Even though the Park Rapids boys golf team entered this season with no seniors and only one junior, Jim Weinzierl expected lower scores than last season.
The Park Rapids head coach wasn't disappointed as the Panthers carded better rounds than a year ago in almost every meet this spring.
The Panthers opened the season by carding a 371 to finish 14th at the 16-team Detroit Lakes Invitational at Wildflower, rounds of 382 at The Pines and 364 at The Preserve to finish 14th out of 17 teams at the Pequot Lakes Invitational with a 746, and a 372 to finish fifth out of 11 teams at the United North Central Invitational at Blueberry Pines. Duluth Central shot a 325 to take first at Wildflower, Hermantown fired a 622 to lead the field at Pequot Lakes, and Staples-Motley carded a 339 to win the title at Blueberry Pines.
At the Staples-Motley Invitational at The Vintage, the Panthers shot a 356 to finish 12th out of 17 teams. St. Cloud Cathedral took first with a 303. The Panthers were missing three regulars and shot a 423 to finish 10th at the 14-team Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Invitational at Long Bow Golf Club. Warroad led the field with a 332.
At the Detroit Lakes Invitational at Long Bow, the Panthers carded a 452 to finish 13th out of 15 teams. Detroit Lakes shot a 382 to take first in this meet, which tallied the top five scores on each team.
Park Rapids' Black team had four players shoot in the 80s en route to a seventh-place score of 340 at the 18-team Park Rapids Invitational at Headwaters Country Club. Fergus Falls shot a 305 to top the field. The Park Rapids Orange team shot a 398 for 17th place.
The Panthers followed by carding a 360 for eighth place at the 11-team Deacon's Lodge Invitational and carded a 353 to finish seventh at the 10-team Warroad Invitational. Moorhead won the title at Deacon's Lodge with a 303 while Roseau shot a 315 to top the field at Warroad.
Having four players shoot rounds under 85 led the Panthers to a season-low 332 and third place at the Mid-State Conference meet at Headwaters. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with a 306. Park Rapids finished sixth last year with a 366.
In the four Mid-Minnesota Conference meets, the Panthers tallied 27 points at Staples with a 453, 25 points with a 438 at Bears Den, 23.5 points with a 459 at Deacon's Lodge, and 24 points with a 442 at Headwaters as the top five scores were used. Park Rapids ended up finishing fifth in the final team standings with 99.5 points. Advancing to the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship were Staples-Motley (208.5 points), Pequot Lakes (139 points), Wadena-Deer Creek (117.5 points) and Crosby-Ironton (103 points). Pine River-Backus (84), United North Central (83) and Nevis (66) followed the Panthers.
Park Rapids concluded the season by placing seventh at the North Section 8AA tournament at Warroad with a 365. The Panthers shot a 358 to finish seventh last year. Roseau won the subsection title with a 319. Detroit Lakes won the section title and went on to win the state Class AA title. Staples-Motley finished third at the state Class AA tournament.
"I thought the kids made tremendous improvement from Day 1 to the end of the year," said Weinzierl. "We knocked 50 strokes off our team score in a month. We were an extremely young team, but we made tremendous strides. I was really happy with the way the kids improved and competed."
Leading the Panthers this season were junior Ed Carlson; sophomores Ian Johnson and Nate Carlson; and freshmen Bailey Mueller, Dustin Bethel, Jamie Stewart, Jeff Jacobson, Ryan DeLaHunt and C.J. Hess.
Johnson earned Most Valuable Player honors after leading the Panthers with an 18-hole average of 86.7, which was down from his 2010 average of 93.9. In 14 meets, Johnson carded rounds under 90 nine times. Johnson carded a career-best 78 at Bears Den and had 82s at Staples and Headwaters. Johnson also qualified for the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championships where he carded a 97 at The Legacy. Johnson capped off the season by shooting an 84 at the Mid-State meet and a 90 at the subsection meet.
Mueller finished second on the team with an 88.5 average in nine meets. Mueller, who had a 94.1 average last season, shot a career-best 81 at Warroad and earned all-conference honorable mention honors by shooting an 82 at the Mid-State meet. Mueller (who had rounds of 83 at Headwaters and 84 at Long Bow) ended the season with a 92 at the subsection meet.
Bethel had a 92.2 average in 14 meets. Bethel, who had a 91.5 average last season, shot a career-best 83 at the Mid-State meet and carded a 95 at the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship. Bethel ended the season by shooting a 101 at the subsection meet.
Ed Carlson played 13 rounds and finished the season with a 93.5 average. Carlson, who had a 95.5 average last season, shot four rounds in the 80s, highlighted by an 83 at the conference meet and an 84 at Bears Den. Carlson, who served as the Panthers' captain and received the team's Most Dedicated award this season, shot a 91 at the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship and ended the year with a 95 at the subsection meet.
Nate Carlson played in 13 meets and finished with a 94.7 average, which was down from his 2010 average of 98.7. Carlson's best rounds were an 87 and an 88 at Headwaters. Carlson carded a 95 at the subsection meet.
Stewart qualified for the Section 8AA tournament by carding an 88 for the final berth at the subsection meet. Stewart followed with a 106 at the section tournament. In 10 meets, Stewart had a 94.7 average, which was down from his 2010 average of 104.5. Stewart's best round was an 86 at Long Bow.
Jacobson had a 97.2 average in five meets in his varsity debut. Jacobson's best round was a 94 at Deacon's Lodge.
DeLaHunt played in four meets and had a 102.0 average in his varsity debut. DeLaHunt's best round was a 97 at Bears Den.
Hess also made his varsity debut and had a 104.6 average in six meets. Hess' best round was a 95 at Bears Den.
Also seeing some varsity action this season were sophomores Caleb Anderson (118.0 average in two meets) and Kyle Lewis (174 in his only varsity meet) and freshman Andrew Stinar (142.0 average in two meets).
With that entire group returning, Weinzierl is counting on the Panthers to continue to improve next spring.
"These kids like to play golf and they want to get better," said Weinzierl. "We're going to be more competitive next year. The future looks very good."