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When I was young and we’d go for a car ride to our grandparents or some other location, I could count on a couple of things. One was that Dad would have the radio tuned to WCCO if Sid Hartman was on, or he would have KNUJ or KDHL on for some polka music. The other thing I could usually count on was a smooth ride; it got easy to tell how long it would take us to get to a location.

The communities of New Richland, Hartland, Ellendale, and Geneva have been on a smooth ride the past three years following the NRHEG Lady Panther basketball team. I’m typing this up after coming home from our third straight welcome home pepfest following another run at the state tournament.

This has been unbelievable for everyone involved. The seniors on this team not only have talent, but have led by example on how to carry yourself on and off the court. I realized, with sadness, that tonight was the final time I would announce Hannah Lundberg, Paige Overgaard, Jade Schultz, and Carlie Wagner as members of the basketball team. When that thought struck me, I had to pause in what I was saying; I was getting a little choked up.

Here’s the thing in a group of communities like NRHEG: we grow very attached to our students and our athletes. This group has been so open and has never walked around like they’re better than everyone else. They’d feel free to joke around at the scorer’s table or in the hallways at school, even with the nut at the microphone.

Hannah is the epitome of what a coach wants in a player. She does so many little things right on the court, even if she doesn’t stuff the stat box. Hustle counts for a lot toward winning, and “The Badger” is the best there is. Couple that with her strong Christian beliefs, and you have a great person for kids to admire.

Before her junior season, I commented to Paige that I thought the team would go as far as her contributions would take them. If she battled for rebounds, played solid defense, and contributed 8-10 points a game, nobody would stop us. She looked stunned (but still with her ever-present smile). But it’s held up. Paige has been so consistent and made all the difference in how the defense is run, and she’s gotten better continuously over the last two years.

Jade has certainly battled to be out on the court. She worked so hard to get back from her injuries last season and looked stronger than ever all year. Her presence has helped drive the girls to give her the same opportunities she missed out on by being on the court for the championship again this year. The work ethic of “The Blade” is a great ideal for younger kids to look up to and surely has played a role in her ability to play at the U of M next year.

And then there’s Carlie. So much has been said and written about “The Dagger,” but here’s a little more. Carlie is a genuine superstar, but her humbleness is what places her above other high school stars. She gets approached for autographs often, and saw even more of that at the state tournament this year. I’ve never seen or heard of her turning anyone away. Here’s a girl who is a three-time state champion (don’t forget her high jump championship!) and still would rather hang out with her friends and family than anything.

We may never see another Carlie here at NRHEG. We’ve got talent all around, both in boys’ and girls’ athletics, but Carlie is something very special. Her hard work and great attitude have gotten her a scholarship with the Gophers, but her personality is what will earn her continued success in life.

Since the whole sweater vest superstition started with Jade and Carlie all those years ago, I’m thinking it might be time to retire that tradition; thanks, girls, for the fun that went with it! My hat’s off to all the seniors for taking us on this smooth ride over the past few years!

With that said, though there will feel like something’s missing next year at the home opener, it’s now time to open a new chapter in Lady Panther basketball. There are some superb characters left from the last story. Here’s to continued success and new traditions!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is edacity, which means greediness or a good appetite, as in, “Panther basketball fans showed their edacity by continuing to hope for more state tournament appearances.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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