Panthers competed during 11-15 season
With the majority of the team returning, Tina Ridlon expected the Park Rapids girls basketball team to contend for the Mid-State Conference title and be a contender in the Section 8AA playoffs.
Even though the Panthers fell short in both of those quests, Ridlon was happy with the progress her team made this season.
The Panthers, who finished 0-10 in conference play and 7-19 overall last season, went 1-9 against Mid-State Conference opponents and 11-15 overall. The 11 wins were the most since the 2005-06 season where the Panthers went 22-5.
Opening the season with losses to Crosby-Ironton (51-41), Staples-Motley (65-51), Pequot Lakes (89-68) and Detroit Lakes (75-56) in the first five games ended the Panthers’ bid to contend for the conference title. However, the Panthers did defeat Sebeka (59-42) during that stretch.
In the Valkyrie Division of the Pelican Rapids tournament, the Panthers defeated Battle Lake (63-48) and lost to Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal (73-67) for a 2-5 start to the season.
A 68-63 win over Frazee was followed with a 63-44 win over Wadena-Deer Creek as the Panthers snapped a 34-game Mid-State losing streak. The Panthers then followed a 77-65 loss to Staples-Motley with a 53-51 win over Warroad.
A three-game losing streak followed as the Panthers dropped games to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (58-51), Perham (57-35) and Crosby-Ironton (61-57).
The Panthers ended the regular season by alternating wins and losses.
A 76-55 win over Nevis was followed with a 68-58 loss to Roseau. The Panthers defeated Pine River-Backus 48-45 then lost to Detroit Lakes 73-53. A 77-38 win over Northland Remer was followed with a 69-66 loss to Walker-Hackensack-Akeley. The Panthers defeated Bagley and then lost to Wadena-Deer Creek 70-55. Wins over Pelican Rapids (65-48) and Menahga (77-25) were followed by an 85-71 loss to Pequot Lakes in the regular-season finale.
Park Rapids received the No. 6 seed in the north for the Section 8AA tournament and opened the playoffs with a 70-59 loss to No. 3 Crosby-Ironton.
For the season, the Panthers averaged 60.5 points a game while allowing 59.8 points a game. Park Rapids shot 40.2 percent from the field (613 for 1,526, including 84 for 296 on 3-pointers) and 54.4 percent at the free throw line (262 for 482). The Panthers averaged 16.3 turnovers a game while tallying 11.6 steals a game.
Park Rapids went 6-11 against team with winning records and 5-4 against teams at .500 or below. Staples-Motley was rated as high as No. 3, Pelican Rapids was rated as high as No. 6 and Pequot Lakes was rated as high as No. 7 in the state Class AA poll during the season. Pequot Lakes qualified for state by winning the Section 8AA title.
“The team really wanted to come out and be competitive this year. We had a goal to improve as the season progressed and to end our season at .500 or better. We fell short of that goal, but we also endured injuries along the way where I believe if we were 100 percent we could have converted some of the losses to wins,” said Ridlon. “The girls felt very good about being competitive this year. They knew the hard work they put into basketball, not only on the court but we added a classroom component where we learned about the game. It was fun as a coach to watch the girls improve their skills, improve their learning of the game and then come together to play as a team by the end of the season.”
Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Charity Ridlon and Justine Rittgers; juniors Katie Klein, Bria Wolff, Megan Grimes and Hope Johnson; and sophomore Gabie Johnson.
Ridlon was named the Panthers’ Most Valuable Player and earned all-conference honors after leading the team in scoring at 18.6 points a game and in steals with 74 and blocked shots with 16. In 26 games, Ridlon made 187 of 451 field goals (41.5 percent), including 30 of 108 on 3-pointers, and 80 of 128 free throws (62.5 percent) in scoring 484 points to end her career with 922 points. Ridlon also had 39 assists and 194 rebounds.
Klein earned all-conference honorable mention honors after finishing second on the team in scoring at 11.3 points a game. Klein shot 36.5 percent from the field (103 for 282, including 26 for 106 on 3-pointers) and 65.6 percent at the line (63 for 96) in scoring 295 points. Klein led the team with 53 assists while adding 53 steals and 39 rebounds in 26 games. Klein received the Coaches Award.
Gabie Johnson was third in scoring at 9.4 points a game while shooting 48.7 percent from the field (111 for 228) and 55.3 percent at the line (21 for 38) in scoring 244 points. Johnson also added 171 rebounds, 35 assists and 32 steals in 26 games.
Wolff also played in all 26 games and averaged 7.2 points a game, shooting 45.3 percent from the field (81 for 179) and 44.8 percent at the line (26 for 58) in scoring 188 points. Wolff also contributed 110 rebounds, 35 steals and 21 assists.
Grimes led the Panthers in rebounds with 250 and averaged 5.4 points a game by shooting 35.7 percent from the field (51 for 143) and 40 percent at the line (34 for 85) for 136 points. Grimes also had 54 steals and 50 assists in 25 games. Grimes received the Team Spirit Award.
Hope Johnson played in all 26 games and averaged 4.5 points a game while shooting 29.7 percent from the field (38 for 128, including 20 for 58 on 3-pointers) and 46.5 percent at the line (20 for 43). Johnson chipped in 40 rebounds, 33 steals and 30 assists.
Rittgers also played in all 26 games and averaged 2.5 points a game. Rittgers made 25 of 67 shots (37.3 percent) and 10 of 21 free throws (10 for 21) in scoring 65 points. Rittgers also had 57 rebounds, 20 assists and 14 steals. Rittgers was named the Panthers’ Most Improved Player.
Also seeing some varsity time this season were sophomores Megan Olson (16 points in 11 games) and Carly Waggoner (12 games); freshmen Ellery Overmyer (six games), Madison Steffel (six games) and Emily Dean (four games); and eighth grader Jaiden McCollum (six games). Those six players helped the Panthers’ junior varsity go 16-6. McCollum was named the JV’s MVP, Dean was named Most Improved, Steffel received the Team Spirit Award and Overmyer received a Coaches Award.
Replacing the two seniors is going to be tough, but Ridlon is expecting the returning players to lead the Panthers to even more success next season.
“I am going to miss my seniors. They provided leadership on the off the court, they both played with confidence and they both brought an element of fun to the game. Both Charity and Justine will be hard to replace,” said Ridlon. “I am very excited for next season and have high expectations for the team. Keys to success for next year will be what happens in the offseason. I believe in the old adage that basketball players are made in the summer. This group of girls has the potential of doing well in our conference and section play. If they play the game in the offseason, they will have a solid chance of making it to state.”