Sr. hoopsters keep heads high despite crushing loss

Dan Falloon

The Muskie senior girls’ basketball team was oh-so-close to the result it had been hoping for.
But a gold-medal showing on home court just wasn’t in the cards for the black-and-gold as they fell 38-36 to Dryden in the NorWOSSA final here last Wednesday.
Fort High, which went 7-1 during the regular season to earn the bye to the final, took an early 6-4 lead but the Eagles then went on a 15-3 run to grab a 19-9 lead.
After the Muskies pulled to within 21-18 at the half, their defence came up big in the third quarter as the offence chipped in a few points to put the hosts up 26-25 heading to the fourth.
But the Eagles, who had beaten Kenora in the semi-final earlier Wednesday, were determined, jumping out to a 37-31 lead with 2:30 to play.
Although Fort High put up five points in the following two minutes, the team was unable to find one extra basket to fall 38-36.
Chelsea Hill led the Muskies with 11 points while Sara Roach had eight and Erika Moffitt seven.
Morgan Church was the thorn in the Muskies’ side, scoring 20 points for Dryden.
Muskie coach Ian Simpson knew going in that the final would be a challenge, and a bit of tentative play in the opening minutes cost the Muskies some momentum going forward.
“I knew going into it that it was going to be a tight game,” Simpson admitted. “I think we were nervous coming out of the gate and we fell behind.
“We were playing catch-up after that,” he noted.
“We fell a little short in the first half,” Simpson added. “We had some jitters and made some bad passes that came back to haunt us.”
Still, Simpson credited the Eagles for their fine play, with no shame in losing to that squad.
“For either team to win, they had to play their best game,” he reasoned. “I just think that Dryden played a very good game.”
Simpson was pleased the Muskies were able to make a game of it after falling behind by double-digits, charging back to take the leading heading into the fourth quarter.
“They showed a lot of heart,” he lauded. “They kept coming back. They never gave up.
“This team has been like that all year.
“The work ethic was amazing,” Simpson continued. “They just kept coming and coming and coming.
“I was exceptionally proud of them.”
With such a close score, Simpson acknowledged it’s not hard to think about what could have been if one or two plays had gone differently.
Fort High left a few points on the court with its foul shooting—and it was the couple of timely missed points that ultimately did the squad in.
“They didn’t score a lot of points, so I don’t think our defence is what caused us to lose the game,” Simpson noted.
“I think it was our failure to generate offence.”
One solution that Simpson considered, but rejected, was to start the press earlier in order to generate some points.
The move was successful in the waning minutes of the final, but he didn’t apply it earlier for fear of the strategy being solved.
“You always second-guess yourself—‘Could I have pressed earlier?’—but I don’t think so,” Simpson said.
“After you press for a certain amount of time, the other team figures out how to handle it,” he reasoned.
“I didn’t press earlier because I wanted to save it for the last few minutes.
“If you start pressing at the beginning of the fourth quarter, by the end of the fourth quarter, most teams will have figured out how to beat the press,” he stressed.
Defensively, Simpson decided not to afford Church any extra treatment given the team essentially was forced to pick their poison.
“They’ve got two or three very good players, and she’s probably the best of them,” he remarked.
“We didn’t pay any special attention to her [Church]. We just tried to solidify our defence all the way around.
“If you overbalance and try to take care of her, then they had a couple other players that could step up and make the shots,” Simpson said.
“[Halle] Lobreau made a couple of long three-pointers.
“If we did overcompensate and did try to pay more attention to Morgan Church, then one of the other two would hurt us.”
Simpson did say a couple of Muskies shone particularly bright in the final, including the unsung Jennifer McDowall.
“We had some good games from a couple of kids,” he noted. “Jennifer McDowall had her best game of the season in a losing cause.
“I was certainly impressed and pleased with the way she played.
“Again, she had a couple of jitters and was nervous and tentative in the first few minutes of the game, but in the second, third, and fourth quarters, she worked really hard and did a great job,” Simpson praised.
The other notable player was Hill, who took her skills to the next level in the latter part of the season.
“Chelsea, in the last three or four games of the season, has emerged as the player we’ve always known she could be,” Simpson said.
“She worked hard. She led the team by example. She’s just done a tremendous job rebounding.
“At the foul line, she was always someone we could count on to make her free throws and to be our main offensive threat,” he observed.
“She’s really improved over the course of the season, both physically and mentally.”
Simpson also saluted Moffitt, who should return to lead the team next season.
“She made a great contribution in the second quarter to bring us back in the game before the end of the first half,” he recalled.
“She really did generate a lot of offence for us.”
Despite losing veterans like Hill, Roach, and Jolene Stahn to graduation, Simpson foresees the Muskies will be right in the thick of things in 2011.
“I think you’ll see next year a team that has more ball handlers,” he predicted. “I think you’ll see a team that has reasonable height.
“It’ll be a balanced team, and I think they’ll be very successful,” he added.
“We’ll be up there like we were this year, challenging.”
Simpson said he’s learned how to win and lose over the years, but acknowledged it would have been fitting for the girls on this year’s squad to earn the NorWOSSA title.
“It was a disappointment for me because this was such a great group of kids,” he remarked. “Their work ethic, their behaviour in practice, they were just a joy to coach.
“I’ve coached for over 30 years, but this was one of the best groups of kids that I’ve ever coached.”