homepage logo

Rugby parties like it’s 1962

By Staff | Mar 27, 2015

Photo by Lori Gronvold/PCT The Rugby Boys Basketball team poses for a photo after a state championship win. BACK ROW (left to right): Coach Brian Olson, statistician Nathan Jacobson, Chris Griffin, Trevor Longie, Ryan Michels, Brad Heidlebaugh, Zach Miller, Tyler Schmaltz, Nolan Hovland, Tanner Bernhardt, Hunter Hager, coaches Mike Santjer and Mike Heidlebaugh. MIDDLE ROW: Statisticians Christine Vetsch and Allison Heilman, videographer Isaiah Johnson, Dylan Marco, Landen Foster, Eric Hooker, Victor Gronvold, Hunter Allickson, Anders Johnson, statistician Noah Kraft, student manager Morgan Clements. FRONT ROW: Cheerleading coaches Paige Brossart and Deanne Nelson, cheerleaders Alissa Volk, Corinna Bell, Aimee York, Alyssa Mattern, Helen Johnson, Breanna Deaver, Brianna Leier and student manager Chuck Gayle.

Editor’s Note: The Rugby Boys Varsity Basketball Team won the North Dakota Class B State Basketball Championship this past Saturday, and in the process they not only lived up to their greatness they made a community proud in the process. As you will read in our Letters to the Editor, these kids are not only winners on the basketball court but they are winners in life as well. This victory was made all the sweeter for this community because it brings back special memories, just like when you are taking a summer ride, with the windows down, blowing warm air through a chilled soul of winter and that special song from years past comes on the radio and a smile broadens your face with the memories of yesteryear and the innocence of youth permeating your essence. We all know that feeling, and this victory, by these kids, brought back to life the innocence of 1962 to the all the families of Rugby who experienced that victory. Ah yes, 1962 before Vietnam, before the assassination of John F. Kennedy when the hope of Camelot still nestled in our hearts. 1962 when another set of special kids from Rugby North Dakota brought home the 1962 North Dakota State Basketball Championship. Those who were here then can close their eyes and remember when Maija Seisums, Marsha Hamilton, Bernetta Egeland & Janet Sabbe were cheering on this great team of kids, their own Rugby Panthers basketball team, then coached by Dick Vinger, with special players like Paul Presthus, Bob Bolinske, David Lysne, Ray Ellingrud, Wayne Anderson, Roger Giesinger, Douglas Stempson, Carlan Kraft, Dale Forde and Myron Sliper, That team wouldn’t be denied either and they worked hard and brought home the trophy to a loving and appreciative community and made all of Ruby proud. A victory, rumor has it, that set off parties in and around all of Rugby. Thank you, Panthers, for bringing back the memories and being as special as you are.

The lights dimmed, the speakers were so loud you could feel it in your chest, and the adrenaline pumped through 10,921 fans who witness the final boys’ basketball game of the 2014-2015 season. The spotlights all trained their gaze on the starters for both teams in the darkened arena, and tipoff for the 2015 State Boys’ Basketball Championship was just moments away. On one side was a team with 53 years between titles. On the other side was a team that beat the former in a previous state tournament appearance and in a regular season matchup.

Led by “Mr. Basketball”-winner and MVP Brad Heidlebaugh and a stifling defense, the Rugby Panthers overwhelmed the top-seeded Four Winds-Minnewaukan Indians, 54-40, to claim the school’s first state championship since 1962 – when Paul Presthus led Rugby to the Class A title. Prior to that, the Panthers were

back-to-back Class B

state champions in 1940 and 1941.

Rugby jumped on Four Winds in the first quarter, opening up a 14-2 lead and ending the quarter 16-8. Heidlebaugh scored 10 of the Panthers 16 first quarter points.

But the Indians recovered from the slow start and went on a 10-0 run, taking the lead at 18-17 and holding Heidlebaugh scoreless for the quarter. Junior Ryan Michels finally ended Rugby’s six-minute scoring drought, hitting a runner to get the lead back for the Panthers.

“We just kind of got out of our offense in the second quarter,” said Panther head coach Mike Santjer. “We needed to be more patient.”

With 50 seconds left in the second quarter and the score tied 20-20, Tanner Bernhardt hit a huge three pointer that brought the fans to their feet and Zach Miller finished the first half scoring with a lay-up off an athletic fast break, giving Rugby a 25-20 lead going into the locker room.

