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Noga makes history in signing with U of M

The Panthers' Sari Noga has scored more than 2,800 points through her junior season. She will take that scoring ability to the University of Minnesota next fall as part of a five-member recruiting class for the Gophers in 2010.

A moment that Sari Noga has been thinking about for years became a reality on November 11.

Noga drew a picture of herself in a Gophers' uniform when her teacher had her class make "all about me" posters when she was 8 years old. Now 10 years later, Noga proved to be a bit prophetic as she signed her letter of intent to play for the University of Minnesota women's basketball team in front of her friends and family in the Parkers Prairie gymnasium.

Noga grew up loving the Gopher basketball program. Now she was signing on to join them as the Parkers Prairie pep band played the Minnesota Rouser to help her celebrate.

"It was awesome," she said. "It was just as exciting as when I verballed. It was special to do it with my school. It was the same day we were leaving for the state volleyball tournament. [Athletic Director] Kelly Mesker made a big deal out of it. When I signed, I got a standing ovation and that sent a big rush through me. It was great to know how many people love and support me."

It is easy for the whole community to get caught up in the excitement of her signing. It is the first time Parkers Prairie has produced a Division I basketball player.

Those inside the community know the kind of talent she has on the court. It is the Gopher fans outside of the area that might be a little skeptical. Noga knows the jump from the Class A level to the Big Ten is a big one. She also knows there are probably a lot of people who have never seen her play who might have their doubts.

"I think Katie Ohm did a good job of making that jump," Noga said. "Just being from Class A, I think a lot of people in the metro area believe that you can't play at that high a level. Going and playing in AAU, I think I have played against that kind of talent. What I'm going to try to prove to them is that kids from Class A can play at that level."

Ohm has proven that it can be done. The 2005 graduate of Elgin-Millville High School is going into her senior season with the Gophers this winter. She already ranks third at the University of Minnesota in career three-pointers with 156.

Ohm put up similar kind of numbers as Noga in high school. She finished as the all-time leading scorer when she graduated with 3,694 career points. Tayler Hill surpassed her last year at Minneapolis South. Noga will no doubt move into the top five of Minnesota's all-time scoring leaders this season. She currently ranks 11th with 2,820 points through her junior season.

It is the departure of Ohm after this season that will create an opportunity for Noga during her freshman season. Pam Borton and the Gopher coaching staff have told all five members of the 2010 recruiting class that they will have an opportunity to contribute right away. What they make of that opportunity is up to them.

"There's a little pressure because I think some people think you can just go in there and do well right away," Noga said. "I think the coaches know what they expect of us. I'll just go in there and do my job for them, whatever it is, right away."

Those opportunities are there because of the five graduating seniors for the Gophers in 2010. Brittany McCoy, Zoe Harper, Ashley Ellis-Milan, Tanisha Smith and Ohm will all be playing their last season with Minnesota.

The five incoming freshmen know they will be a big part of the Gophers' future success. They are not shying away from that.

"We did talk about it a little bit," Noga said. "[Our goals] are a Big Ten championship and getting another trip to the final four. I'm sure that's a lot of girls' dreams, but that's a focus again and that's what we talked about."

For now, Noga will focus on her senior season in high school and helping Parkers Prairie battle for the Little Eight Conference title. The Panthers came up just short last season because of a really good Brandon-Evansville team.

The Panthers return their biggest contributors from last year's team, while the Chargers will feature another balanced lineup but will have to make up for the loss of point guard Jenna Meissner. Noga knows she needs to put the excitement of signing with the Gophers behind her for now and concentrate on leading her team to a memorable senior season.

"For our team, we just made it to state in volleyball and now we know how fun that was," she said. "We want to make another trip down there in March. The LEC is always tough, no matter what. But I think we are pretty confident coming in. We'll have a good year."