John Dutton was thrilled with the future prospects for his team of mostly younger talent.
Then the NWOSSAA track and field championships rolled around last week in Thunder Bay and suddenly the future instantly manifested itself in the present.
Of the six Muskies who nabbed berths at the OFSAA track and field championships, which run June 1-3 in Belleville, five of them are Grade 9 rookies on the team.
The performances of these newcomers propelled the Muskies to second place in the Midget division team standings with 131 points, behind only the Hammarskjold Vikings of Thunder Bay (193).
That served as the foundation for the black-and-gold to end up sixth out of 15 schools in the overall standings with 191 points (Hammarskjold ran away from the rest of the field with 750.50).
“I thought we were there [at that level],” Dutton said about his team’s terrific results.
“I think going to the American meets [in International Falls and Virginia, Mn.] really helped them because they got to compete against a lot of speed and power,” he noted.
“Sure, there were some disappointments,” he conceded. “But they really stuck together as a team and their efforts have paid off.”
Fort High captured 13 medals at NWOSSAA–four of them gold to clinch automatic OFSAA berths for three athletes.
Sean Huziak was a double gold-medalist in the Midget boys’ discus (37.29m) and javelin (34.55m).
“[Huziak] has been very consistent in the discus and his technique has got better and better,” said Dutton.
Huziak’s javelin success is another story altogether–and almost unbelievable.
The Grade 9 competitor picked up the spear in practice for the first time only two weeks ago to see what he could do.
“I gave him a little guidance to get him started, but the throwing coach with the Dryden Eagles saw him at the meet up there [on May 15] and recognized his natural ability right away,” Dutton recalled.
“Sean is really coachable and remembers everything you tell him,” he added. “He looks at video online that shows common mistakes by javelin throwers and he knows how to assess his throw.
“But I’ve never seen someone do this in two weeks before,” Dutton admitted.
“It’s a tribute to his athleticism and determination.”
Huziak, who also finished fifth in the shot put event, was hesitant to blow his own horn.
“For discus, I do practise more and have made hundreds and thousands of throws,” he remarked.
“The javelin is more of a surprise that I picked it up so well, but I’m far from mastering the technique,” added Huziak, who finished third in the individual Midget boys’ standings with 24 points in total.
Aaron Scheibler also grabbed two medals last week–and two OFSAA berths to go along with them.
The Muskie rookie topped the field by nearly a metre in winning the Midget boys’ shot put with a throw of 12.17m.
He then came in second to Huziak in the discus, with his toss of 36.75m surviving the challenge of second-place finishers at the NOSSA and NEOAA regional championships to qualify for the provincials as the top non-winning distance.
“Aaron knew what he had to do in shot put but even I’m surprised he won so easily,” lauded Dutton.
“He doesn’t have quite the same technique as Sean in the discus, but he is learning well and he has that size advantage,” he added.
“Whatever he is throwing feels small in his hands.”
Joining Scheibler at OFSAA will be his older brother, Sekina, the 2015 provincial champ in Midget boys’ discus who finished second in senior boys’ discus at NWOSSAA (39.64m).
He trailed only Dryden’s Michael Ryan, who set a new NWOSSAA record with his throw of 42.78m.
But it also was long enough to earn the older Scheibler a trip to OFSAA.
Also capturing gold for the Muskies was Grace Petsnick, who leapt 1.41m in leading a Fort High sweep of the medals along with silver-medalist Kamryn Sandelovich (1.33m) and bronze winner Katrina Slomke (1.30m).
Petsnick later tried to go for the meet record of 1.59m, which she didn’t make.
That’s didn’t, not couldn’t, according to Dutton.
“I know and she knows that she can jump higher, but she didn’t have to in that situation,” he noted.
“When she’s in competition with more talented girls involved, she’s going to jump a lot higher,” Dutton said.
“She has a lot to offer, that girl.”
Meanwhile, Jill Calder will be heading to her second OFSAA of the year after doing so as a member of the Muskie girls’ hockey team.
Calder figured her season was over after finishing sixth in the Midget girls’ shot put (7.17m) last week at NWOSSAA.
But when the five finishers ahead of her (four Thunder Bay athletes and one from Dryden) all opted not to attend OFSAA for various reasons, Calder found herself next in line for the automatic berth.
She found out the news via Dutton’s announcement of who had qualified–leaving her name dramatically until the end–while resting comfortably on the back seat of the team bus and unwittingly checking her phone as they prepared to leave Thunder Bay.
Her subsequent reaction of disbelief, mixed with her million-dollar smile of excitement, was captured on video by Muskie assistant coach Angela Petsnick.
It made for a heartwarming Facebook post that already has been viewed nearly 1,000 times.
“Jill decided to throw because almost everybody else in her age group that was a Muskie girl wanted to run,” noted Dutton.
“She’s so enthusiastic and tries hard all the time, and never misses a practice,” he lauded.
“She’s good for the team and I’m happy she gets the chance to go down there [to Belleville].
“I’ve never had a Grade 9 girl throw shot before,” Dutton added. “That’s why we don’t own one the right size for that age group.
Calder also finished sixth in the Midget girls’ javelin (15.04m).
Carson Noga joined Huziak and Aaron Scheibler as a two-time medal winner with a silver in the Midget boys’ 400m (57.64 seconds) behind Michael Goegan of Hammarskjold (56.81).
Noga’s clocking withstood the challenges of the other two regions to punch his ticket to OFSAA.
He then backed that up with a bronze in the 100m (12.67), with Matt Sacino of the St. Patrick Saints (Thunder Bay) first in 12.18 and Erik Speziale of the Lake Superior Stingers (Terrace Bay) in 12.57.
Other silver medals for the Muskies came through the air.
Jessica Empey was second in the junior girls’ triple jump (8.75m), behind Jo-Jo Ertl of St. Patrick (9.83m), while Ellie Petsnick took silver in the senior girls’ high jump (1.51m), trailing Lauren Perrier of the Saints (1.61m).
But neither one of those Muskie marks was enough to qualify for OFSAA.
The final medal came from Tori Toriseva, who motored to bronze in the Midget girls’ 1,500m (5:51.40).
Toriseva just was nosed out in a sprint to the finish against Ainsley Carr from the Churchill Trojans (5:50.41), with both well back of Dryden’s Madisen Lambert (5:14.36).
Nine other Muskies also gave it their all at NWOSSAA last week.
Ben Olsen almost was on the podium twice but ended up fourth in both the Midget boys’ 100m (13.73) and high jump (1.45m).
Carmen Hebert’s best finish was fifth in the Midget girls’ 400m (1:14.31), with Sarah Rittau nabbing fifth in the junior girls’ high jump (1.25m).
The Muskie 4x100m senior girls’ relay team of Jyllian Westover, Nadia Webb, Tory Beaudry, and Ellie Petsnick also took fifth (58.10).
Meanwhile, the smallest of errors nullified what otherwise was a masterful race by the Muskie 4x100m junior girls’ relay team of Sandelovich, Hebert, Calder, and Grace Petsnick.
The foursome finished in front by about 40 seconds ahead of Hammarskjold.
But both the Muskies and Vikings were disqualified for illegal hand-offs, leaving the only other team in the field (the Geraldton Knights) as the automatic winner.
Sixth-place efforts were recorded individually by Webb in the senior girls’ javelin (23.38m), Alacea Yerxa in the Midget girls’ 400m (1:19.46), and Beaudry in the senior girls’ 400m (1:18.87).
Morgan Vanderaa’s highest finish was seventh in the Midget girls’ 400m (1:23.24).
Samantha Hammond’s top results were 11th in the Midget girls’ 200m (35.08) and long jump (2.86m) while Westover took 11th in the senior girls’ 100m (14.37).
Madison Morrison closed out the Muskie results with her best showing being 13th in the senior girls’ discus (14.57m).
Looking ahead to OFSAA, Dutton said he wanted the emphasis for his athletes to be less concerned about how they measure up against the rest of the province and more how they measure up against their personal bests.
“I hope they have fun, and we’re going to be doing as much as watching [other athletes] as anything so we can learn more,” he noted.
“I’m happy if they come home happy with their performances,” Dutton added.
“It doesn’t have to have a number attached to it.”
Both Dutton and Huziak voiced hopes for an eventual upgrade of the track and field venue at Fort High to improve the team’s calibre even further.
“[The team’s prospects] look really good for the future, but now I may need to work on the powers that be to work on some of the facilities,” Dutton remarked.
“It would be nice to have an actual discus ring to practise out of,” said Huziak.
“We’ve had a decent amount of fouls this year as a team because we don’t have a ring out of which to train,” he reasoned.