Panthers serve up successful season
With a lineup full of versatile singles and doubles players, Nicole Brandt knew the Park Rapids girls tennis team would have a successful season.
The Panthers didn't disappoint by going 14-5 in dual meets, claiming runner-up honors at both the Mid-State Conference and Section 8A tournaments, and sending a doubles team to the state Class A tournament for the third year in a row.
"One huge factor was that I could have an extremely strong singles lineup. This year I had girls playing No. 3 and No. 4 singles that played No. 1 and No. 2 singles last year. Other teams could not compete," said Brandt, who concluded her fourth year as the Panthers' head coach. "We also had the advantage of moving players around to make a strong doubles lineup. When we played our strong doubles lineup, we still had the talent on the singles end to win a match or two to get the winning point."
The Panthers set the tone for a successful season by winning the eight-team Park Rapids Invitational with 25 points to edge Roseau's 22 points for the team title.
After dropping matches to Fergus Falls (4-3) and Sauk Centre (5-2) and defeating Yellow Medicine East (6-1), the Panthers finished third at the Crookston Invitational with 20 points. Hibbing (37) and Bemidji (27) finished ahead of Park Rapids at that eight-team tournament.
The Panthers proceeded to win their next seven matches by topping Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (4-3), defeating Pequot Lakes (5-2) in a conference match, edging Crookston (4-3) in a key section match, and posting easy conference wins over Detroit Lakes (6-1), Crosby-Ironton (6-1), Wadena-Deer Creek (7-0) and Perham (5-2).
A 6-1 loss to Staples-Motley snapped the Panthers' conference winning streak, but the Panthers rebounded to blank New York Mills (7-0).
Park Rapids swept the three doubles positions en route to a runner-up showing at the conference tournament with 34 points. Staples-Motley won the conference title with 37 points.
The Panthers closed the regular season with section victories over East Grand Forks (5-2), Thief River Falls (5-2) and Crookston (4-3). Park Rapids also played in a tournament with East Grand Forks and Roseau at Thief River Falls during that stretch. A 4-3 loss to Roseau in the regular-season finale gave the Panthers the No. 2 seed entering the Section 8A tournament.
In section play, the Panthers eliminated No. 7 New York Mills with a 7-0 win and No. 3 Crookston with a 4-3 victory to advance to the section title match. Roseau, which was ranked No 8 in the final state Class A poll, defeated Park Rapids 5-0 to win the section title for the third year in a row.
"I am very proud of the girls. I think that we had an amazing season," said Brandt, whose team received the state Silver Academic Award for having a team GPA between 3.50 and 3.74. "To be 14-5 and place in the top three in every tournament is a great accomplishment. At the beginning of the season I knew that this team had what it takes to get to the section finals and I am so glad that they proved that true."
The highlight of the season was sending a doubles team to state for the third straight year. Senior Alyssa Carlson and freshman Christina Smith qualified for state by winning the section title. Carlson became the first Park Rapids girls tennis player to qualify for state in doubles three times while Smith became the first freshman to qualify for state in doubles.
That duo also made history by becoming the first Park Rapids doubles team to play on the second day at the state tournament. Carlson and Smith won their second match at state before being eliminated in the consolation semifinals. Of Park Rapids' previous seven doubles teams who qualified for state, only Anna Pederson and Megan Luther had won a state match.
"I was so excited that the girls pulled off a win. They worked so hard this season so I wanted to see them end in a good way," said Brandt. "They are my first team to win a match at state. The girls were a good combination and played well together. It was great for Alyssa to make it to state her senior year and it was also a great opportunity for Christina. I am very proud of the girls."
In addition to Carlson and Smith, seniors Bailey LaCoursiere and Karly Dickinson, junior Allie Girtz and freshman Julia Renner also earned medals at the section meet. LaCoursiere defeated Renner in the third-place singles match while Dickinson and Girtz finished fourth in doubles. That marked the first time in school history that all four section entrants earned medals at the section tournament.
