New head coach looking for Panthers to improve, pick up more wins
Nic Lembcke is counting on the Park Rapids girls basketball team to execute the fundamentals in order to produce more victories this season.
Lembcke, who has served as an assistant coach for the Panthers the last three seasons, has eight varsity players returning, including four who started games last season. That experience has the new head coach counting on an improved season this winter.
The Panthers have to replace two starters in Hannah Wolff and Hailey Lundin. Wolff earned all-conference honors after leading the Panthers with 362 points (15.1 per game), 177 rebounds (7.4 per game) and 29 assists while Lundin scored 84 points (3.5 a night) and grabbed 125 rebounds (5.2 per game).
Leading the Panthers this season are the four players who started games last season: seniors Alyssa Carlson, Carson Lee Christenson and Ashley Domino; and junior Olivia Vaadeland.
Carlson earned Mid-State Conference honorable mention honors last season after averaging 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds a game. The 5-foot-4 guard made 48 of 177 field goals (27.1 percent), including 35 of 136 3-pointers, and 8 of 11 free throws while finishing with 139 points, 66 rebounds and 29 assists in 24 games.
Christenson played in 21 games and averaged 6.7 points and 3.3 rebounds a game. Christenson, a 5-8 guard, shot 40 percent from the field (62 for 155) and made 15 of 33 free throws while tallying 141 points (which was second on the team) and 70 rebounds.
Domino also saw action in 21 games and averaged 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds a night. Domino, a 5-9 forward, shot 50 percent from the field (32 for 64) and made 16 of 26 free throws in tallying 80 points and 79 rebounds.
Vaadeland, a 6-foot center, averaged 4.7 points and 7.2 rebounds a game in 20 games. Vaadeland shot 36.9 percent from the field (31 for 84) and 67.4 percent at the free-throw line (31 for 46) in compiling 93 points and 144 rebounds (to rank second on the team).
Also returning with varsity experience are seniors Anna Grimes (5-9 forward) and Marisa Rittgers (5-8 guard) and juniors Lydia Lutz (5-11 center) and Shelby Pierce (5-9 center). Grimes had 18 points and 15 rebounds in 16 games, Rittgers had 3 points and 13 rebounds in 15 games, Lutz had 35 points and 56 rebounds in 14 games, and Pierce had 6 points and six rebounds in 15 games.
Rounding out the varsity roster are junior Taylor Yliniemi (5-5 forward) and sophomores Grace Bateman (5-5 guard) and Amber Booge (5-4 guard).
Comprising this year's junior varsity and C squads are sophomores Sam Boyd, Cassidy Haggard, Katelyn Hilmanowski, Caitlin Isaacson, Heather Kniss, Tori Lauderbaugh, Sarah McBurney, Kaitlin Olson, Morgan Olson, Nicole Price, Lora Remus and Melissa Vanderstad; and freshmen Nakkita Buckanaga, Camryn Knott, Charity Ridlon and Justine Rittgers. Eric Hillesland will coach the JV while Craig Rittgers will coach the C squad.
"We're going to have to do the little things to be successful. We're going to have to be aggressive and hustle and play physical," said Lembcke. "We have good athletes and we have good balance. We have quick guards and wings and height in the post. It's a matter of putting it all together."
One key area the Panthers must improve on is taking care of the ball. Park Rapids committed 546 turnovers (23 per game) last season. The Panthers also have to improve on the offensive end after shooting just 33 percent (384 for 1,160) from the field compared to 47.2 percent (584 for 1,238) for the opposition. The Panthers averaged 43.3 points a game while allowing 61.9.
Over the last four years, the Panthers have gone 7-19, 2-24, 2-21 and 4-20. In conference play, the Panthers went 3-7, 0-10, 0-10 and 1-9 the last four years. Park Rapids was the No. 8 seed in 2008 and 2009 and the No. 9 seed last year for the Section 8AA tournament. However, the Panthers ended the season on a positive note by going 3-3 in their final six regular-season games.
Lembcke is counting on the Panthers to pick up where they left off last season, move up in the conference standings and earn a higher seed for the section playoffs.
"I'm hoping the girls come out and play hard every night. Confidence is the big thing. The girls have to believe we can win," said Lembcke, whose team opens the season at Menahga Tuesday night. "I'm hoping the girls keep improving all year and play their best ball going into the tournament. They did that last year and hopefully they can do that again this year. We'll see what happens."