Panthers look to serve up success
Brianne Morris is counting on the combination of talented veterans and talented newcomers to lead the Park Rapids girls tennis team to another successful season.
Morris, who has served as the Panthers' assistant coach the last three years, will count on the five returning players from last year's Section 8A team to provide leadership this fall.
That group features seniors Heidi Schaum and Lydia Schaum and juniors Christina Smith, Julia Renner and Charity Ridlon.
In addition to that group, seniors Jeni Simpson and Jill Simpson saw some varsity action last season.
Those players helped the Panthers go 12-6 in dual meets and earn runner-up honors at the Mid-State Conference tournament. Park Rapids entered the Section 8A meet seeded No. 3 and lost to No. 2 Staples-Motley 5-2 in the semifinals. Staples-Motley defeated Pequot Lakes in the section championship match.
Smith was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player last season after qualifying for the state Class A tournament in singles. Smith, who qualified for state in doubles as a freshman, became the first player in the history of the Park Rapids girls tennis program to qualify for state in both singles and doubles. Smith went 14-9 at No. 1 singles, finished third at that position at the Mid-State Conference meet to earn all-conference honors, advanced to state as the section runner-up and ended the season with a 17-12 overall record at singles.
Renner compiled a 4-3 record at No. 1 singles and a 21-1 record at No. 2 singles. Renner ended the season with a 27-7 overall record and was the conference champion at No. 2 singles and finished fourth in singles at the section tournament.
Lydia Schaum was the conference runner-up at No. 3 singles and finished the season with a 24-6 overall record, going 4-1 at No. 2 singles, 18-5 at No. 3 singles and 1-0 at No. 4 singles.
Heidi Schaum claimed runner-up honors at No. 4 singles at the conference meet and compiled an 18-11 overall record, going 4-1 at No. 3 singles and 13-9 at No. 4 singles.
Ridlon earned a varsity spot midway through the season and finished with a 9-9 overall record, going 4-2 at No. 4 singles and 5-6 at No. 3 doubles.
The Simpsons teamed up to go 1-2 at No. 3 doubles.
The Panthers have key spots to fill with the graduation of Allie Girtz, Bonnie Baumgartner, Lexi Burlingame, Katie Walsh, Taylor Wheeler and Brittany Kinkel.
Girtz and Baumgartner combined to go 23-3 at No. 1 doubles, took first at that position at the conference meet and ended the season by placing third at the section meet for a 26-5 overall record. Burlingame and Walsh combined for a 15-8 record at No. 2 doubles and went 16-10 as doubles partners. Wheeler and Kinkel teamed up for a 6-5 record at No. 3 doubles. Wheeler went 13-13 overall while Kinkel had a 10-7 overall record.
Looking to fill those spots will be senior Sam Boyd; junior Allison Walsh; sophomores Hope Johnson, Lindsey Girtz, Sarena Kinkel and Morgan Knott; freshman Mariena Dearstyne; and eighth grader Julia Smith. The Simpsons and Boyd will serve as captains.
Starting the season on the junior varsity will be juniors Katy Spears and Shelby Thelen; sophomores Danielle Thelen and Kylee Roy; and freshman Kellsey Clark.
Section 8A will remain the same with the Panthers joining Crookston, East Grand Forks, New York Mills, Pequot Lakes, Perham, Roseau, Staples-Motley and Wadena-Deer Creek. Staples-Motley enters the season rated No. 5 in the state Class A poll.
Morris is confident the first-year players will step in and combine with the veterans to produce another successful season.
"Our doubles are all new, but I feel we'll have a fairly strong lineup," said Morris, who will be assisted by Barb Thomason. "A lot of the girls worked hard over the summer and you can see the improvement. I think we'll be very competitive in the conference and section. Hopefully we can send someone to state again and I think the girls have a shot to go to state as a team. We're going to be right up there."