Rebuilding Panthers gained experience
Jeff Renner knew this was going to be a rebuilding season for the Park Rapids boys tennis team.
The Panthers returned only four varsity players from last year's team that went 3-10 in dual meets. The other six starting spots were filled by players competing on varsity for the first time.
That lack of experience led to a 2-13 record in dual meets as the Panthers went 11-7 at No. 1 singles, 5-12 at No. 2 singles, 1-16 at No. 3 singles, 3-14 at No. 4 singles, 3-14 at No. 1 doubles, 2-15 at No. 2 doubles and 2-15 at No. 3 doubles.
"This was a rebuilding year," said Renner. "For having such a young team, I thought we did OK."
After opening the season with losses to Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (5-2), Grand Rapids (7-0) and Bemidji (7-0), the Panthers defeated Wadena-Deer Creek (6-1), lost to Crookston (6-1) and edged Perham (4-3).
Park Rapids then dropped dual meets to East Grand Forks (5-2), Detroit Lakes (5-2), Thief River Falls (7-0), Staples-Motley (6-1), Detroit Lakes (6-1) and Perham (4-3).
The Panthers finished fifth at the Mid-State Conference tournament with 13 points as Staples-Motley claimed the title with 31 points. Park Rapids closed the regular season with 6-1 losses to Crookston and East Grand Forks.
For the Section 8A tournament, the Panthers received the No. 8 seed and were eliminated by No. 1 Thief River Falls 7-0 in the quarterfinals. Thief River Falls, which was ranked No. 5 in the final state Class A poll, went on to win the section title and place fourth at the state tournament.
Leading the Panthers this season were senior Alex Renner, juniors Scott Smith and Mitch Fossen, and sophomore Chris Shaw. Seeing varsity action for the first time were senior Matt Sullivan, freshmen Calvin Bateman, Colton Carey, Steven Osterman and Iain Wallace; and eighth graders Jeff Dickinson, Jaden Olson and Zack Tretbar. Renner and Smith served as captains.
Renner returned at No. 1 singles and went 11-7, sharing first place at the conference tournament at that position and placing fourth at the Section 8A tournament in singles. Renner entered the section tournament as the No. 3 seed in singles. In addition to earning all-conference honors, Renner was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player.
Smith posted a 3-6 record at No. 2 singles and a 3-5 record at No. 1 doubles while Fossen went 1-1 at No. 3 singles, 1-4 at No. 4 singles and 3-7 at No. 1 doubles this season. That duo finished third at the conference tournament at No. 1 doubles and entered the section tournament as the No. 10 seed in doubles. Smith earned all-conference honors while Fossen was an all-conference honorable mention selection. Fossen was also named the Panthers' Most Improved Player.
Shaw had a 2-6 record at No. 2 singles, a 0-5 record at No. 3 singles and a 0-4 record at No. 1 doubles. Shaw placed fifth at No. 2 singles at the conference tournament and was the No. 15 seed in singles for the section tournament.
Sullivan received the team's Spirit Award after going 2-5 at No. 4 singles, 0-4 at No. 1 doubles and 0-3 at No. 2 doubles. Sullivan finished fourth at No. 4 singles at the conference tournament and joined Dickinson as the No. 15 seed in doubles at the section meet.
Dickinson went 0-10 at No. 3 singles, 0-6 at No. 1 doubles and 0-1 at No. 2 doubles in his varsity debut. At the conference tournament, Dickinson finished fifth at No. 3 singles.
Bateman and Osterman teamed up to finish fifth at No. 2 doubles at the conference tournament. Bateman went 0-1 at No. 4 singles, 0-1 at No. 1 doubles, 2-11 at No. 2 doubles and 0-2 at No. 3 doubles while Osterman had a 0-3 record at No. 4 singles and a 2-12 record at No. 2 doubles. Bateman received the team's Most Promising Player award.
Wallace went 2-15 at No. 3 doubles and received the team's Hardest Worker award. Olson went 0-1 at No. 4 singles, 0-3 at No. 2 doubles and 1-9 at No. 3 doubles. Tretbar went 0-1 at No. 1 doubles and 1-1 at No. 3 doubles. Those three finished fifth at No. 3 doubles at the conference tournament. Carey had a 0-3 record at No. 3 doubles.
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have to replace Renner at No. 1 singles and Sullivan's spot at No. 4 singles and doubles. But with 10 players returning who saw plenty of court time, Renner is counting on the Panthers to continue improving.
"The kids coming back gained a lot of experience this year and they're going to be better next year," said Renner. "I'm really looking forward to next season."