Just like the start of the game, Heidlebaugh took over the offense in the third quarter. He scored 11 straight points for Rugby as the Panthers opened up a 35-24 lead, and led 41-30 at the end of three quarters. Four Winds would not go away quietly, however, and the Indians battled back to cut the lead to six, two minutes into the fourth


But the Indians would get no closer as the Panthers got big fourth quarter baskets and free throws from Heidlebaugh, Miller and Bernhardt. Heidlebaugh finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Bernhardt finished with 14 points, Miller scored 9, Hunter Hager 4, and Nolan Hovland and Michels finished with two apiece.

The Panthers’ man-to-man defense was the key to winning as they smothered the high powered Four Winds offense, holding the Indians who averaged 81 points per game this season to only 40 points. Trayvon McKay, who averaged 21.6 points per game this year, finished with only two points.

Hovland, who was assigned the task of guarding McKay said, “You have to play physical against Trayvon because that’s the way he plays. I really worked tonight. Our team played so well defensively. It feels great. It feels amazing just indescribable.”

“I thought defensively, we did well tonight,” Four Winds-Minnewaaken coach Rick Smith said. “Rugby’s a great team and we fought like heck. Credit to Rugby, they’re a great defensive team.”

Tronis McKay Trayvon’s younger cousin led Four Winds with 16 points and eight rebounds, and kept the Indians in the game until the final four minutes of the game. Teammate Jason Feather also scored 10 points for the Indians, who out-rebounded Rugby 36-32.

While the seeds and history may say otherwise, the Panthers were not the underdog in this matchup. Four Winds had only narrowly the beaten Lamoure-Litchville-Marion Loboes, 51-47, the night before, and only won by single digits over the Shiloh Christian Skyhawks, 61-55, on the first day. On the other hand, Rugby demolished their competition, with two double digit wins, one of which was the biggest win the tournament had ever seen, 80-39 over the Parshall Braves.

Earlier in the season, Rugby and Four Winds met up for a rare No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the regular season. Many thought this would predict who would win the state championship, but both teams matched up so well that Four Winds won by only one point, 61-60. Many still wanted to see a rematch in the state championship, including Santjer, who after that game said, “I hope we see each other again on a Saturday in March.”

The state got their rematch, the Panthers took home a title they spent three seasons hunting for, and Heidlebaugh was the first Mr. Basketball winner to come from Rugby in the award’s 30-year history.

“Ever since last year’s loss in the state championship, our only goal this year was to win the state vhampionship,” said Heidlebaugh, who in addition receiving the Mr. Basketball award (an award presented to the best high school senior boys’ basketball player by the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters & Sportswriters Association.), was also named the tournament’s most valuable player and the state Senior Athlete of the Year. “All the other awards were just a bonus. I’m so happy for our team. They deserved it.”


Last year, the state championship saw a matchup of the top two teams in the state, the Rugby Panthers and the Oak Grove Grovers. It ended the best season the Panthers had had since 1962 with a heart-wrenching 68-58 overtime loss – their first and only loss of the season.

The Panthers avenged last year’s loss in the semifinal round of tournament play, outperforming the Grovers in every aspect of the game after the first quarter

“That game last year fueled us,” Heidlebaugh said. “We’re working towards not having the feeling of losing again. We just gotta play like we did in those last three quarters.”

Heidlebaugh had another career night with 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Miller was the real spark plug, putting up 17 points and pulling down six rebounds when the Panthers needed them most when they were down in the second quarter. Bernhardt, the team’s perimeter superstar, put up 16 points, with three makes from behind the arc.

The Grovers’ effort to upset the Panthers was spearheaded by senior Christian Adams, who was the focus of Oak Grove’s rally in the second half. He put the ball through the basket for 21 points. Isaac Olson followed up with 17 points and nine rebounds.

The first half was a back-and-forth defensive affair, but the Panthers woke up and adapted to the Grovers’ style of play in the second quarter and started to put the game out of reach. In the first three minutes of the quarter, the Panthers outscored Oak Grove 11-4 and took the lead, albeit a short one as Olson tied the game with a layup. The Panthers gave themselves a 31-25 cushion after their defense smothered them for the next two minutes. Whenever the Panthers went to the line, the mighty student section had something to stand up and cheer for, as the Panthers shot 9-10 from the line in the second quarter. And Michels, victim of a nasty fall on his ankle the previous afternoon, came back and scored three points for Rugby in the second quarter.

