Junior hoopsters back on top again
After a year’s absence, the Muskie junior boys’ basketball team is back on top of NorWOSSA again.
The black-and-gold, who had won four-straight titles before being knocked out in the semi-finals last season, regained the championship on home court last Wednesday with a 44-25 victory over the Dryden Eagles in the final.
“At halftime, we just told the guys to take care of the basketball and everything else will just start on defence,” head coach Jeff Vandahl noted.
“We started to execute better on defence in the second half, and we also picked up the pace a bit as we were a little slow out there in the first half, and I think that really started to make a huge difference for us,” he added.
Leading the way offensively was Grade 10 student Darren Lundgren, who netted 15 points.
“This feels amazing,” Lundgren said afterwards.
“We started off a little bit sloppy at the beginning of the season, but we got better as the season went along and I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish.”
Lundgren also agreed with the assessment of his coach, especially with how tight the first half was against the Eagles.
“The first two quarters were pretty rough out there as there was a lot of tension between the two teams,” Lundgren remarked.
“We’re all good friends off the court,” he noted. “But once you get on the court everything changes, and it ended up being really dramatic.
“But in the third quarter, we started to sink our baskets and make our shots, and we began to control the game,” he said.
Derek Kaemingh also reached double digits in the scoring department, adding 10 points to the cause.
Vandahl also was quick to cite the performances of other players on the squad.
“Kirk Johnson is kind of our energy guy out there who plays really hard on defence,” he said. “And while he doesn’t score a lot of baskets, the ones that he does score are always clutch.
“Connor McManaman was able to stay with anyone on defence, as he made a lot of steals that set up some easy buckets,” Vandahl added.
“And also we had Robert Empey, who was working hard down low with some blocks and post moves, and like Kirk he also made some clutch baskets.
“All of our players played really well today, but those were three guys that really stepped up their game,” Vandahl lauded.
Although Dryden was unable to defend its NorWOSSA junior basketball crown, the fact they made the final was quite an accomplishment given the squad that went just 1-7 during the regular season stunned the second-place Kenora Broncos 43-23 in the semi-final that morning.
“We had beaten Kenora a week ago, and we lost a close game to them a couple of days ago, so we felt pretty confident going into that game,” said Eagles’ head coach Paul Darling.
“In the final, we kept up with the Muskies in the first half,” he noted. “But in the third quarter, our short bench started to get tired and I think their bodies caught up with them and we ended up being flat-footed.
“Fort Frances always has a strong program, though, and you have to give a lot of credit to them for keeping the level of basketball high here in Northwestern Ontario,” Darling added.