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Panthers prepare for ‘interesting’ season of track and field

By Sue Sitter - | Apr 3, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Panther track and field runners practice on a residential street near Rugby High School.

After a season away from track and field, a lot has changed for the Rugby Panthers.

“COVID hit us hard,” said Bill Jansen, who coached the Panther girls’ team to a state championship in 2019. “We won the title in 2019 and we were really set up to win it last year again. We had a lot of good kids coming back. We really had things fairly put together. Brooke Blessum was healthy last spring and she was almost a 30 point scorer at state the year before.”

Blessum suffered a knee injury in a regional volleyball game last fall, benching her for basketball season, where she had stood out as a score leader.

“She’s been throwing (shot put). I don’t know if she’s going to do that,” Jansen said of the all-around athlete who set a state pole vault record at a meet in 2019. “But to keep herself active, she’s been doing that.”

“We had Christina Brossart coming back last year and she was runner-up in the 100 and placed in the 200 and was on relays the year before,” Jansen added. “Ellie Duchscher was back and she was part of our school record state champion four by four relay and ran on the two mile relay that placed in 2019. Jacoby Glasser was back and was probably the best discus thrower returning last year in the state. She was third in 2019, but I think the two ahead of her were seniors.”

“Of course, Brooke is not competing in those events that she had before, so that scoring at state is gone,” Jansen said. “Jacoby has left the area. She’s not around anymore, so that scoring is gone, and of course, Ellie and Christina were seniors last year, so that’s gone. So, the only returning people who were at state are Brooke Anderson – Brooke made the finals in 2019 in javelin and she’s back. Jannika Miller qualified in the high jump. She didn’t score, but she’s back. Anna Clements qualified in the pole vault and she’s back. She’s a senior this year.”

“Then, we’ve got some kids that ran on relays,” Jansen noted. “Mikaylee Livedalen and Taylor Mayer are both back. Emily Mattern was on relays also and she’s still in school but she’s not out for track this year.”

“Then, with our distance relay, Brooklyn Bartsch and Ella Jacobson, they’re back. They scored some points,” Jansen added. “They were seventh in the four by eight in 2019. So, they’re back.”

“With our cross country team, Brooklyn was third and Ella was just below all state and Amelia Shepard was just below all-state, Jansen said of the members of the 2020 state champion cross country team. “(Shepard) was one of the better runners. She’s back. So, as far as that’s concerned, we do have a few kids back.”

Jansen added, “If you have to ask for strength, I’d say based on our cross-country season, our strength is in distance events right now. But, we’ve got some younger kids who are (competing) and that’s the big thing this year. “

“We’ve got two crews who are out for track. We’ve got seventh- and eighth-grade girls who are out and I had a few of them out for cross country, but the majority of them I don’t know track wise because they have never had a track season. So, we have two groups of unknowns this year. It’s going to be an interesting year.”

Jansen predicted the season would be interesting for Class B teams throughout the state.

“Really now, until we start seeing people, everyone’s had a season off,” he said. “So, it will be very interesting to see the teams as we start competing against them and what kids are back and who’s still competing.”

“Like us – Brooke is hurt; Jacoby’s not around. Most of the state knows that Brooke is hurt – she didn’t play basketball – but I would imagine nobody knows Jacoby’s not around, so that will be a shock to people for those types of things,” Jansen said. “It’s the same way with us. I really don’t know who’s going to be the top competition.”

“Going into last year, we knew Thompson was second runner-up, but the kids who scored all their points at state were seniors in 2019. So, they didn’t have the big points coming back so even last year, it would’ve been kind of a mystery other than us. I mean, we really did have a lot of stuff coming back last year if we would have had the season.”

“So,” Jansen added, “There’s a question mark as far as who’s the competition and what kind of competition are we going to be to others. Are we going to be able to do the things we did before? Probably not. We’re just not the same team.”

“The team in 2019 and 2020, especially the team in 2019 was made up of kids who had been at state many years and really had something to prove. In 2019, kids like Maria Blessum and Anni Stier really had some things to prove that year and they wanted to make sure they went out to do it,” Jansen said.

“They were track kids,” Jansen said of Maria Blessum and Stier. “They were three sport and really high on track and spent a lot of time on it.”

“Now, we’ll see. We’ll build again and see where we’re at. It will be very exciting,” he added.

Boys’ Head Coach Scott Grochow said of his team, “It’s real early, but so far, they look good. We’re just excited to be back and looking forward to competing.”

Grochow said the strengths on the boys’ side are in “several areas.”

“Jumps are one of them with Cole Slaubaugh returning as state champ in the high jump,” Grochow said, adding the team had “several other good jumpers in the long and triple (events).”

Like Jansen, Grochow said it would be difficult to predict the Class B team who would pose the biggest challenge on the 2021 schedule.

“Dickinson Trinity and Kindred I believe will have some good teams,” Grochow said. “It will be fun to see what everyone will have as the season goes along.”

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