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Panthers expect to field competitive team

Even though six starting spots have to be filled, Nicole Brandt is counting on another successful season from the Park Rapids girls tennis team.

The Panthers enjoyed a memorable season a year ago by going 13-3 in dual meets, being ranked as high as No. 7 in the state Class A poll and sending two doubles teams to the state Class A tournament for the first time in school history.

A 4-3 loss to Crookston in the Section 8A semifinals prevented the Panthers from accomplishing their main goal of qualifying the team for the state meet for the first time in school history.

With six starters gone from that team, the Panthers have some rebuilding to do in order to challenge for that elusive state berth. Even though the Panthers feature a young team, Brandt is counting on the Panthers to put another competitive lineup on the courts.

"We're a young team, but we have a lot of talented players and athletes," said Brandt. "Once we get our lineup set, I see us winning a lot of our matches."

The Panthers have six key positions to fill with the graduation of No. 1 singles player Megan Lawrence, No. 1 doubles player Mindy Lawrence, No. 2 doubles player Alyssa Klingenberg, and the No. 3 doubles team of Dena Johanning and Rachel Thelen. In addition, No. 4 singles player Bonnie Baumgartner moved.

On the positive side, the Panthers return four starters from the section squad: senior co-captain Mary Kading, junior co-captain Alyssa Carlson, junior Karly Dickinson and sophomore Allie Girtz.

Kading and Mindy Lawrence were the Mid-State Conference champs at No. 1 doubles and captured the section doubles title to advance to state. That duo compiled a 22-4 record in doubles. Kading also had a 3-3 record in singles and finished with a 27-7 overall record.

Carlson and Klingenberg teamed up for a 23-5 record as doubles partners. That duo earned all-conference honorable mention honors after winning the conference title at No. 2 doubles before earning runner-up honors at the section meet as the No. 6 seed in doubles to advance to state. Carlson also went 5-0 in singles for a 28-5 overall record.

"Mary and Alyssa made it to state last year and hopefully they can make it back to state as a doubles team this year," said Brandt.

Dickinson played five different positions last season, going 0-2 at No. 1 singles, 0-1 at No. 2 singles, 3-13 at No. 3 singles, 1-2 at No. 2 doubles and 3-3 at No. 3 doubles. Dickinson placed fourth at No. 3 singles at the conference meet.

Girtz earned a starting spot last season and also played five different positions, going 0-1 at No. 1 singles, 1-13 at No. 2 singles, 1-2 at No. 3 singles, 3-1 at No. 4 singles and 1-2 at No. 3 doubles. Girtz finished sixth at No. 2 singles at the conference meet and was a section competitor in singles.

Also returning with some varsity experience are junior Elizabeth Lempola and sophomores Emily Klingenberg and Katie Walsh. Lempola had a 0-4 record at No. 4 singles, Klingenberg went 0-3 at No. 3 singles and Walsh had a 2-0 record at No. 4 singles. Lempola and Walsh also teamed up for a 0-3 record at No. 3 doubles.

In addition to replacing the two state doubles players, the Panthers have to replace Megan Lawrence's 8-12 record at No. 1 singles, the 14-4 record compiled by Johanning and Thelen at No. 3 doubles, and Baumgartner's 16-2 record at No. 4 singles. Allison Lempola, who had a 1-4 record at No. 2 singles before missing the end of the season with an injury, also graduated.

Being counted on to fill those spots are juniors Kelsey Adolphson and Eryn Simpson; sophomores Lexi Burlingame, Brittany Kinkel and Taylor Wheeler; freshmen Sam Boyd, Jessica Kurtzweg, Lesa Ludwinski, Heidi Schaum, Lydia Schaum, Jeni Simpson and Jill Simpson; and eighth graders Julia Renner and Christina Smith.

Staples-Motley returns a strong group of players looking to repeat as Mid-State Conference champs and Roseau returns a strong lineup in hopes of repeating as Section 8A champs. Section 8A also includes Crookston, East Grand Forks, New York Mills, Perham, Thief River Falls and Wadena-Deer Creek.

By the end of the season, Brandt is looking for the Panthers to challenge the top teams in the conference and section.

"Moving up to varsity from junior varsity and junior high is a big step, but the girls are handling it well," said Brandt, who will be assisted by Brinn Morris. "Our section is tough, but I think we'll be ready at the end of the season."