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Rugby Panther girls repeat state cross country win

Submitted Photo All-State runners from Rugby High School are from left: Hannah Senechal, Austin Dibble, Quinn Neppl and Brooklyn Bartsch. The Panthers took the state title in the girls’ 5000-meter race for the second year in a row, after winning the 2019 title at the Minot Country Club.

The Rugby High Panthers left town Saturday morning for the North Dakota High School Athletic Association Class B meet in Cooperstown with a regional title, a number one-ranked runner and hope for a repeat of their 2019 girls’ state cross-country win.

They came back that evening with four all-state runners, a fire truck escort and the 2020 girls’ state title. One jubilant resident set off a few fireworks as a tribute.

“It’s always fun to come home and have an escort by the fire department,” said Jen Bartsch, Panthers assistant coach and mom to Rugby’s top finisher in the girls’ 5000-meter event, Brooklyn Bartsch.

“It’s what our community does for our state champions. It’s a cool thing,” Bartsch added. “It makes the kids excited and they feel like the community supports them. It’s always fun to come home that way.”

The Panthers began their season with high hopes and a few doubts about the future. “We were ranked number one from the beginning of the season, I believe,” Bartsch said.

“Just to be able to run at state this year, just to be able to make it this far in the season was a big deal,” she added, referring to spring, when a global pandemic put an end to state tournament hopes for Panther basketball players.

“Everybody stayed healthy,” she added. “We didn’t have any quarantines late in the year and nothing affected us getting our kids to state to run. That was the biggest deal, I would say.”

Bartsch described coaching her daughter, who held the number one spot in state coaches’ polls toward the end of the season as “really fun. It was challenging at times, but pretty special to get to coach her.”

“Brooklyn was ranked number one toward the end of the year. At the beginning of the season, she was ranked fifth or sixth. I can’t remember. Then, she was running really, really strong toward the end of the year, and that was exciting, but also a pressure situation,” Bartsch said.

“I told her we just live in the moment each day. It was fun. She had so many great races this year.”

Bartsch called Brooklyn “One of our doublers. She plays on the volleyball team as well. She loves volleyball, but I hope she’s continuing her cross-country career until she graduates.”

Brooklyn Bartsch said her third-place finish among about 250 runners at state “feels pretty good. I think my time was pretty good, but it could’ve been better.”

“Her finish time was 19:28,” Jen Bartsch said. “She didn’t PR (see a personal best time) today, but anything mid-nineteens is pretty fantastic. She did a good job.”

Brooklyn said she thought her improved times and rise in state ranks came from focusing more on running. “At the beginning of the year, I had volleyball, so I would just run laps around the school, but at the end, I didn’t have volleyball, so I actually went to practices with my team. That might have helped.”

“I plan to keep going in sports,” the Rugby High freshman added. “I haven’t thought about college yet, though,” she added.

Jennifer Bartsch said three Panthers finished with all-state times in the girls’ 5000-meter race. Sophomore Austin Dibble finished with an all-state time in the boys’ 5000-meter event.

“All-state runners are the runners who finish in the top 20 in the state,” she said. “We had Quinn Neppl, she came in 19th; Hannah Senechal came in 13th, then Brooklyn came in third. So we had three all-state (girls). That’s a pretty big award for those girls at the state meet.”

Dibble finished in 19th place among more than 250 runners, with the Panther boys finishing 14th overall among 47 teams participating.

The Panther girls’ repeat victory interrupted near-decade winning streaks held by Hillsboro/Central Valley and Bowman County since the 1970s.

“Hillsboro had eight or nine in a row,” Bartsch said of the Burros’ 2011-2019 reign. “Prior to that, we had taken the state title before that long run they had. Now, we’ve had two years in a row where we’ve won. Last year it was a pretty big deal to get our first state title after Hillsboro had gone on such a long run. This year, to have a repeat was a big deal, too.”

“Hopefully, we can do it again next year. We’ve definitely got potential. The team is young and strong, so I’m excited. Really excited,” Bartsch added.

Rugby’s Bill Jansen, named Girls’ Class B Coach of the Year for a second year in a row, wrote in an email, “I am very pleased with the way all of our kids worked their way through this season. Their results at the end are proof of their hard work and dedication.”

“We are very proud to be the first girls’ team at Rugby High School to win consecutive State titles and we are excited about the future,” Jansen added.

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