Lady Panthers have high expectations
The transfer of positive energy from one season to the next is not lost on Rugby High School girls basketball coach Jen Brossart.
The seventh-year coach attended many of her players volleyball games. Through the first couple days of practice, Brossart is seeing an energized group of athletes, many looking to continue the success they already experienced in recent months.
“These girls are ready to play,” Brossart said. “They’re a hardworking group, they’re intense, they’re getting after it and hopefully it continues.”
The team graduated just one player in former starter Allison Volk, but return all-district backcourt mates Darby Deckert and Shea Heidlebaugh. The Panthers finished 19-10 last season and lost to Bottineau in a region qualifier.
The Miss Hoopster publication tabbed the Panthers as a close favorite to win District 11 with Bottineau and Velva following at second and third, respectively.
Brossart knows the path to a district title will be difficult, but she’s embracing the challenge after seeing her players work hard in the offseason.
“We won a majority of summer games,” she said, noting a rigorous schedule throughout the state, including 12 games in four days for one stretch.
“We never had less than 11 players at all the games,” Brossart said.
The Panthers haven’t been a deep team in recent years and that is expected to change. Brossart feels comfortable playing as many as 10 players regularly this season.
Heidlebaugh led the team in scoring last season with 13 points per game. The versatile guard also averaged seven rebounds, three steals and three assists. Deckert, who will share ballhandling duties with Heidlebaugh, averaged 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Seniors Jacie Lovcik, Allison Foster and ReeAnn Christianson bring back varsity experience and ability in the post.
“Jacie Lovcik can bring a whole different element to the game,” Brossart said. “She can do a lot of things. Offensively, Shea and Darby get will their points, obviously, but we’ll need the rest to step up.”
The Panthers lack of success in the postseason in 2014 does not overly concern the team, which gained confidence with big late-regular season wins over Rolla and North Star.
The non-district slate will challenge RHS with opponents including Rolla, Benson County, Bishop Ryan and North Star.
“I think with this group, we’ve played together for so long our chemistry is so good,” Deckert said. “A lot of girls are showing potential. Alli Foster, she can get more points. She just needs to be aggressive. Maddie (Uhlenkamp) is strong in there.”
Uhlenkamp is just a freshman, but the 5-foot-9 forward is one of the school’s most promising athletes in any sport.
The season opens Dec. 2 at Langdon Area. The Panthers are the top seed in the CNDC?tournament at Harvey, Dec. 4-6.
“That’s a lot of pressure,” Brossart said. “They have something to prove.”
The District 11 season will also test RHS. Brossart sees TGU, Bottineau and?Velva rounding out the top four and isn’t overlooking any team.
“It might be down a little bit, but our district is always tough,” Brossart said.
Heidlebaugh is ready to get the season going.
“We’re gonna have to be able to score inside the arc,” Heidlebaugh said. “We’re going to have to get an inside-outside game going. We’ll have to stick those little layups and not rely on 3-pointers and our defense will be pretty solid too.”
Layups proved difficult last season, but more experience should handle that issue. Long-range shooting will take a hit, initially, as 3-point threat and senior McKenzie Johnson is not playing this year.
Brossart is still hopeful to see sophomore Kari Fritel return to the team, but knee injuries may keep her out.
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