'It was awesome:' EKM's Entzis reflect on Rebels' state tournament run
Last weekend marked a first and last for Edgeley's Entzi family
EDGELEY, N.D. — Rory Entzi was fresh out of college when he guided Hettinger to the 1994 Class B Boys State Basketball Tournament.
"It was like my second year, I was 23 or 24 years old and I was thinking, man, I wonder if I could get the program rolling — we could have some crazy success," Entzi said chuckling in reflection. "Well, it took me 29 years to get to another (state tournament)."
The time away, coupled with the fact that Entzi's daughter, Norah, was on the roster, made the head coach's return to the Class B State Tournament that much sweeter.
"It has been a blessing to have my dad as my coach," Norah said. "We are a basketball family, so it makes it that much more special that I got to experience the state tournament with my dad. It is hard to believe that my senior season came to an end. I have never played at the state tournament, and my dad hasn't coached at one for long a time, so it was a dream come true that we got to do that together."
Rory, now the head coach at Edgeley/Kulm-Montpelier, helped guide the Rebels to a fifth-place state tournament finish last weekend. EKM topped Langdon/AEM 63-37 in the fifth-place game. Central Cass wound up winning the 2023 State Class B Title, topping Thompson 58-55 in overtime.
"The weekend goes so fast and before you know it, it's over," Rory said. "It still feels like a dream, there are just tons of emotions running through you."
The Rebels came into the season as a favorite in Region 3. The girls were named the regular-season district champs in 2022 entering the district tournament at 7-1 which earned them a first-round bye, but Edgeley lost out to LaMoure/Litchville-Marion in the Region 3 tournament semifinals.
"I think that last year we surprised ourselves with what we did," Norah said. "We went through the majority of the season undefeated. At the end of the season, we were not able to pull through, but last season was definitely a learning season for us. We learned what we are capable of and that we have the potential to make it to state."
Norah said losing in the second round of regions made the team "hungry and humble" even before the 2022-23 season began.
"Last summer, most of us did the weight training program," Norah said. "It was super cool because we got to choose if we wanted to do lifts that were specialized for basketball players. We went to many different team camps over the summer. We went to Northern State, University of Jamestown, Black Hills State, Mayville State and to the University of Mary all for team camps.
"Almost every Wednesday, we had an open gym scheduled and there were a few of us that played AAU basketball over the summer to try and enhance our game even more," she said.
Coach Entzi said his squad played 35 games last summer which helped to carry them to a regular season record of 13-5. The Rebels were the top seed in the District 5 Tournament but had to fight for a spot in the regional tournament — and fight they did.
"Down the stretch, we kind of felt like the Kardiac Kids," he said. "We beat Oakes in overtime in the District 5 semis and then we had a really hard-fought game against LaMoure/LM in the district championship. Carrington, we were behind the whole game in the (region) semis and then we pulled that out."
The win over Carrington in the semis set up what Rory described as "a rock fight" between the Rebels and defending Region 3 champs, Linton/HMB.
"Going into the game, I was pretty nervous," Norah said. "I had butterflies, but I also had excited nerves. It was still hard to believe that we had a chance at going to state even when we were warming up. When we were watching the first half of the game before ours, all I could think about was how badly I just wanted to start getting ready. We all just wanted the win so bad. We knew that it was not going to be easy and that we just needed to play our game."
EKM topped the Lions 41-38 in the Region 3 title game.
"It was so surreal after we won," Norah said. "I still couldn't believe it when we were in the middle of the court, jumping around with the student section. I was just in awe that we made it to state. Once I got out of the crowd, I just knew I had to find my dad, because we finally did it. Words can't describe how happy and excited I was for our team."
"Every emotion that you can possibly imagine was going through our bodies when that horn went off," Rory added.
After the celebration at the Jamestown Civic Center subsided, Rory the Rebels got down to business and prepared for one last go-around.
"I knew that this was my last go-around and I wanted to play how I knew I could — I wanted all of us to just play our game," Norah said. "As we were preparing, our goal was to be the best we could in the short time we had left. We were all super excited to just get to Minot and start our next journey as a team. I was also just trying to soak it all in."
After three full days of practice, the Rebels headed to Minot where they faced second-seeded Thompson in the state quarterfinals.
"The first game, I don't think we played who we were complete," Rory said. "Defensively, we played pretty well — offensively — we just could make some layups and then had a couple of bad turnovers that extended Thompson's lead."
The Tommies beat the Rebels 66-43 but EKM regrouped and came back stronger on Friday.
"The next day I thought we played pretty well against Kenmare," Rory said. "We controlled the boards, we had four turnovers in the second half, I got on my kid to shoot more and she did and made four 3s — that was huge."
The Rebels' 1-1 tournament record set them up against Langdon on Saturday.
"Saturday — we were a buzz-saw," Rory said. "We beat Langon by 26. We played so well. I am not sure what it was. Our defense was solid, we played with some physicality, and we made shots."
Once the horn signaled the end of the final game, Norah's eyes welled up with emotion.
"I knew the second that I went up to my dad, that I wouldn't be able to hold it together," Norah said. "Playing for him has meant more to me than words can describe. I really did not want to accept that that was the last game I would play with him as my coach. Basketball has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember whether it was watching my siblings or going to games when my dad was a ref.
"My dad has always been there to help me out if I asked. We’d play H-O-R-S-E on the driveway or he’d watch from the window and decide to come out and help me with my form. Even in the summer when I was playing with my AAU team, it was like I had another coach to help me out and give me pointers after the game. I am so very grateful that I got to do it all with my dad: the early mornings, long practices and bus rides, wins and losses and of course the state tournament."
While Rory has officiated multiple state tournaments and made an appearance as a parent in 2017 when his daughter, Katie made it, 2023 marked the first time he had been at the state tournament coaching one of his kids.
"I'm not sure if it's better to be there as a parent or a coach," he said. "Any time one of your kids gets to the state tournament, it's a life-changing experience. "I think we both would have loved to win a title but the way we ended was awesome," Rory said. "We played as many games as we could, and we ended the season on a high note. It was awesome to know that we played in a state tournament together, you enjoyed the experience together.
"Even at home, Norah is still talking about the things we did as a team and the games and feelings and the crowd," he said. "These kids will be talking about this for years."
The kids — and probably the rest of the Rebel nation.
"The list of people who made it possible for us to get there and back was just off the charts," Rory said. "We had such a great follow, it was really cool. Getting to the state tournament really meant something to the community. It was awesome — a great experience and to experience it with your own kid makes it that much better."