Panthers peaked at perfect time
Tadd Usher was confident the Park Rapids boys golf team had the talent to play in the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship and card a round under 330 this spring.
The Panthers accomplished both of those goals.
Park Rapids struggled to card four consistent scores for most of the season before carding back-to-back rounds under 330 in the final two meets. In the 14 18-hole meets, the Panthers had their top four golfers compete in 11 of them. That was the key to peaking at the end of the season.
"I was very pleased with the season and very happy with the progress we made," said Usher, who completed his first season as the Panthers' head coach. "The middle part of the season was rough, but I told the kids that it's the end of the season that counts. The kids played their best golf at the end of the season and that's all you can ask."
Leading the Panthers this season were junior Ian Johnson; sophomores Bailey Mueller, Jamie Stewart, Dustin Bethel, Ryan DeLaHunt and CJ Hess; and eighth grader Wyatt Derman. Those seven comprised the six-member varsity team in almost every meet.
Competing in one meet this season were sophomore Andrew Stinar; freshmen Zach Hagen and Dillon Schroeder; and eighth graders Remington Hagen, Andre Schaum and Tristan Breitweser.
The Panthers opened the season by carding a 339 for ninth place out of 16 teams at the Detroit Lakes Invitational at Wildflower. A pair of 81s by Johnson and Mueller, an 87 by Stewart and a 90 by Derman comprised Park Rapids' team score. Staples-Motley led the field with a 309.
At the Early Bird Invitational at The Pines and The Preserve, the Panthers finished 26th out of 32 teams with a 357. Stewart's 85, Derman's 88, Johnson's 91 and Mueller's 93 led Park Rapids. Lakeville North took first with a 296.
At the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Invitational at Tianna, Hess' 93, Derman's 94, Remington Hagen's 106 and Schaum's 107 led the Panthers to a 400 and 11th place. Roseau led the 15-team field with a 315.
Mueller's 87, a pair of 91s by Stewart and Bethel, and a pair of 94s by Johnson and DeLaHunt led the Panthers to a share of ninth place at the 15-team United North Central Invitational at Blueberry Pines with a 363. Staples-Motley won the event with a 296.
Park Rapids followed by carding a 358 for ninth place at the 14-team Staples-Motley Invitational. Johnson, Mueller and Bethel all carded 88s while DeLaHunt had a 94 to lead the Panthers. Staples-Motley took first with a 303.
At the Park Rapids Invitational at Headwaters Country Club, the Panthers used an 81 by Mueller, an 83 by Stewart, an 84 by DeLaHunt and an 87 by Bethel to card a 335 for seventh place. Bemidji led the 21-team field with a 313.
An 85 by Bethel, an 89 by Mueller, a 90 by Stewart and a 91 by Johnson led Park Rapids to seventh place at the 10-team Deacon's Lodge Invitational with a 355. Staples-Motley took first with a 302.
Detroit Lakes won the Mid-State Conference title with a 294 while Park Rapids finished fifth out of seven teams with a 345. Mueller's 83, Stewart's 85, Bethel's 86 and Johnson's 91 led the Panthers.
The Panthers carded a 340 at the Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational to finish third out of seven teams. An 82 by Bethel and 86s by Johnson, Mueller and Derman led Park Rapids. Staples-Motley took first with a 308.
In the four Mid-Minnesota Conference meets, the Panthers played well enough to earn the fourth and final spot for the conference championship.
Park Rapids shot a five-player score of 457 and scored 29 points for fourth place at Blueberry Pines. The Panthers used Mueller's 86, Bethel's 91, Johnson's 95, Stewart's 96, and 100s by Derman and DeLaHunt to card a 468 and score 26 points for fifth place at Wadena. Park Rapids used Stewart's 87, Mueller's 89, Bethel's 94, Johnson's 95 and DeLaHunt's 101 for a 466, 23.50 points and fifth place at Ruttger's. The Panthers entered the final conference meet in fifth place, but scored 29 points and tied for third with a 447 at Deacon's Lodge to claim the final spot in the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championships.
Staples-Motley won all four conference meets and tallied 220.50 points while Pequot Lakes (149) and Crosby-Ironton (118.50) followed. Park Rapids finished with 107.50 points for fourth place while United North Central finished fifth with 104 points. Nevis (74), Pine River-Backus (72.50) and Wadena-Deer Creek (49) rounded out the conference standings.
At the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championships, the Panthers finished third out of four teams with a 432. Staples-Motley won the conference title with a 382. Stewart received all-conference honors with an 83 while Mueller's 84, a pair of 87s by Johnson and Bethel, and a 91 by Derman rounded out the Panthers' team score. Pequot Lakes was second with a 416 while Crosby-Ironton took fourth with a 450.
Park Rapids peaked at the end of the season by carding a 327 for sixth place at the Bagley Invitational in a tune-up for the North Subsection 8AA meet. Johnson's 77, Stewart's 81, Mueller's 82 and Bethel's 87 led the Panthers to their best round of the season. Roseau topped the eight-team field with a 309.
At the subsection meet at Bagley, the Panthers carded a 329 behind Johnson's 80, Mueller's 82, Bethel's 83 and DeLaHunt's 84. Roseau claimed the subsection title with a 306 while Crookston (308) and Thief River Falls (320) claimed the other section berths.
Detroit Lakes won the section title with a 308 and went on to claim the state Class AA title. Staples-Motley finished third at the state meet.
"Our goal was to be under 330 this year and we did that in our last two meets," said Usher. "I thought we could compete and be the second or third team to go to sections. As a team, I thought we had the talent to do that. We were right there. Overall I thought the kids played very well."
Mueller led the Panthers with an 85.5 average in 13 meets. Mueller carded 12 rounds under 90 with a low of 81. Mueller had an 88.5 average last season.
Stewart finished second with an 87.6 average in 11 meets. Stewart shot under 90 seven times with a low of 81. Stewart improved on his 94.7 average from last season.
Johnson played his best golf at the end of the season by qualifying for the section meet with an 80 at the subsection tournament. Johnson followed with an 83 at the Section 8AA meet. Johnson shot eight rounds under 90 with a team-best 77 to end the season with an 87.7 average in 14 rounds. Johnson had an 86.7 average last spring.
Bethel had an 88.7 average in 13 rounds with eight rounds in the 80s and a low of 82. Bethel had a 92.2 average last season.
DeLaHunt played 12 rounds and finished the season with a 93.6 average, which was below his 102.0 average from last year. DeLaHunt carded three rounds under 90 with a low of 84.
Hess had a 93.7 average in three rounds with a low of 92. Hess improved on his 104.6 average from last season.
Derman played 12 rounds and had a 94.2 average with a low of 86 in his first varsity season.
In their only varsity appearances this spring, Breitweser carded a 107, Schroeder had a 125, Stinar carded a 128 and Zach Hagen carded a 128.
With no seniors on the roster, Usher is counting on the Panthers to continue to lower their team score and produce more consistent results next spring.
"I expect us to compete with a lot more teams next year," said Usher. "The future looks very good. The key is how much the kids play this summer. If they practice more and play more competitive golf, I can see us doing some great things next year."