Panthers discover winning formula
Opening the season with a win gave John Schumacher confidence the Park Rapids girls basketball team could reach his goal of winning 10 games this season.
Unfortunately, a 16-game losing streak followed as the Panthers were outscored by an average of 29 points a game.
Instead of giving up, the Panthers turned their season around by splitting their final six regular-season games. Not even a loss in the first round of the Section 8AA playoffs to conclude a 4-20 season could prevent Schumacher from praising the play of his team down the stretch.
"The girls could have thrown in the towel, but they kept working hard and we improved in a lot of areas," said Schumacher. "We started to click at the end of the season and we were able to end the season strong."
The Panthers, who ended last season with a 14-game losing streak, opened this season with a 54-40 victory over Menahga.
That would be the only win for the next 16 games as the Panthers opened Mid-State Conference play with losses to Pequot Lakes (86-42) and Wadena-Deer Creek (57-26), losses to Bagley (65-49) and East Grand Forks (65-32), another conference loss to Crosby-Ironton (57-33) and a loss to Sebeka (75-41). Park Rapids then dropped two games at the Pelican Rapids tournament, falling to the host Vikings 66-54 and Hillcrest Lutheran Academy 45-40.
A conference loss to Staples-Motley (54-37) was followed by losses to Warroad (56-47) and Thief River Falls (50-42). The Panthers then dropped conference games to Detroit Lakes (60-41), Pequot Lakes (83-51) and Wadena-Deer Creek (82-35). Losses to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (73-47) and Nevis (61-38) dropped the Panthers to 1-16 on the season.
The Panthers got back on the winning track with a 74-70 double-overtime win over Walker-Hackensack-Akeley. The 74 points were the most scored by the Panthers since a 98-37 win over Red Lake in a Section 8AA playoff game in February of 2005.
After dropping conference games to Staples-Motley (75-38) and Crosby-Ironton (57-24), the Panthers defeated Frazee 46-33. The 33 points allowed were the fewest for the Panthers since a 47-29 win over Perham in a Section 8AAA playoff game in March of 2006.
The Panthers were defeated by Perham 75-45 before ending the regular season with a 53-47 conference win over Detroit Lakes. That victory snapped a 31-game losing streak in conference play.
Park Rapids received the No. 9 seed for the Section 8AA playoffs and had its season come to an end with a 55-49 loss at No. 8 Frazee.
Pequot Lakes won the conference title with a 9-1 record while Staples-Motley (7-3) and Crosby-Ironton (6-4) followed. Pequot Lakes ended the year with a 23-6 record while Staples-Motley went 24-6 and Crosby-Ironton finished 18-9.
The Panthers also played three other teams (East Grand Forks at 22-8, Sebeka at 23-6 and Perham at 21-6) that finished with more than 20 wins while Nevis (18-9), Pelican Rapids (16-11), Warroad (16-12), D-G-F (16-10) and W-H-A (15-11) also had winning records.
For the season, the Panthers averaged 43.3 points a game while allowing 61.9 points a night. Park Rapids shot 33.1 percent from the field and 55.9 percent at the free throw line while averaging 23 turnovers a game.
"We had a lot of games where we had five or six minute stretches that hurt us," said Schumacher. "At the end of the season we started playing better. We started taking care of the basketball, we were taking good shots, we were limiting offensive rebounds and we were playing better defense. The kids kept working hard all season and we were able to finish the season on a positive note."
Leading the Panthers were the 12 players who saw varsity action: seniors Hannah Wolff and Hailey Lundin; juniors Alyssa Carlson, Carson Lee Christenson, Ashley Domino, Anna Grimes, Missy Haas, Marisa Rittgers and Sophie Shogren; and sophomores Lydia Lutz, Shelby Pierce and Olivia Vaadeland.
Wolff was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player and earned Mid-State Conference honors after averaging a team-leading 15.1 points and 7.4 rebounds a game. Wolff shot 34.7 percent from the field (129 for 372, including 41 for 134 on 3-pointers) and 57.8 percent at the line (63 for 109) in scoring 362 points to end her varsity career with 895 points. Wolff also had 177 rebounds and 29 assists in 24 starts.
Christenson averaged 6.7 points a night, shooting 40 percent from the field (62 for 155) and 45.5 percent at the line (15 for 33). In 21 games, Christenson scored 141 points and tallied 70 rebounds to earn the team's Most Improved Player award.
Carlson was third on the team in scoring at 5.8 points a game and second in 3-pointers (35) and assists (29). In 24 games, Carlson shot 27.1 percent from the field (48 for 177, including 35 for 136 on 3-pointers) and 72.7 percent at the line (8 for 11). Carlson, who was an all-conference honorable mention selection, also had 66 rebounds.
Vaadeland played in 20 games and averaged 4.7 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. Vaadeland shot 36.9 percent from the field (31 for 84) and 67.4 percent at the line (31 for 46) while tallying 93 points, 144 rebounds and nine assists.
Lundin capped off her senior season by averaging 3.5 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. In 24 games, Lundin had 84 points and 125 rebounds and led the team with 32 assists. Lundin shot 28.3 percent from the field (30 for 106) and 60 percent at the lien (24 for 40).
Shogren played in 21 games and shot 26.7 percent from the floor (24 for 90) and 52.2 percent at the line (12 for 23). Shogren tallied 62 points, 36 rebounds and 10 assists.
Lutz had 35 points and 56 rebounds in 14 games, Grimes had 18 points and 15 rebounds in 16 games, Haas had 15 points and 27 rebounds in 22 games, Pierce had six points and six rebounds in 15 games, and Rittgers had 3 points and 13 rebounds in 15 games. Haas and Rittgers shared the team's Spirit Award.
The Panthers will have to replace their two senior leaders, but the return of 10 varsity players has Schumacher predicting a more successful season next winter.
"We'll need to continue to work hard in the off-season, but we'll have a ton of experience coming back," said Schumacher. "We're right there to turning the corner. If we can stay healthy, we're going to be more competitive in the conference and section."