Rounding out this year's varsity lineup were senior Kelsey Adolphson; juniors Bonnie Baumgartner, Lexi Burlingame, Katie Walsh and Taylor Wheeler; and sophomores Sam Boyd, Heidi Schaum and Lydia Schaum.
Qualifying for state for the third time capped off a successful senior season for Carlson, who ended her high school career with a 93-37 overall record in singles and doubles. Carlson was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player after going 8-7 at No. 1 singles and 10-1 at No. 1 doubles. Carlson capped her senior season with a 25-11 overall record, including a 17-4 record in doubles. Carlson also received all-conference honors for the third year in a row and all-state academic honors. Carlson and Smith claimed the conference title at No. 1 doubles and won the section title with four straight-set wins as the No. 1 seed.
LaCoursiere also received all-conference honors and was named the Panthers' Most Dedicated Player after going 7-6 at No. 1 singles and 12-3 at No. 2 singles. LaCoursiere finished fourth at No. 1 singles at the conference tournament and entered the section tournament as the No. 3 seed.
Dickinson and Girtz also received all-conference honors by winning the Mid-State title at No. 2 doubles. That duo went 7-8 at No. 1 doubles and 9-1 at No. 2 doubles before splitting four matches to place fourth at the section tournament. Dickinson and Girtz went 20-12 as doubles partners this season.
Smith was an all-conference honorable mention choice by the Mid-State coaches after ending the season with a 1-0 record at No. 2 singles, a 7-2 record at No. 3 singles and a 10-1 record at No. 1 doubles en route to a 25-6 season record.
Renner received the team's Most Improved Player award after going 8-4 at No. 2 singles, 6-0 at No. 3 singles, 8-1 at No. 4 singles and 2-2 at the section meet as the No. 5 seed. Renner finished the season with a 25-9 overall record. Renner was the conference runner-up at No. 2 singles.
Baumgartner and Burlingame teamed up to go 10-5 at No. 2 doubles and 7-4 at No. 3 doubles this season. That duo won the conference title at No. 3 doubles. Baumgartner finished the season with a 4-1 record in singles and an 18-11 record in doubles. Burlingame compiled an 18-11 overall record in doubles.
Lydia Schaum and Heidi Schaum compiled a 1-1 record at No. 2 doubles and a 6-5 record at No. 3 doubles. Lydia Schaum held the No. 3 singles spot most of the season, going 8-3 at that position and finishing second at the conference tournament. Heidi Schaum received the team's Rookie of the Year honor and also had a 2-4 record at No. 4 singles.
Walsh, who battled a knee injury most of the season, had a 2-3 record at No. 4 singles and a 3-3 record in doubles.
Adolphson and Wheeler had a 2-1 record at No. 3 doubles. Adolphson also went 0-2 at No. 4 singles while Wheeler went 0-1 at No. 3 singles and 0-1 at No. 4 singles. Wheeler and Lydia Schaum also teamed up to go 1-2 at the Thief River Falls tournament.
Boyd had a 1-2 record at No. 4 singles this season.
The Panthers graduate four seniors, including three top players from the section lineup. However, Brandt is counting on the returning players to make the Panthers a contender in the conference and section in 2011.
"This year's group of seniors have played such an important role on our team. For the past four years they have been strong players that helped get the team points and they have been the ones with the drive to get out and play during the off-season. They have helped set a great example for the other ladies on the team. Alyssa, Bailey, Karly and Kelsey were freshmen when I took over as the head coach. We all started the varsity experience together and they will be a hard group to replace," said Brandt. "I am excited for the group that I have returning. We will have some changes to next year's lineup, but if we find the right doubles combinations, it could be a good season. I know that there are some alternates and junior varsity players that have the ability to fill a varsity spot next year. I am excited to see what happens during the first week of practice next season. I know that some of the other teams in our section will be losing some key players as well, so I think that the section should be very close again next year."