The Rugby senior class will compete in its third state girls basketball tournament, and the team's core of leaders wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's awesome just to finish your career out like that," said senior guard Anni Stier. "We definitely wanted to finish our career in Grand Forks, not in Minot. So that's been a goal all year."
"I think after last year losing a few good seniors, people expected us to be down this year," said senior forward/guard Maria Blessum. "It's really great to prove to them that we're still here, we're still tough and it's great to be back."
What's different this year are contributions from players as young as eighth to 10th grade.
"It shows them that we need them here too," said senior forward/guard Karsyn Hager. "We need them for us, and they make us better every day-- so I really think it really helps."
"Those underclassmen, they followed" said Head Coach Jen Brossart. "I thought Brooke Blessum did a heck of a job and showed up in the Region Championship game. [She performed like] we've been seeing all year in practice."
The Panthers open the tournament against number one Kidder County. Brossart said she expects a fast-paced battle between the two teams.
"They shoot the 3-ball very well. They're very disciplined. I don't see that they go too far down on their bench. They don't appear to get in foul trouble as much, which is why they are able to stay disciplined. They do like a press. They like the 3-2 zone, so we'll see what happens," Brossart said.
The Panthers and Wolves tip off Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Grand Forks.