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FASTBREAK: Edgeley's Katie Entzi embraces new role after injury

Edgeley-Kulm-Montpelier’s Katie Entzi and her father, E-K-M girls basketball coach Rory Entzi, begin preparation for a challenging 2018-19 season on Nov. 13 at Edgeley High School. John M. Steiner / The Sun1 / 5
Edgeley-Kulm-Montpelier's Katie Entzi, left, watches as her father and E-K-M head girls basketball coach Rory Entzi, center, directs practice on Nov. 13 at Edgeley High School. John M. Steiner / The Sun2 / 5
Edgeley-Kulm-Montpelier's Katie Entzi (34) looks to the net against Carrington during the Region 3 girls basketball tournament last February at the Jamestown Civic Center. John M. Steiner / The Sun3 / 5
Katie Entzi4 / 5
Rory Entzi5 / 5

EDGELEY, N.D.—There's no cliché in saying basketball is life for the Rory and Melissa Entzi family from Edgeley.

The couple nearly lost their second-born child, Katie, to drowning over the sport. Katie was 3 and dad was playing in the 2004 North Dakota Amateur Basketball Association state tournament in Bismarck for Streeter Elevator.

A poolside room on the second floor of a Comfort Inn and older brother, Connor, set the stage. Connor is three years Katie's senior and currently plays basketball at Valley City State University.

"Connor ran down to the end of the hall, ran down the steps and just cannonballed into the pool," Rory recalled. "You know how when you have kids you just kinda sometimes lose track? Well, Katie saw him and—you know, we've always been pretty careful—she saw him and just took off."

The toddler concurred.

"I remember jumping in," said Katie, now 18 and a senior at Edgeley High School. "I remember seeing Connor and I just followed and that's all I remember."

Dad, whose college basketball career earned him an induction into the University of Mary (N.D.) athletics hall of fame in 2000, sprang into action. Sprinting the length of the court and diving for a loose ball was about to take on a whole new meaning.

"I see her jump in; no life jacket; she doesn't know how to swim. And, it's the deep end," Rory said. "The place is packed and I'm screaming at my teammates, 'Katie just jumped in!'

"I sprinted down and jumped in to grab her ... I missed her, but my momentum shot her up and luckily Jeff Williams' daughter was there."

The Streeter teammate's daughter, Jessica, grabbed young Katie and pulled her to safety.

Katie signed with NCAA Division II Northern State University (S.D.) women's basketball on Nov. 14, the crowning achievement to a Class B prep career that saw her twice voted second team all-state by members of the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

Injury shortens stellar career

The day before signing with the NSU Wolves, Katie was in the Edgeley High School gymnasium helping her father prepare for the second organized girls basketball practice of the 2018-19 season. Rory is entering his second winter as head coach for Edgeley-Kulm-Montpelier and this was primed to be a special year.

Katie was already Edgeley's career-leading scorer (1,590 points) and rebounder (885), and after leading the Rebels to a record of 21-4 in a stacked Region 3 as a junior, the local road to this year's Class B girls basketball state tournament was arguably headed through E-K-M and it's 6-foot senior standout.

"In my room I have this goal board that, for the past couple of years, I had written out what I wanted to achieve," Katie said. "I had a lot of goals for this year. I think we probably could've been decent."

Katie visibly struggles to pat herself on the back. E-K-M had won 20 or more games in each of the past three seasons with the humble teeanger as its focal point. She's been putting on her school's uniform since the team went 7-15 her seventh-grade year and wound up leading the Rebels to a Region 3 tournament championship as a sophomore.

Katie's season numbers had improved every step of the way, culminating with per-game averages of 17.9 points and 9.6 rebounds in 2017-18.

But Katie won't be able to put on her No. 34 jersey as a senior. The multi-sport athlete tore the ACL in her left knee during a volleyball match on Sept. 29 in Enderlin. E-K-M defeated Kindred 2-0 in the in-season tournament contest, but lost an athlete it hadn't been without since prior to 2013.

"It's going to be hard. Definitely the first couple of games," Katie said. "I can kinda be there for support; maybe a little leadership and help critique from the sideline. Like in volleyball, I was almost like an assistant coach."

After illness comes success

Rory took over as E-K-M girls basketball coach last winter. The pairing made sense.

