Veterans bolster junior girls’ hoops squad

Dan Falloon

The Muskie junior girls’ basketball team is encouraged about the season ahead after a tournament in Dryden over the weekend.
The black-and-gold won all three of its games by a combined score of 107-20, knocking off Sioux Lookout 40-4, Kenora 31-14, and Atikokan 35-2.
While the Muskie defence was blanketing, the offence appears to be a marquee attraction as 14 of the 15 players made on the scoresheet over the weekend.
Eight of the 15 players who will suit up for the Muskies are returning from last year’s NorWOSSA-winning squad while nine also played on a spring squad that captured the ‘B’ Division Provincial Manitoba Club Championship back in May.
The team is hoping all of that experience will culminate in another NorWOSSA crown—this time in the friendly confines of Fort High—on Nov. 10.
Muskie head coach Dan Bird stressed having a strong second-year contingent will help the rookies feel welcome and learn the systems.
“They know exactly our offence and defence,” Bird said of his returnees.
At the junior level especially, the Muskies are placing a strong emphasis on mastering the basics of basketball, such as shooting, passing, and defending.
That’s an area in which Bird hopes his experienced players can help out the rookies as the season progresses.
“They’re going along with our message to work on our fundamentals,” he enthused. “They see that being strong in fundamentals just leads to wins.
“It’s a lot easier to run an offence and defence when they’re working towards being grounded in fundamentals,” he reasoned.
Bird also said the team plans to work on in-bounding plays, defending the in-bound, and the press in the coming days and weeks.
He felt implementing new ideas should be relatively easy with the bunch he has given the players tend to be receptive to constructive criticism.
“They’re just good students and they’re all coachable,” Bird enthused. “They’re very responsive to any coaching, which is a strength.
“[With] a lot of players you get, it just doesn’t seem like they practice what you preach.
“This group of kids is honed in on learning the game, so it makes coaching fun, and I think they get a lot out of it, as well,” he concluded.
In that same vein, Bird noted his squad is understanding of the need to get all players onto the court—even if that eventually means some may see a little more action than others in some tight games.
“They’re really supportive that way, which again helps us as coaches,” Bird remarked.
“Certainly, there may be times in a season where I will rely on my second-year players, and perhaps one or two of my Grade 9 players stepping up for more court time, if and when needed.
“In Dryden, we were able to rotate everyone, so pretty much everyone had equal playing time.
“I didn’t have to keep my starters on,” Bird said. “I was able to rotate six lines through.”
Judging from the weekend tournament, the defence already is in clampdown mode, having allowed just 20 points in three games.
“Last year, we had good defence, which carried our offence,” Bird recalled.
“They’re just keeping up that good defensive effort.
“They must have recognized it from last year,” he added.
“They’re so strong defensively that it really intimidates the other teams and frustrates them.”
In terms of the attack, Bird expects Alanna Walsh is primed to take the lead role.
She also plays a key part in encouraging her teammates.
“Alanna’s going to be our leader from what I saw this weekend,” he observed.
“She’s pretty vocal when she’s on the floor and when she’s on the bench,” added Bird.
Despite singling out Walsh, Bird expects big things out of his entire second-year contingent, including Jessica Robinson, Destiny Woolsey, Jessica Ash, Tara Grant, Wynona Kavanaugh, Sarah Glover, Adrian Gurski, and Jessica Caul.
Bird, meanwhile, was able to check out the Muskies’ two NorWOSSA opponents while in Dryden.
He caught Kenora first-hand, noting the Broncos are better than their 17-point loss to the black-and-gold indicated.
And while the Muskies didn’t play the host Eagles, Bird feels Dryden—last year’s NorWOSSA silver medallists—will be in the thick of things again this season.
“They’re going to be a challenge,” he warned.
“They look like they’re going to have a fairly strong team, which is good.”