Panthers put competitive team on floor
Matt Brandt predicted the Park Rapids boys basketball team would show major improvement this season.
After going 6-70 in Brandt’s first three seasons as head coach, the Panthers compiled a 9-18 record this season. Highlighting the season was the Panthers’ performances in the Section 8AA playoffs with a win over Pequot Lakes in the first round and a close loss to Crosby-Ironton in the second round.
“The kids progressed nicely throughout the year,” said Brandt. “I knew the kids had the potential to be successful. Everything clicked and we played our best ball at the end of the year.”
After opening the season with close losses to Crookston (63-55) and Staples-Motley (76-70 in the Mid-State Conference opener), the Panthers rolled to an 86-51 win over Bagley.
A loss to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (69-54) was followed with conference losses to Crosby-Ironton (72-58) and Pequot Lakes (59-51).
The Panthers closed out 2012 with an impressive 88-58 win over Sebeka, a 65-60 victory over Frazee in the semifinals of the Park Rapids Holiday Tournament and a 66-57 loss to Heritage Christian Academy in the tournament title game. Heritage Christian Academy was rated No. 3 in the state Class A poll at the time.
Park Rapids opened 2013 by splitting a pair of conference games, following a 72-58 loss to Detroit Lakes with a 72-32 rout over Wadena-Deer Creek.
The Panthers went 2-7 over their next nine games, losing to Perham (69-27) and Staples-Motley (69-59), defeating Warroad (71-57), losing to C-I (67-46) and Nevis (63-62), routing Pine River-Backus (79-26), and losing to Pequot Lakes (69-59), Detroit Lakes (85-66) and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (67-58).
Down the stretch, the Panthers peaked with a win over W-DC (55-34), a double-overtime loss to East Grand Forks (90-88), a loss to Pelican Rapids (63-47), a win over Menahga (70-61) and a loss to Hawley (80-52). Hawley ended the season rated No. 2 in the state Class AA poll, Perham qualified for the state Class AA tournament and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley qualified for the state Class A tournament.
For the Section 8AA tournament, the Panthers received the No. 5 seed in the North half of the bracket and opened with a 60-57 win at No. 4 Pequot Lakes. In the second round, the Panthers held a 33-16 lead in the first half before No. 1 Crosby-Ironton rallied for a 54-50 victory.
In the 27 games, the Panthers averaged 61.6 points a game while allowing 62.2 points a night. Last year, the Panthers averaged only 46.4 points a game and gave up an average of 66.1 points a night. Last year, the Panthers lost 12 games by at least 20 points, including two by at least 50 points, two others by at least 40 points and four others by at least 30 points. This year, the Panthers lost only three games by at least 20 points and only one of those by more than 40 points.
The Panthers improved their shooting numbers, going from 36.5 percent from the field and 46 percent from the free throw line last year to 39 percent from the field and 57 percent from the line. Park Rapids made 116 3-pointers this season compared to 54 last year. The Panthers also cut down on turnovers, going from 20.1 a game last year to 15.1 a game this season.
Those improvements enabled the Panthers to put a competitive team on the floor every night.
“We were in every game this year and that was because of the determination of the kids,” said Brandt. “The kids understood what we were trying to do and looked like a solid unit at the end of the season. Early in the season we couldn’t put two good halves together and lost some games we should have won. We easily could have had 14 or 15 wins. The kids learned what it takes to win and by the end of the year we were a team nobody wanted to play. It was a good way to end the year.”
Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Chris Goplerud, Kyle Goplerud, Cory Gartner, Mason Long and Andy Waller; juniors Tyler McCollum, Rilee Johnson and Zach Jewison; and sophomore Jordan McCollum.
Tyler McCollum led the Panthers in scoring at 15.6 points a game and in 3-pointers with 67. McCollum shot 38.2 percent from the field (154 for 403, including 67 for 209 on 3-pointers) and 78.3 percent from the line (47 for 60). In 27 games, McCollum scored 422 points and had 126 rebounds, 68 assists, 45 steals and 11 blocked shots.
Johnson led the team with 56 steals and was second on the team in scoring at 11.1 points a night. In 27 games, Johnson shot 46.4 percent from the field (128 for 276) and 50 percent at the line (45 for 90) in scoring 301 points. Johnson also had 125 rebounds and 47 assists.
Kyle Goplerud was third in scoring at 9.4 points a game, led the team with 14 blocks and was second in rebounds with 149. In 27 games, Goplerud shot 42.0 percent from the field (103 for 245, including 7 for 21 on 3-pointers) and 57.1 percent at the line (40 for 70) in scoring 253 points. Goplerud also had 57 assists and 37 steals.
Chris Goplerud also played in all 27 games and led the Panthers with 163 rebounds and was fourth by averaging 7.7 points a game. Goplerud shot 36.8 percent from the field (86 for 234, including 7 for 38 on 3-pointers) and 54.7 percent at the line (29 for 53). Goplerud also had 55 assists and 33 steals.
Jordan McCollum averaged 7.1 points a game in his first varsity season by shooting 41.6 percent from the field (69 for 166, including 26 for 76 on 3-pointers) and 61.4 percent at the line (27 for 44). In 27 games, McCollum led the team with 92 assists and scored 191 points with 71 rebounds and 39 steals.
Jewison played in all 27 games and shot 35.4 percent from the floor (34 for 96) and 68.6 percent at the line (24 for 35). Jewison scored 93 points and had 101 rebounds, 11 steals and 10 assists.
Gartner played in 27 games and shot 32.9 percent from the field (24 for 74) and 54.5 percent at the line (12 for 22). Gartner scored 62 points and had 42 assists, 29 rebounds and 27 steals.
Long played in 27 games and finished with 23 points, 51 assists, 23 rebounds and 17 steals.
Waller played in 12 games before missing the end of the season with a wrist injury. Waller averaged 4.7 points a game by making 19 of 55 field goals (34.5 percent) and 18 of 34 free throws (52.9 percent). In addition to scoring 56 points, Waller had 39 rebounds and 12 steals.
Also seeing some varsity time this season were juniors Bryce Brovitch and C.J. Hess; sophomores Riley Massie and Derek Porozinski; and freshman Wyatt Derman.
Looking ahead to next season, Brandt has five key seniors to replace. However, the Panthers will return a solid nucleus looking for even more success against conference opponents and in the section playoffs next winter.
“We’ll need some kids to step up next year. We have some big voids to fill, but we return a lot of kids who played extensive varsity minutes,” said Brandt. “The kids had a taste of what it takes to be successful and the returning kids will be striving to get double digits in wins and get a home playoff game. If they work hard over the summer, we’re going to have another successful season next year.”