Turnovers led to Panthers' 6-20 mark
Joe Morgan thought the Park Rapids boys basketball team had the potential to produce a winning record this season.
The Panthers started the season on pace to reach that goal by going 5-4 in their first nine games.
However, the Panthers struggled offensively during the Mid-State Conference schedule, ending the season with a 0-10 mark in conference play and 6-20 overall record.
"Going 6-20 wasn't what my expectations were," said Morgan, who compiled a 34-45 record in three seasons as the Panthers' head coach. "We started out 5-4 and then we hit the toughest part of our schedule. We went through a period where we lacked confidence and we didn't recover from it."
After opening the season with a 68-45 win over Bagley, the Panthers dropped Mid-State Conference games to Staples-Motley (66-51) and Crosby-Ironton (83-45).
A three-game winning streak followed as the Panthers defeated Menahga (71-56), Pine River-Backus (54-50) and Nevis (58-55 in overtime in the first round of the Park Rapids Holiday Tournament).
Following a 60-36 loss to East Grand Forks in the championship game of the Park Rapids Holiday Tournament and a 52-40 loss to Warroad, a 72-52 win over Roseau gave Park Rapids a 5-4 record.
The rest of the season saw the Panthers struggle by posting a 1-16 record down the stretch.
Struggling to score on the offensive end in the first half of games was the main reason for the Panthers' plunge.
Park Rapids trailed 41-17 at the half in a 59-29 loss to Detroit Lakes, 32-15 at the half in a 68-50 loss to Pequot Lakes, 33-14 at the half in a 64-33 loss to Perham, 43-16 at the break in a 74-38 loss to Wadena Deer Creek, 55-26 at the half in a 94-54 loss to Staples-Motley and 36-16 at the half in a 78-30 loss to Pequot Lakes.
The Panthers held a 28-25 halftime lead over Thief River Falls before falling 62-52 and trailed WDC 39-14 at the break in a 73-30 loss.
A 50-47 win over Nevis snapped a nine-game losing streak and the Panthers followed with solid games in losses to East Grand Forks (65-44) and Crosby-Ironton (69-46). Park Rapids was in both games, trailing EGF 29-22 at the half and C-I 37-26 at intermission.
Detroit Lakes held a 36-17 lead at the half en route to a 78-46 win and Bemidji jumped out to a 44-13 lead at the half en route to a 70-28 victory.
Park Rapids ended the regular season with a 57-48 loss to Crookston and an 89-58 loss to Hawley. Crookston led 26-22 at the half and Hawley held a 36-28 edge at the break.
The Panthers received the No. 7 seed for the Section 8AA playoffs and were eliminated by No. 2 Pequot Lakes as the Patriots built a 39-17 lead in a 73-37 victory.
Of Park Rapids' five conference opponents, four finished the season with winning records. C-I went 7-3 in the conference and 26-4 overall. Staples-Motley went 8-2 in the conference and 20-9 overall. Pequot Lakes went 6-4 in conference play and 20-9 overall. WDC had a 5-5 record in the conference and 14-11 overall mark.
East Grand Forks (19-9), Warroad (17-9), Hawley (17-10), Bemidji (16-10) and Nevis (14-12) also had winning records.
For the season, the Panthers shot a respectable 46.1 percent from the field (471 for 1,022), but made only 55.6 percent of their free throws (202 for 363) and committed 504 turnovers (19.4 per game). Park Rapids averaged 46 points a game while allowing 62.5. The Panthers were outscored by an average of 34-22 in the first half.
"At times we shot the ball pretty well, but turnovers hurt us," said Morgan. "One of my big concerns at the beginning of the season was whether we could take care of the ball. We did a good job of that in the first part of the season, but in the second half we had too many turnovers that turned into easy layups for the other team."
Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Kevin Vaadeland, Dylan Walsh, Trevor Matheny and Jacob Swenson; and juniors Paul Dirks, Dillon Theis, Mitch Long and Roth Mattson.
Vaadeland was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player after leading the team with 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. Vaadeland shot 50.5 percent from the field (138 for 273) and 58.1 percent at the free throw line (43 for 74) in scoring 320 points. The 6-foot-4 forward led the team with 176 rebounds and 42 blocked shots while tallying 38 steals and 21 assists in 26 games.
Walsh, a 5-11 guard, averaged 8.0 points a game and led the team with 70 assists. Walsh shot 52.2 percent from the field (71 for 136) and 49.3 percent at the line (36 for 73) in scoring 183 points. Walsh also had 47 rebounds and 40 steals in 23 games. Walsh received the team's Mr. Hustle Award.
Dirks, a 5-11 guard, was third in scoring at 6.7 points a game and led the team with 52 steals. Dirks made 64 of 179 shots (35.8 percent) and 35 of 59 free throws (59.3 percent) while scoring 174 points. Dirks also had 78 rebounds and 39 assists in 26 games. Dirks was named the Panthers' Most Improved Player.
Theis, a 6-2 forward, finished fourth on the team in scoring at 5.7 points a game and second in rebounding at 4.0 per night. In 25 games, Theis shot 51.3 percent from the field (59 for 115) and 74.2 percent at the line (23 for 31). Theis tallied 143 points, 100 rebounds, 22 steals and 18 assists.
Long, a 6-1 guard, averaged 4.6 points and 3.0 rebounds a night. In 22 games, Long shot 60.3 percent from the field (44 for 73) and 50 percent at the line (14 for 28) for 102 points. Long also had 65 rebounds, 34 assists and 15 steals. Long was named the Panthers' Best Defender.
Swenson, a 5-11 guard, averaged 3.2 points a game while shooting 36.2 percent from the field (21 for 58) and 63.6 percent at the line (7 for 11). Swenson had 58 points, eight steals and seven rebounds in 18 games.
Matheny, a 6-5 center, scored 64 points and had 52 rebounds in 25 games. Matheny made 26 of 65 field goals (40 percent) and 12 of 25 free throws (48 percent) while averaging 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds a game. Matheny earned the team's Best Teammate Award.
Mattson, a 5-9 guard, played in 26 games and had 58 points, 27 rebounds, 25 assists and 13 steals. Mattson made 17 of 63 shots (27 percent) and 12 of 30 free throws (40 percent). Mattson shared the team lead with 12 3-pointers.
Also seeing some varsity time this season were juniors Cameron Theis, Max Brown and Gairett Johnson; and sophomores Taylor Kimball and Christian Ridlon.
Kimball joined the varsity midway through the season and compiled 49 points in 16 games. Kimball made 12 of 25 3-pointers and shot 46.9 percent from the field (15 for 32) and 77.8 percent at the line (7 for 9).
Cameron Theis scored 15 points in 14 games, Brown had 13 points in 17 games, Johnson played in 11 games and Ridlon had 17 points and 11 rebounds in eight games.
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers graduate their two leading scorers and two key reserves. However, five players return with extended varsity experience to provide the nucleus for next year's team.
"Next year I see all five positions being open for anyone," said Morgan. "In order to get better, the kids will have to put in a lot of work in the weight room and on ball handling and shooting in the summer."