Inconsistency led to Panthers' losses
When John Schumacher returned as head coach of the Park Rapids girls basketball team, he knew the Panthers would be facing another tough schedule.
Despite a schedule full of tough Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA opponents, Schumacher thought the Panthers could win at least 10 games. That didn't happen as tough stretches in every game led to a 2-21 overall record.
"The talent in the conference and section was up, but I figured we'd have double digits in wins," said Schumacher. "There were a handful of games that we could have won. We just didn't play consistently for a whole game. We never strung 36 minutes together. It wasn't because of a lack of effort or a lack of being prepared. We always seemed to have a bad stretch in every game."
Of Park Rapids' 16 opponents, 11 finished the season with winning records while three others hit double digits in victories.
The Panthers opened the season with seven straight losses, dropping games to Menahga (54-43), Pequot Lakes (65-42 in the Mid-State Conference opener), Bagley (66-53), East Grand Forks (75-39), Crosby-Ironton (62-36 in another conference game), Frazee (70-44) and Thief River Falls (51-42).
A 57-51 win at Warroad snapped a 23-game losing streak dating back to last season. The Panthers followed with a 39-38 win at Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.
Four conference losses started another losing streak as the Panthers closed out the season with 14 losses.
Pequot Lakes (72-29), Wadena-Deer Creek (51-38), Detroit Lakes (61-27) and Staples-Motley (64-47) prevailed in conference battles before Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton posted a 59-47 win in a section game.
Following a 60-50 loss to Nevis, the Panthers dropped three more conference games to Crosby-Ironton (59-44), Wadena-Deer Creek (64-48) and Detroit Lakes (68-43).
The Panthers closed out the regular season with losses to Frazee (47-34), Perham (72-28), Pine River-Backus (42-34) and Staples-Motley (60-26 in the final conference game).
Park Rapids received the No. 8 seed for the Section 8AA tournament and had its season end with a 72-35 loss to No. 1 Pequot Lakes.
The Mid-State Conference schedule was brutal as all five of Park Rapids' rivals had winning records. The Panthers finished with a 0-10 record in the conference. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with an 8-2 record and finished 16-11 overall after qualifying for the state Class AAA tournament. Pequot Lakes (20-8 overall) and Staples-Motley (16-11 overall) tied for second place with 7-3 marks while Wadena-Deer Creek went 6-4 in the conference and 16-9 overall. Crosby-Ironton finished 15-14 overall despite a 2-8 record in conference games.
Perham (26-2), East Grand Forks (28-3 and the Section 8AA champion), Pine River-Backus (18-11), Thief River Falls (14-11), Frazee (14-12) and Bagley (14-13) also had winning records this season while Nevis, W-H-A and D-G-F all had 11 victories.
For the season, the Panthers shot 33.1 percent from the field (337 for 1,073, including 27 for 130 on 3-pointers) and 54.3 percent at the free throw line (175 for 322) in averaging 40 points per game. Park Rapids' opponents shot 42.9 percent from the field (502 for 1,171) and 61.1 percent at the line (250 for 409) while averaging 60 points a night. The Panthers also averaged 21 turnovers a game while forcing 14.
Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Mindy Lawrence, Danielle Dent, Kayla Stursa, Ashley Christenson, Brittany Sayler and Alyssa Klingenberg; juniors Hannah Wolff and Hailey Lundin; and sophomores Alyssa Carlson and Ashley Domino.
Lawrence, a 5-foot-10 center, was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player and earned all-conference honors after averaging 9.8 points and 6.9 rebounds a game. In 23 games, Lawrence shot 37.5 percent from the field (81 for 216) and 70.3 percent at the line (52 for 74) while scoring 226 points. Lawrence was second on the team with 151 rebounds while tallying 11 assists and six steals.
Wolff, a 5-9 forward, earned all-conference honorable mention honors after leading the team in scoring (11.4 points per game) and rebounding (7.3 per game). In 23 games, Wolff shot 41.8 percent from the field (99 for 237) and 49.1 percent at the line (56 for 114) for 263 points. Wolff also led the team with 161 rebounds and 17 steals while finishing second with 27 assists.
Dent, a 5-5 guard, was third in scoring at 5.7 points a game and led the team with 29 assists. In 23 games, Dent shot 24.5 percent from the field (46 for 188) and 50 percent at the line (18 for 36). Dent scored 132 points and had 42 rebounds and 11 steals.
Stursa, a 5-6 guard, averaged 3.2 points a game and was third in rebounding with 87. Stursa shot 30.3 percent from the field (27 for 89) and 75 percent at the line (18 for 24) while scoring 73 points and tallying 22 assists and 10 steals.
Christenson, a 5-8 forward, received the team's Most Improved Player award after scoring 56 points and pulling down 80 rebounds in 23 games. Christenson shot 25 percent from the field (19 for 76) and 45.5 percent at the line (10 for 22).
Sayler, a 5-9 forward, also played in all 23 games and had 44 points and 24 rebounds. Sayler shot 22.1 percent from the field (19 for 86). Sayler received the team's Spirit Award.
Klingenberg, a 5-4 guard, led the Panthers with 10 3-point field goals and finished with 39 points, 32 rebounds and 12 assists in 23 games. Klingenberg shot 22.2 percent from the field (14 for 63).
Lundin, a 5-7 forward, played in all 23 games and had 36 points and 47 rebounds while shooting 25 percent from the field (11 for 44).
Carlson, a 5-4 guard, also played in all 23 games and tallied 27 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists while shooting 18 percent (9 for 50) from the field.
Domino, a 5-9 forward, played in 11 games and had 21 points while shooting 52.9 percent from the field (9 for 17).
Also seeing some varsity action this season were sophomores Sophie Shogren (12 games), Anna Grimes (five games), Melissa Haas (five games) and Marissa Rittgers (five games) and freshman Olivia Vaadeland (six games).
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will have to replace six players who accounted for 62 percent of the scoring and 64 percent of the rebounding. However, Schumacher is counting on a summer of hard work to help the Panthers turn losses into victories next season.
"We're going to be young with only two seniors, but we'll be able to put a tall and quick team out on the floor," said Schumacher. "This summer is going to be big for our program. There is going to be plenty of opportunities for these girls to get stronger in the weight room and play together in practice, a summer league and a couple of tournaments. These girls have to spend time on their own working on their ball handling and shooting. The only way we're going to get better is if these girls take advantage of these opportunities this summer."