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Clear goal: State title

By Staff | Dec 12, 2014

Tim Chapman/PCT Rugby High School senior Nolan Hovland skies for a layup over coach Mike Santjer at practice Wednesday.

Mike Santjer still has the 2014 Class B boys state championship game saved on his DVR. He hasn’t watched the heartbreaking overtime loss to Fargo-Oak Grove – the Panthers only loss of the season.

The picture is still fresh in many Panther minds and watching the film probably isn’t necessary for returning players. RHS returns its top three scorers in the senior trio of Tanner Bernhardt, Brad Heidlebaugh and Zach Miller. The season opens Tuesday at Langdon Area-Munich and the ultimate goal is clear.

“We definitely think about (the championship game) a lot,” Bernhardt said, “and use it as motivation. We have a bigger goal this year. We want to win it all. Last year, we wanted to get to state.”

Heidlebaugh, who verbally committed Tuesday to play quarterback at University of North Dakota, will continue leading the team after earning a first-team all-state honor in 2014. Heidlebaugh is recovering from a shoulder injury suffered in the final RHS football game, but feels healthy and near 100 percent. He averaged 23.7 points and 11.7 rebounds as a junior. He broke the school’s single-season scoring record with 673 points (Paul Presthus had 613 in the early 1960s).

“This (college decision) gets my mind clear on basketball this season,” Heidlebaugh said.

Miller combines with Heidlebaugh for one of the top front courts in the state. Bernhardt (14.5 points) will be the team’s best long-range shooter again after dazzling fans with his dangerous 3-point shooting last year. Bernhardt connected on a team-high 74 triples. Miller averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds. RHS had the same starting lineup in all 28 games.

Santjer said the remaining two spots in the starting lineup – vacated by graduates Chris Hamilton and Jaedon Haman – are being fought for by about five players.

The graduates were comfortable with the ball and typically guarded the other teams’ best players.

“We’re gonna miss Chris and Jaedon because they’re a lot grittier,” Santjer said. “We’ve been preaching to these guys because those are important positions.”

The Panthers seldom used more than two bench players last year, but Santjer sees a team capable of going deeper into the bench and he said the team is more prepared than it usually is at the beginning of a season.

“They spent so much time playing this summer and they’ve been doing that together since eighth grade,” Santjer said.

Among players in the discussion to crack the starting lineup are senior Nolan Hovland, a rangy 6-footer who gets after the boards and can guard multiple positions. Senior guard Eric Hooker and junior wings Ryan Michel and Hunter Hager also are expected to see time.

“We’re lucky to have some depth,” Santjer said. “Our starters may rotate depending on matchups. It’s a good problem to have.”

RHS enters the season as District 11 and Region 6 reigning champion and getting knocked off in either tournament is unlikely.

RHS also plays in the CNDC Tournament next week in Harvey. RHS opens the three-day slate with a quarterfinal matchup against New Rockford-Sheyenne. The winner gets the winner of TGU vs. Harvey-Wells County. Teams on the others side of the bracket include St. John, Drake-Anamoose, Dunseith and Rolla.

Marquee matchups on the regular season schedule include a Dec. 27 game against Beulah at Minot State University, a Jan. 15 game against Region 4 defending champion North Star and a Feb. 10 game at Four Winds-Minnewaukan.

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