Basketball Team Going for Repeat
With the 2014 heartbreaking overtime loss to Fargo-Oak Grove far in the rearview mirror and the sweet taste of victory still fresh on his lips from the 2015 Class B boys state championship victory 54-40 over Four Winds, Head Coach Mike Santjer prepares for another Rugby Panther basketball season.
“You know last year was accumulation of two good years before that, falling a little short first year we lost in a barn burning and having to play in the consolation bracket the first year. The year before that we were undefeated all year until the state championship game ended up losing in overtime and last year most of the kids came in with a chip on their shoulder, they felt they let one slip through the year before. We had great Senior leadership and we had some phenomenal players that put in a lot of time and one of those things, miracle years. Yeah those kind of teams don’t come around very often. We were able to capitalize on it, Coach Santjer shared with reverence in his voice speaking of his past teams.
The Panthers lost all five starters from last year’s state championship team, including Brad Heidlebaugh, who was North Dakota Mr. Basketball; Zach Miller, another big guy at 6’5” and an all-around good player; Tanner Bernhardt, who performed exceptionally well at the guard position and was considered a great scorer from the outside; and Nolan Hovland, who Coach Santjer described as “The best defender in the state, he defended the post as well as point guards, he was that good.” Eric Hooker was the fifth starter who was a great role player for the team, according to Coach Santjer.
With the loss of such great talent and off of such a great season some coaches would be satisfied calling this a rebuilding year, but not Coach Santjer, who has great expectations for this upcoming season.
“We got about 4 players that played a lot of time last year, they were our key subs. Ryan Michels, he ended the year great, and had a great state tournament for us, he is very athletic. Hunter Hager come through for us in the region championship game had some big rebounds, knocked down some key free throws. Anders Johnson played a lot of minutes last year for only being a sophomore and we have a lot of other kids looking to step up like Chris Griffin. Chris is a long kid, had a great growth spurt over the summer and now stands around 6’3″.”
Coach Santjer continued, “We have a nice core of kids coming back, I am super happy about that, hopefully we can get it to click when we need it to.”
You can feel a quiet confidence in some of the players Coach Santjer is going to depend on if a repeat is in the cards. “Though we lost a lot of Seniors from last year we have a whole bunch of guys that want to get back to where we were last year. I believe we can but no matter what we are going to try hard and play our best”, said Sophomore Anders Johnson.
Michels, who is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury from football, said, “I’m glad to be healthy now and I am looking forward to playing basketball this year. We just want to shut down everyone defensively. I want to get back to state. We have the tools to do it but we have to come out everyday and work hard.”
“We have a good team coming back. I know we are not as experienced as last year after losing five starters but I think the guys here have some talent and they are great to play with. We are going to take it one game at a time, we don’t know for sure how we are going to do, I am sure we will have our ups and downs during the year but I do know the Coach will have us playing our best when it counts at the end of the year”, said Hager.
Coach Santjer shares that same sentiment, ” I think we are going to look really good at times and then there is going to be times that we don’t look as good as people expect us to. There is definitely going to be some growing pains, lack of true on court experience that we had last year. So there is going to be times when we look great and then there are times where we won’t look as good as we should. Coach Santjer concluded, “I do know come tournament time this team is going to be ready to play hard and make a run for the state tournament” You would expect nothing less from a Coach Santjer coached team.
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