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Rugby High winter athletes ready for season

By Sue Sitter - | Dec 19, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT The Rugby Panthers get in a practice before this weekend’s CNDC tournament at Rugby High’s Hanneman Gym.

With masks on their game faces, Rugby student athletes prepared last week for a busy season of competition in basketball, hockey and wrestling.

“I’d say it’s one of our best years of practice before we’ve had a game,” Rugby High School Panthers basketball coach Jen Brossart said of her girls’ team. “The first two weeks, they’ve been working really hard. No doubt, it’s just like volleyball. They pretty much are appreciating every day they get. When they bring it to practice, they give it everything they’ve got.”

Brossart and boys’ basketball coach Mike Santjer said although their teams added social distancing and masks to their practice routines, they had high hopes for this season.

“Our goal remains the same: To have a good season, to move on to district tournament time and eventually to region tournament time and look for a chance to fight for the region title again. So, nothing has changed in our mindset in basketball practice,” Brossart said.

“Everybody’s really excited to get back after it, for sure, after how the season ended last year with not being able to play in the state tournament,” Santjer said, referring to the heartbreaking end to the Panthers’ season in boys’ basketball, when COVID canceled their trip to state. “Actually, I didn’t even get to see the guys after the season,” Santjer added. “The school closed, we all moved and we couldn’t have a group get-together and stuff. It was kind of frustrating.”

This year, however, Santjer noted, “everybody’s really excited to get back and get after it.”

Both the girls’ and boys’ teams practiced Monday on courts in the school’s Hanneman Gym or the Rugby Armory.

Brossart said the girls would see their season with two regular teammates on the bench. Brooke Blessum would take the season off to heal from a knee injury suffered in regional volleyball play.

“Then, Riley Grove has not been able to practice due to concussion,” Brossart said. Grove had sustained the concussion in volleyball as well.

“Both of those girls, even though they won’t be able to don the uniform this year, they’ll help us out from the sidelines very much,” Brossart said. “They see things. They’re seniors. We value their input even though they’re not able to participate actively with us. They’ll be active with our team in other ways.”

Santjer said the boys’ basketball team has more players this year than last.

“We have five seniors this year. Last year, we lost seven. We have three guys returning that played a lot for us last year. They were kind of in the rotation last year,” Santjer said. “As far as total minutes played at varsity, we don’t have a ton of experience, but those guys got to play a lot last year.”

“Then, we bring a transfer in. Trey Welstad, he played for Glenburn. He was actually an all-region player last year for Glenburn,” Santjer said. (Welstad) is a senior this year. We’re trying to get everyone up to speed on some of our systems this year.”

Santjer said the Panthers looked forward to this weekend’s CNDC tournament in Rugby High’s Hanneman gym. All games will be played at the home of the top seed, which happens to be Rugby.

All winter sports coaches said following COVID-safe guidelines was easy for their teams.

Bottineau-Rugby Braves Hockey Coach Jesse Nostad said of his players, “It hasn’t been an issue really. All of them are practicing social distancing and mask policies at school, so it just carries over to the rink. It is a bit more work behind the scenes but, again, we are all just excited to be at the rink learning, skating, competing, and trying to get better every day.”

“We only lost 2 seniors from last year,” Nostdahl said of the Braves. “Our team grew by about 10 players. The mood in the locker room is positive and optimistic. Our veteran group is really solid and the young guys coming up are really capable of contributing. It may take a few weeks for those new guys to get comfortable, but the leadership group on the team is really doing a fantastic job bringing them up to speed.”

“We definitely feel like we shouldn’t have trouble putting points on the board this year. Our focus is to keep building our offensive chemistry and to shore up some defensive issues we had at times last year,” Nostdahl added. “If we do those things effectively, we feel we are in the mix to be heading to Grand Forks in late February.”

Panthers wrestling coach Craig Zachmeier said the team was eager for their first competition – a dual in Minot.

“We (practiced) mornings, too and through the weekends,” Zachmeier said. “We’ll be short in numbers, which is quite disappointing, but with what’s going on, wrestling’s one of those sports where it’s close contact, so we have some parents who are a little concerned about that. So, we didn’t get any seventh graders, which is disappointing, but we’re okay. We have some good quality.”

“We have 10 kids on the team,” Zachmeier added, saying the team would concentrate on individual results. “Tournament-wise, we’ll be okay. We’ll be right in the middle of the pack wherever we go with our kids.”

“Cole Schneibel’s our lone senior, so we’re going to put a lot of time into him. Riley Odden will be back; John Jundt will be back at the same weight he place last year. Both him and Riley Odden are definitely top kids in the state. Then, Austin Schneibel’s back, which is really good for us. So, we’re really excited to see him,” Zachmeier noted. “Also, Bryson Amyotte is the same weight as he was last year, so he’ll come around this year, too.”

“So, we’ll be okay individually,” Zachmeier said. “Our kids are really good. They’re hard workers. They’re ready to go. We’re going to get through December here, and hopefully, this (COVID) goes away. We’re going to hit it hard in January. We’re ready to make a big push.”

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