Panthers back on top

Rugby wins Region 6, heads to state for first time since 2016

Al Christianson/Special to the MDN Rugby's Madison Uhlenkamp (21) drives the basket as Velva's Rachel Mack (32) defends her during the Region 6 championship game Thursday at the Minot Auditorium.

After a one-year absence, the Rugby Panthers are going back to the Class B girls basketball state tournament.

An efficient night offensively combined with a dominating defensive performance lifted Rugby to a 53-46 victory over Velva Thursday in the Region 6 championship game at the Minot Auditorium. The Panthers will head to the MSU Dome next week for their first appearance at state since 2016.

“I’m absolutely elated right now,” Rugby coach Jen Brossart said. “These girls have worked so hard all summer and all fall. This winter, they’ve been a pure joy to coach. There’s no attitudes, no egos, they come in and I’ve just loved coming to practice every day with these kids. They put it all on the floor tonight.”

Coming into Thursday’s matchup, Rugby had already beaten Velva twice. Once in the regular season on Jan. 25, 50-33, and then 54-39 in the District 11 championship on Feb. 10.

Rugby shot 51 percent from the floor en route to taking down Velva for a third time.

Al Christianson/Special to the MDN Various Rugby fans and players storm the court after Rugby's Region 6 championship.

“This win feels amazing,” junior guard Karsyn Hager said. “I was a freshman the first time we went, but now I’m more part of the game now. It feels awesome and we’ve just spent so much time this summer preparing for this. I knew Velva wanted it just as bad as us, and we knew we had to keep fighting with them. We knew we could do it.”

Velva matched Rugby’s intensity in the first half, trailing 12-11 after one quarter then taking a 21-20 lead into halftime. The Panthers came alive in the third quarter, however, outscoring the Aggies 16-10 resulting in a 36-31 lead entering the fourth.

Velva reduced the deficit to 41-37, but the Panthers went on a 6-0 run capped off by a Tristin Lunde layup to take a 10-point lead and seal the victory.

“We’re just so excited,” Rugby junior guard Anni Stier said. “We worked so hard for this and it feels so good to win this game. We believed in ourselves the entire time and knew our defense would kick in. We just played till the end as hard as we could.”

Hager led the Panthers with 16 points, while Stier chipped in 13 on a 5 of 9 shooting effort. Senior center Madison Uhlenkamp was a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor and scored 12 points. The Panthers made 23 of 45 field goals, but were 3-of-13 from long range and 4-of-12 at the free throw line.

Al Christianson/Special to the MDN Rugby's Karsyn Hager (15) puts up a shot Thursday.

“It’s so critical to have that balance offensively,” Brossart said. “If one of them gets in foul trouble or one has a slow night, we’ll look for someone else to step up. That’s what we told them, thrive and move on. If someone goes down, we have to step up. I didn’t know if we’d have our two seniors Tristin Lunde and Madison Uhlenkamp here this week because of ankle sprains, but they weren’t listening to me. They came out here and played like seniors have to play. I’m so proud of all of them.”

Hope Brewer had a game-high 17 points for the Aggies and was 6-of-10 from the floor. Sydney Larson was the other Velva player in double figures with 15 points. The Aggies made 16 of 43 field goals, 7 of 13 3-pointers and were 7-of-16 from the free throw line.

“You get to this time of year, it’s about the runs that happen in a game and can you match it,” Velva coach Chris Braaten said. “They’re just a good team, they have a lot of scorers and it’s tough to defend them. They have a heck of a team and they’re going to give people a lot of problems moving forward.”

Rugby’s first state tournament game will be Thursday at the MSU Dome, with the opponent and time yet to be determined.

Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge