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State cross country champs ready for streak
November 8, 2019

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Rugby High School's girls' cross country team broke Hillsboro/Central Valley's eight-year winning streak with a finish that put them far ahead of the pack at state last month, and the champion Panthers can't wait for next year.

Just after the meet, which took place two weeks ago in Minot, Rugby's front-runner Quinn Neppl predicted the team had done "pretty good. As a team, I know for a fact we did really good." And she was right.

The Panthers beat Hillsboro's team score by more than 60 points, and the team cheered and hugged each other when announcers called them to the first- place section of the award stage.

Several team members gathered in the Rugby High School multi-purpose area Tuesday to reflect on their victory.

"I felt good (about the team's win)," said Brookyln Bartsch, whose 19 minute, 46 second time gave her an All-State distinction and eighth place among individual times.

"What she said," smiled teammate Ameila Shepard, who finished with her own All-State time just behind Bartsch.

Bartsch and Shepard are eighth graders and both say they plan to return to cross country next year.

Bartsch said before the meet the team got into a huddle for motivation. "Kendyl (Hager) read from a couple of pieces of paper," she said.

"We started crying," Shepard said.

Teammate Kendyl Hager explained the papers contained messages to the team from her older sister, Karsyn Hager, who ran on the team before she graduated last year.

"She was a huge motivator and supported us through the season this year. She was a big part of our prayers before the races when she ran with us. She wrote us a letter to tell us not to give up and keep running because there's a big accomplishment that we can have," Hager said. "She also wrote us a prayer to get us ready to run."

Ella Jacobson, Mikaylee Livedalen, Ellie Duscherer and Mykell Heidlebaugh also ran for the team. Neppl and Keely Arnston participated with the Panthers as co-op runners from other schools.

Jacobson said the Panthers had a lot of support from community members.

"We wore bracelets people made us," Jacobson said. "We wore them during the race. They said, 'Let's get after it' and 'State 2019.' "

Wolf said she appreciated "how the win was a team accomplishment and how we had to work together to make it happen."

Livedalen noted, "I just thought about what we had done throughout the whole season - all the meets we went to. We all had the goal of winning state and it felt good to realize it."

Jacobson recalled after the Panthers stood on the stage to receive their first-place award, they cheered even more when they heard their coach, Bill Jansen, named 2019 Girls' Cross Country Coach of the Year.

"We all got up and started cheering Mr. J, Mr. J!" Jacobson said.

"He was a big part of us accomplishing our goals," said senior Ellie Duchscherer.

Hager added, "He knew we could win so we were happy for him."

Livedalen agreed. "We were happy for him and our assistant coach (Jennifer Bartsch). They always push us through everything."

Duchscherer said she was thinking about staying with cross country in college next year. "I applied to UND and Jamestown," she noted.

The teammates continuing high school next year all said they wanted to stay in the sport, and they recommended cross country for their fellow Rugby High and middle school students.

"The practices and the bus rides are so fun," Hager and Livedalen said. "We just feel all together."

Jansen said later the team staying together on the bus to the state meet was very important this year.

The team bus pulled back into Rugby the evening of the meet escorted by fire trucks and police cars, each with sirens blaring, and cheering fans honking their car horns.

"It's kind of neat that the kids can take part in that," Jansen noted.

Hager and other returning teammates said they hoped for another state title next year. "We broke (Hillsboro/Central Valley's) streak. We can have one of our own."

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