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Parkers Prairie girls' basketball: Life for Panthers goes on without Noga

Not many teams could endure the loss of the state's all-time leading rebounder and the third-leading scorer and still have a team capable of making a run at a state title.

Not many teams could endure the loss of the state's all-time leading rebounder and the third-leading scorer and still have a team capable of making a run at a state title.

Those are the kind of accomplishments Sari Noga took with her this past fall when she enrolled at the University of Minnesota after her record-setting career at Parkers Prairie. In her absence, the third-ranked Panthers have proven what most people already knew - that this team was much more than a one-person show on its way to a third-place finish at last year's state tournament.

Parkers Prairie has stormed out of the gate in dominant fashion. The Panthers have outscored opponents 303-119 on their way to a 4-0 record. Noga might be gone, but the expectations of another state tournament appearance did not go with her.

"Definitely, that's our goal is to get to state," her younger sister, Micaela Noga, said after scoring 22 points in a win over Brandon-Evansville last Friday. "Our five starters, we all played AAU basketball. We've been playing three quarters of the year, so our expectations are very high for each other. We're missing Sari. She was a big player, but we're filling in for her."

Micaela is a big reason as to why this team came into the season as the favorites in Section 6A. She made big contributions as just an 8th grader a year ago, including scoring 16 in her team's third-place game against Northern Freeze at the state tournament.

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She is a part of a team that is loaded with young talent. The Panthers feature just one senior on the roster in Janessa Sjobeck. Madison and Kaylee Dorn, a sophomore and junior, respectively, join Noga as the team's top returning scorers. They have started right where they left off last season, scoring in double figures in every game so far.

"I told the girls from the beginning that I have the same expectations with this team [as I had last year]," head coach John Noga said. "We are maybe going to have a few bumps in the road, just because we still are young. We do have three girls who played a lot, but those other four girls haven't been through some of this stuff...they're going to have their ups and downs, but I still think the upside and the potential of this team is still up there."

Parkers Prairie plays to its strengths on both ends of the court. The Panthers are a guard-oriented team. What they lack in size, they make up for in quickness. That allows them to suffocate teams with their full-court defense. They used that defense to turn a four-point halftime lead into a 29-point win over Brandon-Evansville last Friday.

"They're just too quick," Chargers' head coach Dick Simpson said. "And they shoot so well. You get them in a half-court game and they still have three or four girls who can all shoot."

The scary thing for opponents is this team still has not hit its stride from the outside. The Panthers made nine threes against Brandon-Evansville but shot just 29 percent from behind the arc.

"We're still not shooting as good as we can shoot," Noga said. "Both Madison and Micaela shot OK [against the Chargers]. But still, they were getting open looks, and they were missing. They're better. Ally Taylor's a great three-point shooter, Tamara Schmidt is a good three-point shooter. She just needs a few more shots in game situations. So our outside shooting isn't quite where it's going to be."

The Panthers are confident those shots will start to drop on a more consistent basis.

"I think the shots will definitely start to fall," Kaylee Dorn said. "Our offense will come."

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Once it does, this team should be more dangerous than it has already been. That could spell doom for a lot of opponents.

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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