They were the best all season and now they also have the hardware to prove it.
The Muskie junior girls' basketball team is the cream of the crop once again as the black-and-gold claimed its third straight league title with a decisive 42-23 win over the second-place host Eagles in the NorWOSSA final on Friday afternoon in Dryden.
“I thought the girls exceeded my expectations in the final game, but that is no surprise as they have exceeded my expectations all year,” enthused Muskie coach Gord McCabe.
“The improvement we made as the year went on was pretty outstanding. I really was not sure during tryouts how good we would be as we were so lacking in height but because of how aggressive we were, it was seldom an issue.”
The Muskies, who had a bye to the final by virtue of finishing in first place during the regular season with an 8-1 record, got off to a great start against the Eagles in the championship game on Friday afternoon and jumped out an early 5-0 lead in the first quarter.
Dryden began playing better from that point on and trailed the Muskies just 11-9 after eight minutes of play.
Serena Teeple, Tatum Glowasky, and Emma Yerxa all potted baskets in the second quarter to help Fort High to a 17-14 cushion at halftime.
“Even though the game was close at halftime I was pretty confident that we were in control,” said McCabe.
“Dryden was only playing about eight players and even a couple of minutes into the third quarter you could see they were starting to tire.”
Then off the strength of Glowasky's six points in the frame, the Muskie outscored the Eagles 10-2 in the third to stake themselves to a commanding 27-16 lead heading into the fourth.
Glowasky chipped in another six points in the fourth, leading all scorers with a total of 16, to help Fort High nab their third straight title.
Ayiana Gagne chipped in with eight points in the win while Anna Gagne, Heaven States, and Grace Smith all potted four.
Emily Fitzgerald, Teeple, and Yerxa all recorded a basket to round out the offence.
“I think our tenacity and the ability of the girls to work hard for the full 32 minutes was the key to our success,” McCabe noted.
“Everyone did their job and all 11 players saw pretty regular action. We were also able to limit the damage done by Dryden's 6'2” post player.
“When she did get the ball inside, we made it pretty difficult on her by double and triple teaming and while she scored some points, she was far from dominant,” he added.
McCabe thought that the combination of Glowasky and States was pretty impressive, as Glowasky is very quick and has such an ability to score from all over the court and States is great at getting the ball to her.
“Heaven is one of the best passers I have seen in this area at the junior level,” he lauded.
“She made a couple of passes in the final that actually made my jaw drop. Both of them will be huge assets to next year's senior team.”
McCabe said that he enjoyed coaching the junior girls again this season and that they were a fun group to watch.
“I ran them very hard in practice as we had to be able to push ourselves hard to play up-tempo in games and they never complained," he praised of his players. "They took instruction and did everything they could to get better. To be completely honest, after the very first tryout back in early September I thought we would be hard pressed to retain the NorWOSSA title but all 11 of them just kept getting better and better every day.”
Moving forward, McCabe feels as though the junior squad will have to find more scoring. But a lot of that could be unlocked from the players already on the roster.
“While our Grade 9 players really improved, only Grace Smith has really shown herself to be a natural scorer and she has the chance to be very good,” he remarked.
"Monika Ruppenstein, Serena Teeple and Emily Fitzgerald all have aspects of their game that are developing very nicely but they also have areas where they really need to improve.
“Tierney Rousseau played a forward position this year but she really did so because of our lack of height,” he admitted.
"She is a very tough rebounder but her lack of height is something she will have to overcome. All of them would benefit from attending basketball camp in the summer and working on their game in the off-season.
“All of those girls have the potential to be good shooters if they keep working at it," he stressed. "When you can shoot, there is almost always a spot for you on a basketball team.”