Panthers step up, meet expectations
Despite having to fill six varsity spots, Nicole Brandt expected another successful season from the Park Rapids girls tennis team.
The Panthers went 1-5 in their first six dual meets, but turned things around by going 6-5 the rest of the way for a 7-10 overall record.
The Panthers ended the year on a high note by advancing to the Section 8A semifinals and sending a doubles team to state for the second year in a row.
Senior Mary Kading and junior Alyssa Carlson capped off the season by qualifying for the state Class A tournament in doubles with a runner-up showing at the section meet. That put the finishing touches on another successful season for the Panthers.
"The girls did a great job," said Brandt. "We started the season with only four girls returning from last year's varsity lineup. The girls did a great job of stepping up and working hard. They met my expectations."
Park Rapids started the season by dropping dual meets to Fergus Falls (6-1), Sauk Centre (5-2), Yellow Medicine East (4-3) and Pequot Lakes (5-2) while finishing sixth at the eight-team Park Rapids Invitational with 12 points and fifth at the eight-team Crookston Invitational with 17 points. Moorhead won the title at Park Rapids with 29 points while Bemidji won the title at Crookston with 31 points.
After defeating Long Prairie-Grey Eagle 4-3 and dropping a 5-2 decision to Crookston, the Panthers went 4-1 in their next five matches. Park Rapids defeated Crosby-Ironton (7-0), Detroit Lakes (4-3) and Perham (6-1) and lost to Staples-Motley (5-2) in Mid-State Conference play and followed with a 5-2 win over New York Mills.
At the conference tournament, the Panthers finished third with 25 points to trail Staples-Motley (40) and Pequot Lakes (36).
The Panthers ended the season with losses to section rivals Thief River Falls (4-3), East Grand Forks (4-3) and Roseau (6-1) before defeating Wadena-Deer Creek (7-0) to end the conference schedule with a 4-2 record.
In the section tournament, the Panthers received the No. 5 seed and defeated No. 4 Thief River Falls 6-1 before ending the year with a 6-1 loss to No. 1 Roseau in the section semifinals. Roseau repeated as section champs.
"I was so excited to get the win over Thief River Falls," said Brandt. "They had beaten us earlier in the season and so it was nice to beat them the second time around. I was hoping that we would win the first round of team and we did that."
Kading and Carlson returned to state in doubles after Kading qualified with Mindy Lawrence and Carlson qualified with Alyssa Klingenberg last season.
That duo compiled a 16-3 record at No. 1 doubles during the season to earn the No. 1 seed for the section tournament. Kading and Carlson, who earned Mid-State Conference honors by placing third at No. 1 doubles, ended up winning a true-second match to finish second in the section before dropping both matches at the state tournament to end the season with a 20-6 record as doubles partners.
Kading, the lone senior on this year's team, was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player after compiling a 24-9 overall record this season. Kading went 20-7 in doubles and 4-2 at No. 2 singles to push her career mark to 86-42 in five varsity seasons.
Carlson concluded her junior season with a 24-9 overall record, including a 20-6 record in doubles and a 4-3 record at No. 1 singles.
"It was great to qualify another doubles team for state," said Brandt. "Mary and Alyssa worked hard to get themselves back to state and I was glad to see that hard work pay off. It was a fun way to end the season."
In addition to the two co-captains, 13 other players competed in a varsity match this season. That group featured juniors Karly Dickinson, Bailey LaCoursiere, Kelsey Adolphson and Elizabeth Lempola; sophomores Allie Girtz, Lexi Burlingame, Katie Walsh, Emily Klingenberg and Taylor Wheeler; freshmen Sam Boyd and Lydia Schaum; and eighth graders Julia Renner and Christina Smith.
Dickinson and Girtz, who were the other returning starters from last year's team, teamed up for a 16-8 record in doubles. That duo went 2-3 at No. 1 doubles and 14-5 at No. 2 doubles and claimed runner-up honors at No. 2 doubles at the conference meet. Dickinson and Girtz entered the section meet as the No. 13 seed in doubles. Both players finished with a 16-9 overall record with Dickinson receiving all-conference honorable mention honors.
LaCoursiere, who played No. 1 singles at Little Falls last season, had to sit out most of the season. LaCoursiere went 2-2 in singles and was the No. 13 seed in singles for the section tournament. LaCoursiere received the team's Most Dedicated Player award.
Smith and Renner made their varsity debuts by taking over the top singles spots.
Smith compiled a 9-13 overall record this season, going 3-9 at No. 1 singles and 2-3 at No. 2 singles. Smith finished fourth at No. 1 singles at the conference meet and was the No. 6 seed in the section, going 1-1 in singles play. Smith received the team's Rookie of the Year award.
Renner went 13-13 overall, including a 2-5 record at No. 1 singles, a 5-5 mark at No. 2 singles and a 4-3 record at No. 3 singles. Renner finished third at No. 2 singles at the conference meet.
Burlingame and Walsh teamed up in doubles and posted a 13-12 record as partners. That duo went 2-3 at No. 2 doubles and 11-9 at No. 3 doubles and finished third at the conference tournament. Burlingame received the team's Most Improved Player honor.
Klingenberg rounded out the Panthers' section lineup, going 6-16 at four different positions this season. Klingenberg had a 3-10 record at No. 3 singles and 2-2 mark at No. 4 singles and finished sixth at No. 3 singles at the conference meet.
Schaum filled in at No. 4 singles, going 5-4 in her first varsity season. Schaum placed third at No. 4 singles at the conference tournament.
Lempola, who had a 0-3 record at No. 3 singles and No. 3 doubles, missed most of the season with an injury.
Also seeing varsity action for the first time were Adolphson (2-4 at No. 4 singles and No. 3 doubles), Wheeler (1-8 at No. 4 singles and No. 3 doubles) and Boyd (0-3 at No. 4 singles).
"The girls had a good season," said Brandt. "They stepped up their level of play even more around sections."
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will have to fill Kading's spot, but will return a solid nucleus of varsity and junior varsity players. Having all that experience and talent returning has Brandt and Brinn Morris (who was named the Section 8A assistant coach of the year) expecting another successful season from the Panthers next fall.
"Mary is a great tennis player and her skill level and attitude will be hard to replace," said Brandt. "The team will miss her, but it will be great to have all the rest return. I expect our team to be very tough next year. I have a lot of varsity girls returning and I have some very talented JV players that will work hard for varsity spots. I like how the future for Park Rapids tennis looks. I have a lot of great options for next year's lineup and I also see great potential for the next few years.