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With hopes for a three-peat, Panthers begin cross country season

By Sue Sitter - | Aug 14, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Panthers Coach Bill Jansen gives instructions to Rugby High’s cross country team before they begin the “Myhre Mile.”

On a rare rainy day for a drought-stricken summer, the Rugby Panthers gathered in the parking lot near Johnsen Field on their first day of cross country practice.

The crowd of eager high school and junior-high age youngsters chatted excitedly with their friends about school and the year ahead. Panthers Coach Bill Jansen said he’d give the runners some time to talk with their teammates while reporters from local and regional media outlets interviewed them for stories.

The Panthers are, after all, back-to-back Class B state champions in girls’ cross country.

The boys’ team, although smaller in number, produced excellent results in 2020. Panthers runner Austin Dibble made the Class B All-State Team.

Dibble had high hopes for the season on his first day back. “I’m looking forward to growing as a team and maybe all-stating again,” he said.

Jansen said the Panthers’ first practice of the season would start with “The Myhre Mile,” named for former Cross Country Coach Gary Myhre.

The team would run south on Third Avenue before turning east toward Country Road, then down Country Road and back to Third Avenue.

“I run the first mile with them,” Jansen said. “They do another one and we go and talk and get everything figured out for the year. I let them know what’s going on and what they need to do. That’s the first practice.”

Jansen said the team runs “a couple of miles” at practice. “I only run one, that’s all I can handle,” he added with a laugh.

“As long as there’s no lightning, we’re good,” Jansen said of the weather. “We run in the rain all the time. They actually like to run in the rain. It cools things off.”

Did Jansen hope for a three-peat for the Panther girls?

“That’s always our goal,” Jansen said. “It’s always our goal to try to win, try to be in the top two in our region. We’ve won our region the last couple of years, girls-wise, so that would be our goal, not to take a step back. And the same thing on the state level. We definitely want to return a lot of good kids so our goal is always to be in the top five or be competitive in the top five. We’ve won it in the last two years, so of course, we want to be there again.”

“On the boys’ side, we want to be more competitive this year, and it looks like we’ve got a few more numbers and we’ll be a year older with our kids, boys-wise so that should be a positive for us as we move forward,” Jansen added.

“We have three all-staters returning – Brooklyn Bartsch and Hannah Senechal and Quinn Neppl. We have one boy all-stater, Austin Dibble. Of course, competition-wise, we’re looking at them to lead the way and hopefully, we’ll have some kids that follow fairly closely,” Jansen said. “Other than that, I’m not going to speculate until we get into the season and they show what they’ve got.”

Jansen said it would be tough to predict who would challenge the Panthers the most among class B teams.

“I haven’t heard about any of the other schools and we won’t know anything until we start going to meets and seeing some kids. It’s just tough until we get into the season and run against a few teams. Then, we’ll have a better picture of what’s going on,” Jansen said.

“Bowman won in the boys’ (division) last year. I’d say Bowman’s still going to be tough, boys-wise. I would think that Hillsboro’s going to be tough on the girls’ side, just off the top of my head,” Jansen said.

“New Town has traditionally been very well-rounded for its size,” Jansen noted. “They of course took some major precautions with COVID last year. The only meet they participated in was the state meet, so it’ll be interesting to see what they’ve got.”

“Our first meet is (Aug.) 21st at Jamestown the state site,” Jansen said.

Although the season hadn’t begun, Jansen was already familiar with the details for state, set for Oct. 22.

“This year, the state meets have been split in two,” he said. “They’re not going to have A and B meets on the same day. The B meet is on the fourth Friday in October at 3 o’clock and the girls are first. Then, class A has their meet on Saturday.”

Likewise, two girls’ all-staters had state on their minds.

“I want to have fun and we’ve won state back-to-back, so I think it would be a good goal to get another team win,” said Bartsch, who will be a sophomore at Rugby High this year.

Another 2020 all-stater, Quinn Neppl, was back for another year with the Panthers. A Benson County Wildcat, Neppl co-ops with the Panthers for cross country.

“I see lots of new faces, lots of new girls and I’m excited to get to know them,” Neppl said, “And the same with the boys. I’m excited to get to know them. We did lose a couple of girls, so I’m excited to see what we can build up again.”

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