They prided themselves on being a good defensive team all year but it was their defence that let them down when they needed it the most.
The Muskie senior girls' basketball team allowed a season-high in points against as they dropped a 55-45 decision to the host Dryden Eagles in the NorWOSSA final on Friday evening.
Fort High was denied a second straight league title and a return trip to the NWOSSAA championship with the tough defeat to their longtime rivals.
“This was not the way it was supposed to happen, unfortunately, we had an almost perfect storm of things go wrong,” lamented Muskie coach Gord McCabe.
“We had a couple of key players who were sick and although they tried hard, they simply were not themselves. We just did not play the type of basketball we have played most of the year.”
The second-ranked Eagles pounced on the Muskies early in the championship game on Friday and led 13-8 after the first quarter.
The top-seeded Muskies then found themselves down by as much as 21-10 in the second, but Jamie Spencer nailed back-to-back three-pointers as part of an 9-2 run to trim it to 23-20 at halftime.
“We never got our fast break game going and—with the exception of Jamie Spencer—our shooting was not what it normally is,” McCabe conceded.
"But it was really our defence that let us down. We pride ourselves on our defence and yet Dryden scored 55 points. That is the most they had scored all year against anyone and the most we have given up except for one game against Hammarskjold.
“It was even more disappointing as we had a great week of practice leading up to NorWOSSA but the team I had seen all week was not the team I saw on the floor Friday night,” he added.
“I take a lot of responsibility. I did not do a very good job of making the type of in-game adjustments I normally do.”
Dryden then outscored the Muskies 13-10 in the third quarter before salting the game away with a 19-point frame in the fourth.
Spencer finished with a team-high 22 points in the season-ending loss while Keisha DeBungie chipped in with seven points and Grace Petsnick added six.
Janissa Judson notched five points while Alina Eldridge and Simone Payne both scored a basket each and Aurora Hutton made a single free throw.
“I did not want the girls to know this but I was absolutely exhausted when the game started,” McCabe admitted.
“Catching the bus at 7 a.m., sitting in bleachers all day, coaching a pretty intense junior game during the afternoon left this 'old' guy running on fumes. While I don't want to overemphasize my role as coach, looking back I could have made some in-game changes that I just didn't pick up on,” he reasoned.
“I pride myself on my ability to do that but it just was not there on Friday. Having said that, give full credit to Dryden,” he stressed.
"They had more intensity than we did right from the opening tip. We had said all week we needed to stop their 'Big Three' and yet all three of them had the best games I have seen them play . . . ever!
“According to the game sheet, those three players scored 53 of their 55 points, so I think you can say we failed pretty miserably in executing our game plan,” he remarked.
Moving forward, the Muskies will be losing each of Spencer, Petsnick, Eldridge, Judson, Rachel Anderson, Carmen Hebert, Payne, and Bella Ward to graduation.
McCabe also said that he is considering taking a step back from coaching, although he has not made a final decision yet.
But he believes the senior squad will still have another strong season next year.
“If anyone was overly emotional at the end of the game, it was probably me,” he said.
"This was not just the abrupt end of a season for me, it was the end of an era. Of the 12 girls on this year's team, I have coached seven of them for four years and the other five for three.
“That has never happened to me before in all my years of coaching," he noted. ”I loved working with these young ladies and I am going to miss them terribly.
“Although there are eight graduating seniors, the cupboard is far from bare,” he stressed.
"Aurora Hutton, Keisha DeBungie, Joanna Empey and Becca Jourdain should all be back. We had three girls in Grade 11 this year who did not make the team after playing in junior and I really hope they come back.
“There are also seven players moving up from junior, so once again there may be competition for spots,” McCabe revealed.
“Dryden will be very good next year as both their starting guards were in Grade 11, but I think the Muskies should definitely be in the hunt for the NorWOSSA title again.”