Strain, Roach honoured as top Muskies

Dan Falloon

Fort High’s two athletes of the year came from two very different paths.
Josh Strain, for instance, already had earned two MVP awards—taking the honours in track and field honours before sharing the senior boys’ basketball nod with Justin Anderson.
“I didn’t really see it coming,” admitted Strain. “I was expecting maybe to get the track and field award, but I guess I got co-MVP for basketball.”
Sara Roach, on the other hand, was a little bit of a different story this past season—flying a little more under the radar until she was recognized for her consistent effort and ability across volleyball, basketball, and soccer.
In the end, no one was more surprised than Roach, who was at a loss for words moments after receiving the award last Thursday night at Fort High.
“Great! I really am speechless,” she enthused. “I don’t really know what to say.”
Roach was a key cog on the NorWOSSA champion senior girls’ basketball team that dumped Kenora 28-12 in the league final to advance to NWOSSAA.
Coach Ian Simpson called Roach “a coach’s dream,” and credited her for both her defensive ability and the ease with which she transitions from defence to the attack.
“On occasion, we would extend our defence and press full court, and she was part of the front line of the press and did an exceptionally good job in turning the ball over,” he lauded.
“Defence was her strong point,” Simpson added. “She worked hard and was so quick, and managed to get us a lot of turnovers, and got a lot of lay-ups.
“She’s very tenacious. She’s quick, she’s strong,” he noted. “Her skills are developing nicely.”
Simpson also said Roach is a player with a tendency to come up big when games are one the line.
“The thing about Sara is that if you needed a basket, she’d get it for you,” he remarked.
“If there was a time in the game where it was critical that you score, even if she hadn’t been scoring to that point, she would score when you needed her to.”
And regardless of whether the comeback bid was successful or fell short, Simpson credited Roach with handling each possible outcome in the right way.
“She’s an exceptionally classy athlete,” he praised. “She accepts defeat gracefully and she wins with class.
“[She’s] one of the best people you could have on your team.”
Roach also suited up for the Muskie girls’ soccer team that earned a surprise berth in the NorWOSSA final last month after upsetting second-place Dryden in the semi-finals.
But they fell to Kenora with a berth at the all-Ontarios on the line.
Strain, meanwhile, had an exceptional year in track and field, setting new highs in triple jump (13.24 metres), high jump (1.83 m), and long jump (6.08 m), which earned him the right to compete at the all-Ontarios earlier this month in the triple jump and high jump.
He said the regional qualification meet in Thunder Bay, where he felt his jumps started to improve dramatically, was what stood out for him over the past year.
“[My highlight] was definitely at NWOSSAA when I started getting all my personal bests,” Strain reminisced.
“That was a really good feeling.”
Strain also nearly helped the Muskie senior boys’ basketball squad advance to OFSAA for the first time since 2001.
The black-and-gold were felled by the Sir Winston Churchill Trojans 2-1 in the best-of-three NWOSSAA final, including a heartbreaking 50-49 defeat in the deciding game.
Strain noted that even in defeat, that third game was one of the most memorable games in which he’s played.
“Basketball was really good, except we went and lost [at NWOSSAA]. But even though we lost, it was a really good experience,” he enthused.
He and Anderson, among others, already are getting ready for the upcoming season, looking to crack the OFSAA level before the Muskie drought hits a decade.
“Every year, after basketball season ends, we’re already looking forward to the next season,” Strain remarked.
“All summer we played, me, Justin, his little brother [Will], and Caleb [McIntosh]. All of us used to play and practice anticipating next season.
“We had a really good team this year, and most of the people on the team are coming back next year, as well,” he added.
“We’re going to have a better team next year with some junior players coming up from Grade 10,” he vowed.
Another multiple winner was Steve Romaniuk, who won both the senior boys’ volleyball MVP and boys’ soccer MVP, along with the Douglas Morrow Memorial Award for academic and athletic achievement.
Romaniuk was forced to overcome obstacles in both sports since he didn’t carve out his role on the soccer team until this season. And it was a huge step ahead for Romaniuk this year, as he generally was charged with shutting down the opponents’ top attackers.
“Grade 9 and 10, even 11, I didn’t know where I fit in and stuff,” he admitted. “I wasn’t playing much, wasn’t getting a lot of playing time.
“In Grade 12, I found a position at left fullback and I got to play a lot there, so I was excited about that.”
In volleyball, meanwhile, Romaniuk was voiceless for much of the season, which was difficult for him to deal with as a setter.
“I don’t really know what I had, but I couldn’t really talk for about two months,” he recalled. “It was kind of hard to yell and stuff, and that’s what you’ve got to be doing as a setter.
“I just yelled, and half the time you couldn’t understand me or my voice was squeaking.”
Both of Romaniuk’s teams had regular seasons in sharp contrast to each other, but suffered tough playoff defeats.
The first-place soccer team suffered a shocking defeat in the NorWOSSA final, falling 3-2 on penalty kicks to the Dryden Eagles, while the winless volleyball team fell in the NorWOSSA semi-finals.
Still, Romaniuk noted the NorWOSSA semi was one of his most enjoyable matches.
“[It] was really a lot of fun, and we played really good,” he enthused.
“It was probably one of the best games I’ve ever played in, so I’m happy with that, even though we didn’t win.”
There were a number of other multiple award winners at last Thursday’s banquet, including:
•Colton Spicer—male rookie of the year and boys’ hockey rookie of the year;
•Sian Donald—letterman award (for competing in 10 sports) and most improved player for senior girls’ basketball;
•Brandon Sinclair—MVP for junior boys’ volleyball and junior boys’ basketball;
•Anikka McTavish—girls’ soccer MVP and an athletic certificate (for participation in eight sports);
•Nicole Mueller—letterman award and the girls’ soccer outstanding contribution award; and
•Jolene Stahn—senior girls’ basketball MVP, athletic certificate, the Golden Plunger (the Muskie Sports Association’s award for outstanding contribution), and the Brent Ogden Award for sportsmanship and perseverance.
The other award winners were:
•Andre Valenzuela—football MVP;
•Cody Hunsperger and Eric Duffy—football rookies of the year;
•Alex McDonald—golf MVP
•Caitlin Sande—junior girls’ volleyball MVP;
•Samantha Jewett—senior girls’ volleyball MVP;
•Chantal Jodoin—junior girls’ basketball MVP;
•Gavin Moorhouse—junior boys’ basketball hardest-working player;
•Cassandra Spade—junior badminton MVP;
•Chelsea Carlson—senior badminton MVP;
•Liz Steele—cheerleading MVP;
•Brittany York—cheerleading rookie of the year;
•Ethan Jordbro—boys’ curling MVP;
•Carley Busch—girls’ curling MVP;
•Erika Anderson—girls’ hockey MVP;
•Courtney Bethune—girls’ hockey rookie of the year;
•Donovan Cousineau—boys’ hockey MVP;
•Jake Witherspoon—boys’ soccer outstanding contribution; and
•Danielle Jean—female rookie of the year.
Lakehead University women’s basketball coach John Kreiner was guest speaker for the evening.
Simpson felt Kreiner had an important message for the athletes because he was able to make it out of Timmins to achieve success at a higher level.
“He’s from the north, so he understands the problems of athletes in the north, but he’s also an example that you can overcome geography with hard work,” Simpson remarked.
“You’ve got to want it,” he stressed. “There are a lot of people with talent, but only the ones that want it make it.”