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Panthers gear up for state

By Sue Sitter - | Mar 20, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Coach Mike Santjer, left, talks strategy with members of the Rugby High Panthers at practice March 15.

Ahead of the North Dakota High School Activities Association State Basketball Tournament in Minot the weekend of March 20, the Rugby High Panthers fine-tuned their skills in their home gym.

Rugby would face the number three-seeded Edgeley-Kulm-Montpelier Rebels in the quarterfinals.

“They have some size and they’re pretty methodical,” Panthers Head Coach Mike Santjer said of the Rebels, who have eight players over 6 feet tall. The Rebels’ tallest player, Chayse Entzi, stands 6 feet, 7 inches and plays both forward and center for the team.

“We’ve not played them,” Santjer said of Edgeley-Kulm-Montpelier. “We’ve seen them play on video.”

“They don’t make a lot of errors,” Santjer said. “They’re a good team. They’re a really good team.”

To take the quarterfinals, Santjer said the Panthers were “going to have to cut down on some of our turnovers and play good basketball in order to beat them. Our defense has to be really good, especially. Our bigs have to be able to rebound and keep the shots off the glass,” Santjer said of the taller Panthers.

The Panthers’ road to state this year began with a tinge of sadness at a 2020 state tournament that shut down due to a global pandemic. It ended with two games against District 11 rivals the Bottineau Braves, one for districts and one in the championship round for regionals.

“The last four minutes of the game didn’t go how I would’ve wanted,” Santjer reflected. If we’d have played the last four minutes like we’d played the previous 28, we would’ve (won by a higher score).”

Santjer said he was glad to get all of the players off the bench in the final minutes of the regional championship, however.

“With this group of kids this year, we have our reserves. It’s five seniors, five juniors and five sophomores. It felt good to give the juniors their chance on the court, then the sophomores their chance to finish the game,” Santjer said.

“We have some depth. We have some kids we can take off the bench if we need to and fit their role. So, we’re pretty excited about where we sit this year,” he added.

The number one seed for state, Four Winds-Minnewaukan’s Indians were matched against Shiloh Christian’s Skyhawks in their state quarterfinal game.

The Panthers had faced both in their regular season, losing to both while dealing with illness and injuries.

“We were fortunate to play them early (in the regular season), so we’re glad they’re on the other side of the bracket so the only time we’d meet them would be if it was the championship game,” Santjer said of Four Winds-Minnewaukan. “So, we’re set up right where we want to be so hopefully, we’ll play well enough to get a win.”

Could the Panthers repeat their 2015 team performance at state and take the title?

“Absolutely,” Santjer said. “I think we have a lot of the right pieces in our kids. We have good guard play, we have good inside play. So, if we just execute well enough and try to minimize our turnovers, I think we’ve got a really good chance of playing with everybody at the tournament.”

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