Poised to make turnaround
The road trips will be shorter, and some new competition awaits Rugby as it begins a new chapter in its program.
After 12 relatively successful seasons in Class AA, the Panthers move down to Class A, although coach Scott Grochow knows the level of competition will remain strong.
There is little difference between the top Class A and AA teams, and Grochow knows his team will have to earn everything it gets.
The move to Class A provides the Panthers the opportunity to renew some rivalries and drastically reduce their travel.
Rugby will again be in a conference with the likes of Cavalier, Langdon-Munich and Larimore, teams it faced in the early to mid-1990s. However, it will also get to see some news teams, including North Prairie (Rolla-Rolette) and Midway-Minto.
Time on the bus will be considerably shorter as well. The team’s farthest road trip is a little over two hours. That’s a far cry from the three-plus hours trips for region games in previous seasons.
Nevertheless, the team has to make big improvements on both sides of the ball, evident from its 1-8 2008 campaign.
There are some positives, however, to draw from last season’s hard lessons.
The team’s quarterback and top receiver return, which is a good starting point for the offense. Thomas Seaver went through his share of growing pains under center but managed to throw just over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns.
His favorite target was Aaron Teigen, who reeled in 28 catches for 502 yards. Seven starters return on offense, and that continuity will help. Finding a go-to rusher and getting consistent play on the line will be key to the team’s offensive production. Players expected to carry the ball include Eric Kuntz, Josh Houim, Jason Goetz and Taylor Harmel. In addition to Teigen, Cody Boucher, Levi Schaan and Eric Burns will also be receiving targets.
“We’re going to be a lot faster than we were last year,” said Rugby coach Scott Grochow. “
On the line, Pake Hagen, Mitch Grochow and Mike Houim are returning starters, and the squad will build around them.
Points were hard to come by last season, as Rugby averaged just over 12 points per game and were shut out twice.
Defensively, the team has six starters back and the leader is senior linebacker Hagen, who led the team in tackles with 67. Jacob Nelson will also see time at linebacker. The defensive line will feature Josh and Mike Houim along with D.J. Wilkie and Grochow. In the secondary, Teigen, Schaan, Boucher and Kuntz will see time.
Last season the squad gave up too many big plays, and tightening up its pass coverage and developing a steady pass rush is needed. Assistant coach Mike Santjer takes over as the head defensive coach.
While the team has a number of starters back, it doesn’t have a lot of depth, so avoiding injuries is important, Grochow said.
It will be hard to find a team in the region with as many upperclassmen as the Panthers. The roster has 40 players, and the team will likely have five or six play both sides of the ball.
Grochow said North Prairie is the team getting the preseason attention as tops in the region since it returns three all-state players and was a playoff team in 2008. Langdon-Munich and Cavalier have some key players coming back. Rugby should also be in the mix for the playoffs, provided it gets good line play and strong leadership from the upperclassmen.
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