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New coach has veteran lineup returning to lead Park Rapids boys tennis team

Jeff Renner inherits a veteran group as he takes over as head coach of the Park Rapids boys tennis team.

Renner will be counting on the eight returning starters to lead the Panthers to their first winning season since 2003.

Leading the Panthers this season will be seniors Mike Atneosen, Ryan Kent, Kirt Leadbetter and Ted Tiffany; juniors Max Brown, Kyle Dickinson and Steve Smith; and sophomore Alex Renner.

Tiffany and Kent were the Mid-State Conference runners-up at No. 1 doubles last season and posted a 6-7 overall record at that position last spring.

Atneosen and Leadbetter held the No. 2 doubles position most of last season, going 7-5 at that position. That duo finished second at the conference tournament at No. 2 doubles and competed in doubles at the section meet.

Renner had a 10-6 record at No. 2 singles and 2-1 mark at No. 3 singles last season and also finished second at No. 2 singles at the conference tournament. Renner went 1-1 at the Section 8A meet in singles.

Smith finished third at the conference meet at No. 3 singles and finished the season with a 6-7 record at No. 3 singles and 1-2 mark at No. 4 singles. Smith and Kent went 1-1 in doubles at the section meet.

Dickinson and Brown teamed up for a 6-5 record at No. 3 doubles, highlighted by a first-place finish at that position at the conference tournament. That duo also had a 2-1 record at No. 2 doubles.

Looking to fill the other two starting spots and provide depth will be juniors James Kujawa, Robert Swanstrom and Jonah Pearson; sophomores Taylor Kimball, Kevin Merfeld and Matt Sullivan; and freshmen Mitchell Fossen and Scott Smith.

Kujawa went 1-1 at No. 3 doubles and Smith had a 1-0 record at No. 4 singles and 0-1 mark at No. 3 doubles last season.

The two key spots the Panthers have to replace are at No. 1 singles (where Mark Smith had a 5-14 record as a senior last season) and No. 4 singles (where foreign exchange student Bruno Ramos went 7-6).

The Panthers, who opened the season against Grand Rapids and Bemidji at Bemidji Thursday, will be looking to challenge defending champion Staples-Motley in the conference and Thief River Falls in the section.

"We have a lot of experience back. I think we're going to be competitive," said Renner, who will serve as a head coach for the first time after taking over for Barb Thomson, who served as the Panthers' head coach for the past 22 years. "I hope we finish at least .500 and I'd like to see somebody go to state, whether in singles, doubles or the whole team. I'm looking forward to the season."

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