By the time the dust settled Saturday morning, a chance for a berth to the all-Ontarios was long gone.
But it was an impressive season for the Muskie senior boys’ basketball team nonetheless.
The St. Ignatius Falcons won both games to sweep the best-of-three NWOSSAA championship held Friday and Saturday in Thunder Bay.
The Falcons advanced to OFSAA, slated for March 4-6 in Timmins, while the Muskies were left to look forward to a bright future for the senior program.
“We played great,” co-coach Greg Ste. Croix enthused. “We knew we were up against a great team and they earned two wins.
“Our team played extremely hard [but] we needed a little more scoring depth on offence and our defence needed to sustain its high level for all four quarters,” he noted.
Still, it was a banner season for the black-and-gold, which included compiling a 7-1 record in regular-season league play before downing the Dryden Eagles in the NorWOSSA final to snag gold.
The Muskies also won the Kenora Invitational Tournament and finished with a bronze medal at the Falcon Invitational Tournament, so the season was a huge success in the eyes of Ste. Croix and his players.
“We had a terrific season, 7-1 regular NorWOSSA season, a third-place finish at the FIT, and we won the KIT earlier in the month,” Ste. Croix enthused.
“[I’m] very proud to be able to coach a great group of young men.”
As for the season-ending NWOSSAA games, the Falcons started strong in winning the opener 58-43 on Friday afternoon.
Kobi Ward had a nearly 30-point performance to pace the Muskies’ offence in that one.
The Falcons then showed off more of their excellent basketball skills in rolling to a convincing 61-40 romp in Game 2 the following morning to snag gold and leave the Muskies settling for silver.
“The Falcons are a very skilled team and their skilled players played at a very high level,” Ste. Croix said.
“They also have a little more depth in their lineup and they are well-coached.
“Our defence was stifling for most of Game 1,” he recalled. “When they switched to zone [defence], we were able to knock down a couple of ‘threes’ and had an open lay-up, which forced them back to man [defence].
“We were able to handle their pressure,” he added. “We [also] missed 10-of-12 free throws in Game 1, which you can’t do against St. Ignatius.
“Down the stretch we ran out of gas.
“In Game 2, they made some adjustments and ran us through a lot more screens, and they were able to make some open shots,” Ste. Croix noted.
“No. 10 on St. Ignatius hit a lot of ‘threes,’ which changed the dynamic of the game.
“They were able to force us into some tough shots,” he added. “We didn’t score the basketball as well as we wanted.”
Looking ahead, the Muskies will be losing four players to graduation in Ward, Joel Ottertail, Ben Smith, and Brandon Larson.
Ste. Croix noted the latter easily had been the squad’s “hardest-working player I’ve seen since Gavin Moorhouse.”
“I hope they approach whatever challenges in the future the way they worked on the court,” he said of his graduating players.
“They always gave us great work ethic.”
Those returning for next season include Mike Vanderaa, Dominic States, Ayden Gushulak, Brady Meeks, Sean Huziak, Kaden Kocuiba, Wyatt Richards, and Jacob Albright.
“Hopefully, all eight guys will be back next year,” Ste. Croix said.
“They need to keep growing as players and people,” he conceded. “Fundamentally, we need to keep working and growing.”
While it is tough to say what the outlook will be like for next season’s senior team, Ste. Croix said that with the eight returning players, it “should be a good start.”