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Panthers battled through tough season

Senior Alyssa Carlson was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player and received Mid-State Conference honors after leading the team in points (174) and assists (34) this season.1 / 2
CarsonLee Christenson led the Panthers with 43 steals and finished second in scoring at 6.5 points a game.2 / 2

Nic Lembcke wasn't counting on the Park Rapids girls basketball team going winless in his first season as head coach.

Even though the Panthers didn't have success in the victory column after battling through a 0-25 season, Lembcke said the season was a success in terms of how the girls persevered and improved.

"Going winless was difficult on everyone, but I was proud of the girls for continuing to work hard. Those who watched our games consistently saw us increase our shooting percentage, drop our turnovers and beat a press more effectively," said Lembcke. "I had a good time as head coach this year and feel lucky to be a part of this program. I definitely grew a lot as a coach this year and look forward to continuing to build this program."

After opening the season with a 71-42 loss to Menahga, the Panthers opened Mid-State Conference play by dropping games to Staples-Motley (69-26) and Crosby-Ironton (64-30).

Losses to East Grand Forks (67-29), Pequot Lakes (94-28) and Sebeka (71-30) followed. Pelican Rapids defeated the Panthers 64-18 in the first round of the Pelican Rapids Valhalla tournament before Park Rapids just missed entering the win column with a 53-51 loss to Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley in the second tournament game.

After the holiday break, the Panthers lost games to Detroit Lakes (62-18), Thief River Falls (73-37), Frazee (53-44), Wadena-Deer Creek (67-33), Staples-Motley (78-34), Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (61-39), Perham (63-38), Crosby-Ironton (62-18) and Pequot Lakes (81-35).

Park Rapids had a chance to pick up another win, but lost to Nevis 56-52 in overtime.

The rest of the regular season saw the Panthers fall to Pine River-Backus (80-45), Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (80-39), Detroit Lakes (71-27), Bagley (74-40), W-DC (60-18) and Pelican Rapids (72-25).

For the Section 8AA tournament, the Panthers received the No. 9 seed and had their season come to an end with a 53-28 loss to No. 8 Frazee.

During the season, the Panthers averaged 33 points a game while allowing an average of 68. Park Rapids turned the ball over 29 times a game while forcing 13 turnovers a night.

Of Park Rapids' 19 opponents, 14 finished with at least a .500 record while six had at least 20 wins. The elite teams were Pequot Lakes (28-2), East Grand Forks (24-6), Pine River-Backus (24-4), Sebeka (23-7), Hawley (22-5) and W-DC (20-6). Pequot Lakes and Sebeka won section titles and advanced to state.

Also finishing with winning records were Pelican Rapids (19-8), Perham (18-6), Crosby-Ironton (18-10), Staples-Motley (17-13), W-H-A (16-10), Bagley (15-13) and Nevis (15-12). Detroit Lakes (13-14), Thief River Falls (12-12), D-G-F (12-13), Menahga (12-14) and Frazee (10-18) also had double digits in wins.

Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Alyssa Carlson, CarsonLee Christenson, Ashley Domino, Anna Grimes and Marisa Rittgers; juniors Lydia Lutz and Olivia Vaadeland; and sophomore Grace Bateman.

Carlson was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player and earned Mid-State Conference honors after leading the team with 174 points (7.0 per game), 34 assists and 22 3-pointers. In 25 games, Carlson tallied 36 rebounds and 33 steals.

Christenson received the team's Spirit Award after leading the team with 43 steals and finishing second with 155 points (6.5 per game). In 24 games, Christenson had 90 rebounds, 13 assists and 10 blocked shots.

Domino played in all 25 games and led the team with 150 rebounds (6.0 per game) and was third in scoring with 116 points (4.6 per night). Domino also had 19 steals.

Vaadeland also played in all 25 games and was second in rebounds with 123 (4.9 per game) and fourth in scoring with 104 points (4.2 per game). Vaadeland led the team with 30 blocked shots and had 20 steals and 13 assists.

Grimes was named the Panthers' Most Improved Player after averaging 3.3 points and 3.6 rebounds a game. In 22 games, Grimes had 73 points, 79 rebounds, 22 blocked shots and 12 steals.

Bateman played in all 25 games and tallied 70 points (2.8 per game, 25 rebounds, 17 steals and 10 assists.

Lutz finished third on the team with 102 rebounds (4.6 per game) and scored 51 points (2.3 per game). In 22 games, Lutz had 28 assists and 19 steals.

Rittgers played in all 25 games and had 28 points and 51 rebounds.

Also seeing some varsity time this season were juniors Taylor Yliniemi and Shelby Pierce; sophomores Amber Booge, Katelyn Hilmanowski, Caitlan Isaacson, Morgan Olson and Nicole Price; and freshman Charity Ridlon.

With the graduation of the five senior leaders, Lembcke is counting on the returning group to put in time over the summer to avoid another winless season next year.

"I graduate five great kids that have given a lot to the program. This season they were able to set an example for the younger girls about what it means to be a part of this program and how we handle ourselves even through a difficult season," said Lembcke. "Summer ball is going to be important for us. Basketball players are made in the off-season and if we want to compete next year, we need to dedicate ourselves to becoming better shooters and ball handlers. I played a rotation of eight players, five of those being seniors. At most, we have three returning players that played significant minutes for us this year. We definitely had some role players that were asked to play big minutes in specific games and did a nice job with that. I will be looking for those players and others to step up next year and contribute."