a slow transition one, either.
“I want to be able to look at opportunities without forcing things,” reasoned Simpson, who also noted he liked how well the team was getting along at such an early stage in the season.
“Team chemistry is huge and I’ve seen lots of teams with superior athletic ability lose because they didn’t have team chemistry,” he said. “I think this is a good group of girls—they’ve got attitudes and listen and try.”
The Muskie junior girls’ basketball team also has a new coach this season. Last year’s coach, Michelle Mosbeck, is pregnant, so Dan Bird, who was an assistant coach for Busch with the senior squad a year ago, has stepped in.
“I was offered the position to coach this team and I heard that Ian wanted to get back in it, so I asked what Ian wanted to do and he chose to do the seniors and I said I’ll do the juniors,” explained Bird.
But it’s not like Bird is unfamiliar with being a head coach. He’s been part of the basketball program at St. Francis School for the past four seasons, so he had a general idea of what kind of players he would be seeing at the tryouts.
“I had a core eight of girls that I knew would be on the team and it came down to weighing different things for the other selections,” he noted, adding the teams has five returning veterans.
And making those selections was a tough process for Bird. “For me it’s really tough because I hate saying no.”
Unfortunately, Bird had to say no to 10 players to leave him with a roster of 16, which is a huge amount for a basketball team—but not when that squad is all about development.
Still, this was a team that won NorWOSSA just last year. “I don’t want to jinx them, but I think we have the skill level to be in that gold-medal game,” Bird remarked.
“I kept as many players as I thought wanted to improve their skills,” added Bird. “This is the first year for some of these players, and they’re a good bunch of kids and very coachable.
“I think that everything is going to pan out—that’s the plan.”
Grade 12 student Craig McTavish, a veteran Muskie basketball player, is offering his help as an assistant coach and Bird is very appreciative.
“He came forth and wanted to be of some help, and there’s no way I’m going to turn away help. He’s been great,” Bird said of McTavish, who is available to help coach since he’s not eligible to play football because of the four-year rule observed by the Winnipeg High School Football League.
The juniors were in Dryden last weekend for a six-team tournament, where they went undefeated against Dryden (Gold), Sioux Lookout, and Atikokan to capture second place behind Dryden (Blue), which took top honours due to a better point differential.
Heading in, Bird said the tournament was key to the team since it would give the players a chance to experience game situations and him the opportunity to see how Kenora and Dryden matched up to them.
“It’s always good to get a look of the other teams and see what they have in terms of size and talent level,” noted Bird, who said he would make sure all his players got some playing time in Dryden.
“I want these girls to get some playing time so that when the season does start, they don’t have the big jitters,” he reasoned.
Both Muskie basketball squads open the NorWOSSA regular season next Tuesday (Sept. 27) in Dryden.
Here are the rosters for the senior and junior girls’ basketball teams:
Senior team—Natalie Cain, Kristina Caul, Michelle Cournoyer, Natalie Desjardins, Emily Haggberg, Blaire Harnett, Alyssa Holliday, Katie McTavish, Megan Soderholm, Lindsey Wachter, Janelle Williamson, and Jessica Woodgate
Junior team—Cassie Caul, Justine Chiefson, Rachel Dutton, Nicole Fontana, Feather Friday, Robyn Gurniak, Lauren Gurski, Danielle Gustafson, Jennifer Hawley, Jamie Holliday, Rylee Nixon, Ashlee Nordstrom, Laura Richardson, Alyssa Vanderaa, Paula Vangel, and Kayla Windigo.