Rory and Melissa came to Edgeley in the fall of 1995 when Rory was hired to teach social studies and coach boys basketball at the high school. The couple both played college basketball for the U-Mary Marauders in Bismarck, graduating in 1992 and marrying in '93.

Rory coached the Edgeley Rangers until 2002, and at which point he donned the stripes and officiated basketball for 10 more years. But life threw a curveball at the Entzis in 2014.

"I had aplastic anemia, which is a blood cancer," Rory said. "At the time I'd never been in a hospital a day in my life. They told me I had a 7 out of 9 chance that the first treatment would work and it did."

Nine months later doctors removed a tumor that had developed and Rory said he's since been cancer-free. But the former player/coach/official was already back on the sideline by then, having joined current E-K-M boys basketball coach Kevin Strobel as an assistant in 2013.

"Connor was a sophomore and he was just hell-bent adamant that, 'Dad, you gotta coach,'" Rory recalled. "You can't say no to your kids.

"I thought about when Connor graduated (in 2016) I'd maybe just step away and watch Kate play, but I did it a year longer," Rory continued. "And then after that year, Ms. Cleveland (former E-K-M girls basketball coach Megan Cleveland) left and my wife was like, 'I think you need to do this.'"

Rory, Katie and the Rebels were ranked seventh in Class B entering last year's Region 3 tournament held at the Jamestown Civic Center, one of four state-ranked teams in the tournament. Fourth-ranked Carrington topped the Rebels 62-61 in the tournament semifinals, and Katie would score 17 points two nights later to help E-K-M top sixth-ranked LaMoure-Litchville-Marion 55-51 for third place.

Katie converted 7 of 11 from the field and 3 of 5 at the free-throw line, while adding seven rebounds and four steals, in what would prove to be her final game for E-K-M.

"I wanted to make it to state a lot. Especially with that group of girls that we had," said Katie, who helped lead E-K-M to a seventh-place finish at the state tournament the previous season. "But I'd been playing against all those other girls for as long as I could remember, so it was kinda fun to just have that good competition."

"I think everybody knows the reason why I came to the girls' side," Rory said. "Drawing up plays was pretty easy. Whatever we needed she just did, and those players don't come along very often."

Basketball: 'That's what we do'

Katie had her ACL surgically repaired on Nov. 2 in Fargo. Playing her senior season of basketball with a brace was never really an option with full-ride college scholarships on the table.

Katie has three months of physical therapy appointments planned and in nine to 12 months she's expected to make a full recovery.

"The bad is it happened," Rory said. "The good is it's just the ACL, and the meniscus—which probably takes about 60 percent of your shock—is intact."

Katie smiles when talking about playing for Northern State and new head coach Paula Krueger, who became the school's fourth head women's basketball coach last May after spending two seasons as the program's associate head coach. Rory said NSU coaches attended 12 of Katie's games last season.

"Paula is an amazing coach and so are the assistants," Katie said. "I haven't really thought of a major, but I've been thinking of being a physical therapist. And, I guess I'll get quite a bit of experience in that for the next three months."

Coach Entzi was tasked with replacing four starters this season prior to his daughter's injury. Returning seniors Bailey Anderson, Payton Brandenburg and Avarie Carlson, along with juniors Maren Berntson and Jocelynn Madcke, appear to be early front-runners to help fill the void, and Norah Entzi, Katie's younger sister, could possibly be vying for time as an eighth grader.

"We've got some good kids left," Rory said. "We just have to tweak what we do and put people in different positions, and then hope that we can execute."

Back on the topic of basketball itself, Rory's attention was distracted by the thought of his 9-year-old son, Drew. The youngest member of the Entzi basketball family is still adjusting to an existence rooted in gymnasiums and jump shots.

"Over the last couple summers with Connor and Kate, we've been to—my wife more than I—Milwaukee and Chicago and Minneapolis and Sioux Falls," Rory said. "Drew always asks if there's a swimming pool. That's his first question.

"But one day he says to me, 'Dad, how come when we go on vacation we always have to watch basketball?' And, I'm like, because that's what we do."

Michael Savaloja

Hometown: Churchs Ferry, N.D.; College: North Dakota

A recipient of the NDHSCA Award of Merit, Savaloja has been reporting sports for The Sun since 2008.

Follow on Twitter: @MichaelSavaloja

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