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Panthers serve up solid season

Kirt Leadbetter capped off his senior season with Mid-State Conference and all-state academic honors. (Vance Carlson / Enterprise)

When Jeff Renner took over as head coach of the Park Rapids boys tennis team, he expected the Panthers to produce a .500 record and challenge to send a singles player or doubles team to the state Class A tournament.

The Panthers fell just short of meeting those expectations.

In dual meets, the Panthers finished with a 5-1 record against Mid-State Conference opponents and a 6-9 overall record. Of the nine losses, three were decided in third-set tiebreakers. Park Rapids also shared the conference tournament title with Staples-Motley.

Senior Ryan Kent and sophomore Alex Renner contended for a state berth in doubles before settling for third place at the Section 8A tournament.

"I thought the season went really well, especially in the conference," said Renner. "Our seniors stepped up and were good leaders and we had some younger kids step up and play well for us."

After opening the season with losses to Grand Rapids (6-1) and Bemidji (7-0), the Panthers dropped three matches in third-set tiebreakers in a tough 6-1 loss to East Grand Forks.

Park Rapids opened its conference schedule with a 7-0 win over Wadena-Deer Creek and finished seventh at the eight-team Park Rapids Invitational. Dropping two matches in third-set tiebreakers resulted in a 5-2 loss to Crookston.

Back-to-back conference wins over Perham (6-0) and Detroit Lakes (6-1) and a share of fifth place at the eight-team Moorhead Invitational were followed with losses to Thief River Falls (6-1) and Staples-Motley (4-3). Staples-Motley won a third-set tiebreaker in the deciding match to prevent the Panthers from going undefeated in conference play.

After defeating W-DC 7-0, the Panthers tallied 29 points to tie Staples-Motley for first place at the conference tournament. The Panthers closed out the Mid-State schedule with a 6-1 win over Detroit Lakes.

A pair of 6-1 losses to Crookston and East Grand Forks to close out the regular season gave the Panthers the No. 4 seed for the Section 8A tournament. Park Rapids eliminated No. 5 Detroit Lakes 4-3 before being eliminated by No. 1 Thief River Falls 7-0 in the section semifinals.

For the season, the Panthers had a 10-14 record at No. 1 singles, a 12-12 record at No. 2 singles, a 6-17 record at No. 3 singles, a 9-13 record at No. 4 singles, a 14-9 record at No. 1 doubles, an 8-15 record at No. 2 doubles, and a 14-9 record at No. 3 doubles.

Leading the Panthers this season were the 11 letterwinners: seniors Mike Atneosen, Ryan Kent, Kirt Leadbetter and Ted Tiffany; juniors Max Brown, Kyle Dickinson, James Kujawa and Steve Smith; sophomores Taylor Kimball and Alex Renner; and freshman Scott Smith.

Kent, Leadbetter, Tiffany and Renner earned all-conference honors while Atneosen, Brown, Dickinson and Kujawa were all-conference honorable mention players. Atneosen, Leadbetter and Tiffany also earned all-state academic honors.

Renner received the team's Most Valuable Player award after going 12-5 at No. 2 singles and 3-0 at No. 1 doubles. Renner was the conference runner-up at No. 2 singles.

Kent played No. 1 singles most of the season, going 10-7 and placing second at that position at the conference tournament. Kent also had a 3-1 record at No. 1 doubles.

Leadbetter and Tiffany compiled an 11-5 record at No. 1 doubles and won the conference title at that position.

Atneosen and Brown won the conference title at No. 3 doubles and teamed for a 12-5 record at that position.

Dickinson and Kujawa compiled a 7-12 record at No. 2 doubles and placed third at that position at the conference meet.

Steve Smith played six different spots, led by a 5-7 record at No. 3 singles.

Scott Smith, who was named the Panthers' Most Improved Player, won the conference title at No. 4 singles and posted a 7-5 record at that position.

Kimball filled in at three different positions, going 2-4 at No. 4 singles and 1-1 at No. 3 doubles.

Junior Robert Swanstrom also saw some varsity action, going 0-2 at No. 4 singles.

The Panthers graduate four key players from this year's team, but Renner is looking for some younger players to step up and fill those positions next season.

"We'll have some good junior varsity kids coming up and some junior high kids challenging for varsity spots," said Renner. "We're going to be a young team, but I think we're going to be really competitive again next year."