“We came out and got them (Rugby) confused,” Oak Grove head coach Kyle Card said, “but they were more aggressive and weren’t going to be denied.”

After halftime, Rugby came out and score five points in the first minute to further separate the teams. Adams and Miller both led in scoring in the first couple of minutes of the second half, going back and forth in a shootout battle. But as the quarter wore on, the Panthers’ many scorers’ efforts outpaced whatever Adams tried to do. Rugby extended their lead 50-39 after Bernhardt made a short trip to the line, but Olson shot a three to bring their deficit under 10. Desperately trying to rally his team to a repeat victory, Adams scored 13 points in the quarter.

The fourth quarter opened up with the Grovers employing a man defense tactic to rush the Panthers into taking bad shots. It didn’t faze Heidlebaugh as he shot a three to emphasize that point. The Panthers pulled ahead even further after Hunter Hager put in a layup under pressure, pushing the lead to 70-56. With 3:43 left, Blake Richards, a defensive force to be reckoned with, fouled out against Michels. At 79-60, Rugby had its largest lead yet, with 2:12 left in the game. In the final minute, the JV team was sent in to end the game, 81-65.


No team looked forward to the opening tipoff of the State Class B Boys’ Basketball Tournament more than the Rugby Panthers. After last year’s championship loss, there was a hunger in their eyes. The first team on the list to cross off: the Parshall Braves from Region 8.

“Our team still holds a grudge from last year,” Santjer said. “They are still hungry to finish things from last year.”

Last year, Rugby opened against the Region 8 champions, the New Town Eagles, and went into overtime. This year, there would be no overtime. The Panthers jumped on Parshall from the opening tip and opened up a 29-6 lead at the end of the first quarter, with the first 10 points from Bernhardt.

After a Braves’ timeout, Hovland put up his first two baskets of the afternoon after forcing a pair of turnovers. While Monte GoodBird ended the 5 minute scoring drought with a short jumper, Miller answered with a put-back from Bernhardt. After a trip to the line for Miller, the Panthers were up 20-4. In the final minute, Michels scored twice with a dunk and a jumper. The Panthers’ defense was tougher than it had been, holding Parshall to six points, forcing five turnovers, and getting four steals and nine defensive rebounds in an ugly first quarter.

The second quarter was almost as lopsided, as the Panthers’ swarming defense and overwhelming offense led to a 49-12 point lead. The Panthers attacked the glass as they out-rebounded the Braves 30-13 in the first half.

“We did what we’ve been doing all year,” Santjer added. On average, the Panthers held teams to a mere 38 points a game. By comparison, region 7 champs, the New England Tigers, held other teams to 42.9 a game.

Bernhardt led Rugby on offense with 22 points, and shooting 3-5 from behind the arc. On the inside, Heidlebaugh brought down 15 rebounds and put up 18 points. Miller had 16 points and Hovland – known mostly for being a defensive force – had 11.

For the Braves, Deyondre Simpson led the team with 19 points. No other Parshall player had over 10 points. Justin Roberts had six points while three of his teammates had four each.

The second half was no different from the first. Heidlebaugh put up the first points of the half and continued the momentum on defense. The Braves slowed down the pace of the game and looked a little sluggish on the floor. Late in the third, Roberts collided with Heidlebaugh in the air and had a nasty fall. The sting was worse after he was called for a charge. While the Braves’ offense appeared to struggle in the third, they played back and forth with them, scoring 19 points over Rugby’s 18. But the momentum was always with the Panthers after Bernhardt slammed one down. With 4 and a half minutes to go in the bloodbath, the Panthers hit 75 points before the Braves even got to 40. The Braves breathed a little life in them after a shot clock violation by Rugby, but there wasn’t much that could be changed. Freshman Landen Foster hit a three in the closing seconds of the game to put them at 80-39.

While the Panthers made it clear they were there to win, Michels, a valuable asset to the Panthers and the latest in a series of bad falls, landed wrong on his ankle halfway through the fourth quarter. He could be seen on crutches entering the locker rooms after the game.

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page