Snatching the title back
VELVA – The girls are back. For the first time since 2012, the Rugby High school basketball team is the District 11 title holder.
A year after falling short of a region qualifier, the program rebounded with an 18-3 record, a 6-0 mark in district play and a sweet taste of victory against the host Aggies in the championship.
Junior Shea Heidlebaugh led the Panthers with a game-high 16 points as RHS built a 21-point halftime lead before holding off a stingy Velva team late.
The Panther won 52-40 and earned District 11’s No. 1 seed in the Region 6 Tournament, which starts Monday at the Minot Municipal Auditorium. RHS plays the 4th-seeded Surrey Mustangs of District 12 at 6:15 p.m.
“They dug deep when they had to and got to the basket,” said RHS coach Jen Brossart, who was named the District 11 Coach of the Year. “I have every bit of confidence in these girls.”
She has plenty of reasons to. The team’s only losses came against top-ranked Bishop Ryan, and in early season blemishes against Langdon Area and Harvey with the team not at full strength.
RHS took the strong regular season into the district tournament with a bye before handling Bottineau 66-32 in the semifinal. The team’s seniors were freshmen when the Panthers last hoisted the district trophy.
“It’s just a testament to all our hard work,” Brossart said. “Our girls had it in their mind since they lost the regional qualifier last year. This was a great effort from top to bottom.”
Heidlebaugh was joined by senior Darby Deckert and junior Ashley Schmaltz on the All-District 11 team.
“It’s just really great that all of our hard work in the offseason paid off,” Deckert said. “I think we need to keep our composure and keep it going.”
The Panthers opened the championship with a straight-ahead mentality and started the game on a 10-2 run. Deckert, Heidlebaugh and junior Lauren Kraft connected on 3-pointers in a huge second quarter on the block too. Sophomore forward Breanna Thompson established herself with three field goals in three straight possessions, including a putback while being fouled. Deckert hit her 3-pointer with two seconds remaining in the first half to give RHS a 38-17 lead at the break.
RHS made it easy for the offense by forcing 10 turnovers in the first quarter. The Aggies coughed it up with RHS applying full-court pressure and never fully recovered.
“It’s about what we would expect,” Velva coach Chris Braaten said. “They’re a defensively sound team. Part of our issue was us handling the nerves and settling down to handle the pace of the game.”
RHS only scored 14 points in the second half, but benefitted from key free-throw shooting down the stretch. After missing 3 of her 4 attempts in the first half, Thompson connected on 5 of 6 in the fourth quarter. Velva got within nine points in the fourth.
“I just settled down and took a deep breath,” Thompson said, “and tried to think positive that it would go in.”
Thompson finished with 12 points. Velva was led by Jonnah Lee’s and Shaylyn Fevold’s 11 points apiece.
The winner of the Rugby-Surrey game will play in a semifinal against the winner of District 12 No. 2 Berthold and District 11 No. 3 Bottineau. That semifinal is set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“I think it means a lot more for the seniors,” Thompson said. “I have two more years, so it’s a lot more for them than it for me.”
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