Panthers struggled with consistency
Molly Aukes saw stretches of solid play from the Park Rapids volleyball team in every match this season.
The inability to consistently maintain that solid play throughout entire matches led to a 5-18-1 record.
The Panthers started off the season strong by going 3-5 in the first eight matches. After a loss to Nevis (25-7, 25-12, 25-12), the Panthers defeated Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (27-25, 25-18,2 5-22).
A three-match losing streak followed with losses to Frazee (25-9, 25-15, 27-25), Staples-Motley (25-14, 21-25, 25-18, 25-16) in a Mid-State Conference match and Pine River-Backus (17-25, 25-16, 15-5) in the first round of the Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus tournament. Park Rapids split the next two tournament matches by defeating Blackduck (25-12, 25-14) and losing to Mahnomen (25-17, 25-14), before rallying for a win over Menahga (19-25, 16-25, 25-22, 25-20, 15-6).
Park Rapids lost its next five matches to fall to 3-10 on the season. Detroit Lakes (25-7, 25-16, 25-13 in a conference match), Crookston (25-21, 25-12, 25-20) and Wadena-Deer Creek (25-8, 25-7, 25-7 in a conference match) prevailed in three sets while Pine River-Backus (25-13, 21-25, 25-14, 25-14) and Cass Lake (26-28, 25-23, 25-22, 25-9) were victorious in four sets.
The Panthers went 1-3-1 at the Fergus Falls tournament with a win over Crookston (25-18, 25-14), losses to Fosston (25-16, 25-19) and Pelican Rapids (25-15, 25-23), a tie with Detroit Lakes (25-21, 11-25) and a loss to Breckenridge (26-24, 26-24).
After a loss to Thief River Falls (25-6, 25-11, 25-15), the Panthers defeated Crosby-Ironton (25-10, 23-25, 25-16, 25-15) for their first conference win of the season. Park Rapids then ended the regular season with losses to Pelican Rapids (25-21, 25-22, 25-18), Pequot Lakes (25-4, 25-9, 25-14 in a conference match) and East Grand Forks (25-17, 25-20, 25-15).
In the Section 8AA tournament, the Panthers received the No. 7 seed in the north and opened with a 25-15, 25-18, 25-11 loss to No. 2 Pequot Lakes. Thief River Falls went on to win the section title.
"We showed improvement in a few areas of the game, but as a team you have to put it all together and have complete games to compete and win matches," said Aukes, whose team received a Silver Academic Award for having a team GPA of at least 3.50. "Playing well for one game isn't enough."
Leading the Panthers this season were the 15 letterwinners: seniors Grace Bateman, Katelyn Hilmanowski, Tonya Melott, Katie Olson, Brighton Robbins, Ashley Thelen, Alayna Young and Katlyn Zaske; juniors Morgan Dean, Bailee Jerger, Shania Johnson, Justine Rittgers and Mady Vaudrin; and sophomores Megan Grimes and Bria Wolff.
Bateman received all-conference honors, all-state academic honors, the team Spirit Award and the team Hustle Award after leading the team in service aces (38), service points (113) and set assists (147, including a team high of 16 in one match) and finishing second in digs (160) in 70 sets.
Grimes was an all-conference honorable mention player and was named the team's Offensive Player of the Year and received the team's The Wall Award after leading the team with 113 kills (including 10 in one match) and 48 solo blocks (including a team leading nine in one match). Grimes also had 21 ace serves, 59 service points and 77 digs in 71 sets.
Hilmanowski led the Panthers with eight service aces, 17 service points and 10 kills in a single match while finishing second with 27 service aces and third with 48 kills in 64 sets.
Vaudrin led the team in assisted blocks with 21.5 and was second on the team in several categories, including service points (87), kills (85) and solo blocks (27). Vaudrin also had 93 digs and 24 service aces in 67 sets.
Rittgers was named the team's Defensive Player of the Year and received the team's Hustle Award after leading the team with 198 digs and 203 serve receives. Rittgers also had 14 ace serves, 87 service points and 40 kills in 67 sets.
Thelen was second in serve receive with 194 and third in digs with 143 (including a team high of 24 in one match) while playing in 69 sets.
Johnson was second on the team with 88 set assists while tallying 83 service points in 69 sets.
Olson was named the team's Most Improved Player and played in 21 sets. Robbins had 32 digs, 14 service points and 10 kills in 33 sets. Melott had 27 service points and 22 digs in 38 sets. Young had 12 digs and 9 kills in 38 sets. Jerger had 18 service points and 12 kills in 32 sets. Wolff had 15 kills and 12 digs in 21 sets. Dean played in 10 sets and Zaske played in three sets.
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will have to fill the roles vacated by the graduation of the eight seniors, but will return a solid nucleus looking to produce more victories.
"We had a lot of seniors who were willing to play positions new to them and make sacrifices for the team. That will need to continue, believing in team before self," said Aukes. "I expect those returning to compete for starting positions I believe that the team wants to be more competitive and put more wins in the book. Commitment, hard work and dedication are keys to being successful. Sacrifices will need to be made and time given to the team in the summer to play together will be crucial."