Matt Brandt in counting on improved play on the perimeter and interior to produce an improved season for the Park Rapids boys basketball team.
Last season, the Panthers shot only 30 percent from the field and 51 percent at the free-throw line while turning the ball over 19.6 times a night. Park Rapids averaged only 41.3 points a game while allowing 64.4 points. Those numbers led to an 0-8 record in Mid-State Conference games and a 4-23 overall record.
With the return of five letterwinners and a productive summer, Brandt is confident the Panthers will put a more competitive team on the floor this winter.
"We had a good summer," said Brandt, who will be assisted by Aron Moses and John Schumacher. "This group is going to play hard and play together as a team. These guys are very unselfish. They look to pass the ball and give everyone scoring opportunities. They don't care who scores as long as we win."
Being counted on to lead the Panthers are seniors Jason Haas (5-11 guard), Blake Johnson (5-8 guard) and Will Pickar (5-10 forward), and juniors Gabe Bagstad (5-8 guard) and Tristin Persons (5-8 guard).
Persons, who was named the Panthers' MVP last season, led the team in scoring at 7.1 points a game while contributing 48 rebounds, 27 assists and 25 steals.
Haas was second on the team in scoring at 6.8 points a game while leading the team with 54 assists and 32 steals. Haas also had 51 rebounds.
Bagstad averaged 4.6 points a game and led the Panthers with 20 3-pointers. Bagstad also had 36 rebounds, 18 assists and 11 steals.
Johnson averaged 1.7 points a game with 29 rebounds while Pickar averaged 1.7 points a game with 21 rebounds.
Looking to replace last year's senior crew of Hunter Jewison (who was second on the team in scoring at 5.7 points a night while leading the team with 105 rebounds and 16 blocked shots), Adam Herberg (who averaged 5.5 points a game) and Jake Dickinson (who averaged 3.2 points a game) will be seniors Luke Kosel (5-6 guard) and Carter Novak (6-0 forward); juniors Rylley Clark (6-0 forward), Jake Reish (6-3 center) and Preston Renneberg (6-5 center); and sophomores Jeff Haas (6-0 forward) and Shawn Ohm (6-5 center). Kosel, Reish, Renneberg and Ohm saw some varsity time last season.
Rounding out this year's junior varsity and C squad rosters are juniors Brennan Garwood and Ty Karger; sophomores Jens Anderson, Gabe Arola, Hunter Brandt, Kolby Brandt, Max Crist, Kaelon Emerson, Tanner Hensel, Keegan Moses and Avery Wolff; and freshmen Skylar Hagen, James Hartig, Kenton Klein, Chaise Persons, Isaiah Phillippi and Kaiden Walsh.
"We need to take care of the ball and make sure our defense is strong. We're going to use our defense to create offense," said Brandt. "Our goal is to shoot the ball 65 times a night to give ourselves a chance to put up some points. Defensively, everyone has to be disciplined and do their jobs. If we do our jobs, everything else will take care of itself."
Crosby-Ironton won the conference title with a 7-1 record and went on to win the Section 7AA title and finish second at the state Class AA tournament. Park Rapids received the No. 14 seed for the Section 8AA playoffs last season and opened with a 46-34 loss to No. 3 Crookston. Breckenridge defeated Perham in the Section 8AA title game.
Brandt is counting on the Panthers to use a balanced offensive attack and scrappy defense to improve in the conference standings and move up in the section ranks.
"The kids have expectations this season. They want to win more games than last year and get a higher seed (for the section tournament)," said Brandt. "I think we'll compete with everybody we play. It should be a fun year."
Dec. 7 - *Crosby-Ironton, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 - at Pequot Lakes, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14 - *Crookston, 7:15 p.m. Dec. 16 - *Frazee, 4 p.m. Dec. 19 - at Bagley, 7:30 p..m Dec. 21 - at Wadena-Deer Creek, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 27-28 - *Park Rapids Holiday Tournament.
Jan. 5 - at Warroad, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 6 - at Roseau, 3:30 p.m. Jan. 9 - at Perham, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11 - at Staples-Motley, 7:15 p.m. Jan. 19 - at Crosby-Ironton, 7:15 p.m. Jan. 23 - *Pelican Rapids, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 - *Pequot Lakes, 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 2 - at Aitkin, 7:15 p.m. Feb. 5 - *Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10 - vs. Barnesville at Fargo Civic Center, 2:45 p.m. Feb. 13 - at East Grand Forks, 6:30 p.m. Feb. 15 - at Detroit Lakes, 7:15 p.m. Feb. 22 - *Staples-Motley, 7:15 p.m.
March 2 - *Aitkin, 7:15 p.m.