Panthers looking to serve up girls' first section title
Having a veteran lineup returning has Nicole Brandt expecting the Park Rapids girls tennis team to make another run at qualifying for the school's first trip to the state Class A tournament.
In Brandt's first three years as head coach, the Panthers lost to Crookston (6-1) in the Section 8A finals in 2007 before falling to Crookston (4-3) in 2008 and Roseau (6-1) last year in the section semifinals.
Those three teams, along with East Grand Forks, are expected to battle it out for the section title this fall. New York Mills, Perham, Thief River Falls and Wadena-Deer Creek round out the section field.
Roseau, the defending section champion, graduated three doubles players (Amanda Monkman, Amy Olson and Katie Olson) who competed as individuals at the section tournament. East Grand Forks, the section runner-up, graduated three doubles players (Paige Jensen, McKenna Jones and Bailey Manke) and one singles player (Andrea Dickman) who played as individuals at the section meet. Crookston graduated Sarah Derosier and Hayley Myrold, who won the section doubles title.
The Panthers also lost a key player in Mary Kading, who competed in doubles at the last two state Class A tournaments. However, Brandt returns eight members from the section team and has some other talented players pushing for starting spots.
"We should compete really well within the section," said Brandt, who will be assisted by Brianne Morris. "I think we should be at the top end of the section with Roseau and Crookston."
Leading the Panthers this season are the returning section players: seniors Alyssa Carlson, Karly Dickinson and Bailey LaCoursiere; juniors Lexi Burlingame, Allie Girtz and Katie Walsh; and freshmen Julia Renner and Christina Smith. Carlson, Dickinson and LaCoursiere will serve as captains.
Carlson will be seeking her third consecutive trip to state in doubles after qualifying with Alyssa Klingenberg in 2008 and Kading last season. Carlson enters her senior season with a 67-26 career record. Carlson went 15-11 at No. 2 doubles as a freshman, 20-2 at No. 2 doubles and 28-5 overall as a sophomore, and 16-3 at No. 1 doubles and 24-9 overall as a junior. Carlson and Kading earned Mid-State Conference honors by placing third at No. 1 doubles and returned to state as the section runner-up in doubles after winning a true-second match. Carlson and Kading lost both their matches at state.
Dickinson and Girtz teamed up to go 2-3 at No. 1 doubles and 14-5 at No. 2 doubles last season after both played singles two years ago. Those two were the conference runners-up at No. 2 doubles with Dickinson earning all-conference honorable mention honors. Dickinson and Girtz were the No. 13 seed in doubles at the section tournament.
LaCoursiere, who had to sit out most of the season after transferring from Little Falls, posted a 2-2 record at No. 2 and No. 3 singles and was the No. 13 seed in singles for the section meet.
Smith and Renner earned the top singles spots late in the season in their varsity debuts.
Smith went 7-12 in singles, including a 3-9 mark at the No. 1 spot and a 2-3 mark at the No. 2 position. Smith finished fourth at No. 1 singles at the conference tournament and split two matches at the section meet as the No. 6 seed in singles.
Renner compiled a 12-13 overall record in singles, going 2-5 at the No. 1 spot, 5-5 at the No. 2 position, 4-3 at the No. 3 spot and 1-0 at the No. 4 position. Renner took third at No. 2 singles at the conference tournament.
Burlingame and Walsh made their varsity debut as doubles partners by earning the No. 3 doubles position. Burlingame and Walsh posted an 11-9 record at that position while also going 2-3 at No. 2 doubles. That duo took third at the Mid-State tournament.
Junior Bonnie Baumgartner, who went 19-4 in singles (including a 16-2 record at No. 4 singles) in 2008, is also expected to claim a starting spot.
Also returning with some varsity experience are senior Kelsey Adolphson; junior Taylor Wheeler; and sophomores Sam Boyd and Lydia Schaum. All four of those players contributed on varsity for the first time a year ago.
Adolphson had a 2-4 record at No. 4 singles and No. 3 doubles, Wheeler went 1-8 at No. 4 singles and No. 3 doubles, Boyd had a 0-3 record at No. 4 singles, and Schaum went 5-4 at No. 4 singles.
Vying for starting spots and providing depth on varsity and junior varsity will be junior Brittany Kinkel; sophomores Heidi Schaum, Lesa Ludwinski, Jeni Simpson and Jill Simpson; and freshmen Lauren Naeve, Charity Ridlon, Katy Spears, Shelby Thelen, Ali Walsh and Sam Wiese.
"We have versatile players who can play both singles and doubles. The key will be finding the right combinations that work best against each team," said Brandt. "The top of our ladder is very strong and we have a lot of depth. If the girls believe in themselves, we're going to have a good season."