Panthers expecting another successful season on court
Brianne Morris is expecting another successful season from the Park Rapids girls tennis team.
A year ago, the senior trio of Julia Smith, Drew Hilmanowski and Haley MacPherson led the Panthers to an 11-11 overall record, a third-place showing at the Mid-State Conference tournament and a spot in the Section 8A semifinals.
Smith capped off last season by qualifying for the state Class A tournament in singles for the fourth year in a row, finishing as the conference and section runner-up while compiling a 25-10 overall record for a 113-43 career record. Smith received team MVP and all-conference honors. Hilmanowski and MacPherson competed at No. 1 doubles, going 9-5 while placing third at the conference meet to earn all-conference honorable mention honors. Hilmanowski compiled a 20-12 overall record while MacPherson finished with a 13-15 overall mark.
The graduation of those three players has Morris looking to replace her top singles player and doubles team. However, the Park Rapids head coach is confident her team will once again put a competitive unit on the courts with the return of eight regulars who competed on varsity last fall.
"It is going to be tough to replace them, but the girls worked hard throughout the summer knowing that they were all going to be moving up in the lineup," said Morris. "The girls are also going to have to be open to playing anywhere to help the team until we figure out our best lineup."
Being counted on to lead the Panthers this fall are senior captains Tori Hilmanowski and Olivia Wallace; juniors Natalie Kinkel, Gracie Eischens, Chloe Johnson and Meagan Powers; sophomore Jada Renneberg; and eighth grader Abby Morris. Sophomore Emma Miller also returns with some varsity experience.
Kinkel played No. 2 singles most of the season, going 14-6 at that spot while placing third at that position at the conference tournament to earn Mid-State Conference honors. Kinkel also had a 6-1 record at No. 1 doubles. Kinkel ended the season by teaming up with Drew Hilmanowski in doubles for the section tournament. That duo entered as the No. 2 seed and ended up placing third to give Kinkel a 23-9 overall record.
Tori Hilmanowski compiled a 13-16 overall record at five different positions, going 5-7 at No. 3 singles and 5-8 at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles. Hilmanowski placed third at No. 3 singles at the Mid-State meet and joined MacPherson as the No. 12 seed in doubles for the section meet.
Morris was the Panthers' other entrant in the individual section tournament, entering as the No. 13 seed in singles. During the season, Morris compiled an 18-11 overall record in her varsity debut. Morris went 12-7 (including a 10-4 mark at No. 4 singles) in singles while posting a 6-3 record at the three doubles spots. Morris placed third at No. 4 singles at the conference meet.
Wallace, Johnson, Eischens and Renneberg rounded out the Panthers' Mid-State squad with Wallace and Johnson placing fifth at No. 2 doubles and Eischens and Renneberg placing fifth at No. 3 doubles as Park Rapids tallied 32 points. Staples-Motley and Pequot Lakes shared the conference title with 39 points each.
For the season, Wallace had a 10-13 record (including a 6-9 mark at No. 2 doubles), Johnson compiled a 14-13 record (including a 14-11 mark at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles), Eischens went 8-12 overall (including an 8-7 record at No. 3 doubles) and Renneberg tallied a 12-14 overall record (including an 8-6 record at No. 3 doubles).
Powers saw action at No. 4 singles (1-2 record), No. 2 doubles (1-4) and No. 3 doubles (1-3) while Miller went 0-1 at No. 3 doubles.
The Panthers went 4-5 against section opponents during the regular season to earn the No. 5 seed for the section tournament. After opening with a 6-1 win over No. 4 Perham, Park Rapids was eliminated with a 5-2 loss to No. 1 Roseau in the semifinals. Roseau edged No. 2 Staples-Motley 4-3 in the section championship match and went on to place sixth at the state tournament.
In addition to the nine returning players, juniors Kendra Coborn, Abby Eystad, Veronica Gauthier, Madison Johnson and Kinley Nordin; freshmen Cassidy Bera, Taylor Dravis, Mikayla Snyder and Megan Westby; eighth grader Rachael Herman; and seventh graders Mickey Clark, Macy Goochey and Morgan Koppleman will be competing for varsity time and providing depth this fall.
"I expect the girls to put in 100 percent in practice and in meets. We struggle a lot with the negative side of what is going on in matches and lose a lot of close matches, so we are going to work on staying positive on the court," said Morris, who will be assisted by Barb Thomason and Leah Hilmanowski. "I think we will be competitive with the teams in our conference and section. We would like to have a winning season and I believe we can contend for the section team title, but it is going to be tough. It should be a fun and competitive year."