by Samantha Lefebvre
After a rough sub-.500 season last year, the PACT Charter school girls basketball team is back on the court with a winning season, a new coach, and two top ten state athletes.
Senior captains Rachel Butler and Beth Nelson not only lead the Panthers in points, rebounds, assists, and steals, but they are also among the top ten in the state for assists, steals and rebounds. In addition to top ten state rankings, Butler also reached a milestone early this season when she scored over 1000 points.
“In the beginning of the season I was kind of focusing on that more just to get my points, but now honestly that I have it I don’t really think about it anymore,” Butler said about reaching 1000 points. “I’m not scoring points just to get 1,000 now. I’m focusing on scoring to get points for my team not for myself so we can win games. It is pretty cool though, I take it as a big accomplishment.”
Butler, who averages 19 points a game, did not accomplish the milestone on her own, she had some help from Nelson with the assists. Nelson is the top set-up player who finds the open teammate. She has racked up 127 assists so far this season which leads the state.
“I don’t even pay attention,” Nelson said about how many assists she has accumulated. “I just come out on the floor and I trust my teammates. When they are open I’m going to pass and they are going to go to the ball and they are either going to put it up or shoot an outside shot. It feels kind of good to know that, being a point guard and that is my role, to get the assists. It means I am doing my job and helping my team.”
“Assists are just as good as points,” Butler added.
“Yeah, see I give her the assists and she just puts them up,” Nelson laughed. “We work together.”
Nelson and Butler are also among the state’s leaders in steals. Nelson has a total of 77 this season ranking her fifth in the state, while Butler has 60 steals which helps the Panthers create plenty turnovers on the defensive end of the court.
Rachel Butler is also top ten in the state for total rebounds. So far this season she has come away with 196 total rebounds, ranking her fourth in the state for that category.
Panthers first year coach, Scott Antl, has only had good things to say about Butler and Nelson’s performance and involvement on the team.
“They are pretty much the heart and soul of this team,” Antl said. “Emotionally and attitude-wise they are always getting the team revved up. They are always trying to give inspiring information to the girls. They just keep everybody on top of their game. They push everybody in practice so they are good kids.”
This year is a rebuilding one for the Panthers, who are coming off a 13-13 season. Under the direction of Antl the team has a winning season of 11-6. Before coming to PACT, Antl was the girls basketball coach at Centennial for 18 years.
“That is a big program compared to here,” Antl said. “But now I’m here and trying to build this program up out here.”
Both Nelson and Butler are appreciative of their new coaching staff and credit much of their success to their guidance.
“This is by far my favorite season,” Butler said. “They (the coaches) have changed this team to one whole instead of individual players. We work really well as a team this year. Everyone knows their role and every one has a part and it is really cool cause we never had that in the past.”
“They’ve brought out the full potential in every player,” added Nelson.
“Yeah, definitely,” continued Butler. “They notice every player and their weaknesses and their strengths. It is nice to see that, rather than having past coaches just focus on the best players and not notice the ones that can help out.”
Nelson and Butler are planning on attending college in the fall. Nelson plans on going to the University of North Dakota and Butler plans on heading down to Winona State. Neither one of them has plans of playing basketball for the college of their choice, but they say they will continue to play even if it is just for fun.
“It’s my favorite hobby so I’m not going to stop,” Butler said. “I’m just not sure how far I’m going to take it at this point.”
“Right now I’m not planning on trying out, but it would definitely be fun to get with the team and play pick up games,” said Nelson.
Although the Panther’s top contributors will be gone next season, Antl is optimistic that the team will continue their success.
“They are great kids and I will greatly miss them next year,” Antl said of Nelson and Butler. ” But the program is going in the right direction. We have great kids coming up in the future.”
One of the new up and coming star players is 5-foot, 2-inch eighth grader Brynn Bozich.
“She is the future of this team and she will be taking over hopefully next year at point guard and following in Beth’s tradition,” said Antl.
As for the rest of the season, Nelson and Butler are hopeful that they will get over .500 and go far into the post season.
“I don’t think we can really set our goals too high, I mean PACT has never even seen state before so I think it would be awesome if we could get a shot at state,” Butler said. “That is a goal for us and we are going to keep going until we get there.”
“As seniors it is our last chance,” added Nelson.