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Panthers enter rebuilding campaign

It's understandable why Nic Lembcke isn't sure what to expect from the Park Rapids girls basketball team this season.

Only six players return from last year's team that went 0-25. Those six players were reserves that combined to score 37 points and grab 51 rebounds last season.

The Panthers' top eight scorers either graduated or elected not to play basketball this season. Five players - Alyssa Carlson (who led the team with 174 points and 34 assists), Ashley Domino (who led the team with 150 rebounds and scored 116 points), Carson Lee Christenson (who led the team with 43 steals and scored 155 points), Anna Grimes (who had 73 points and 79 rebounds) and Marisa Rittgers (who scored 28 points) graduated while Olivia Vaadeland (who led the team with 30 blocked shots, was second with 123 rebounds and scored 104 points), Lydia Lutz (who scored 51 points and had 102 rebounds) and Grace Bateman (who scored 70 points) decided not to go out for basketball this year.

Being counted on to lead a young team this season are the six players who saw limited varsity time a year ago: juniors Amber Booge, Caitlan Isaacson, Katelyn Hilmanowski, Morgan Olson and Nicole Price; and sophomore Charity Ridlon.

Booge, a guard, scored 22 points and had 19 rebounds, eight steals and four assists in 19 games last season. Price, a forward, had 3 points and 14 rebounds in 20 games last season. Isaacson, a guard, scored 1 point and had nine rebounds and four steals in 20 games last season. Olson, a forward, had 4 points, five rebounds and five steals in 20 games last season. Ridlon, a guard/forward, scored 5 points and had three rebounds in three games last season. Hilmanowski, a center, had 2 points and a rebound in four games last season.

Joining that group on the varsity will be senior guard Greta Hanson, junior center Tori Lauderbaugh, sophomore forward Justin Rittgers, freshmen guards Katie Klein and Hope Johnson, and freshman forward Megan Grimes.

Starting the season on junior varsity and C squad will be juniors Alexis Mart (forward), Cassidy Haggard (forward), Heather Kniss (guard) and Kaitlin Olson (center); sophomores Camryn Knott (center) and Nakkita Buckanaga (guard); and freshmen Bria Wolff (forward) and Morgan Knott (forward).

"We very young and we don't have a lot of varsity experience," said Lembcke. "We have a lot of speed and some ball handlers, so hopefully we can beat the press. We're going to have to slow it down and work it around to get a good shot in our halfcourt offense. Right now our focus is on defense. We're going to have to use our defense to score in transition. I told the girls we're not going to beat anyone 70-68. We're going to have to win 32-30."

Even though the Panthers will put an inexperienced lineup on the floor against veteran teams, Lembcke is hoping for a couple wins to build on for the future.

"We have some talent, but all our girls are new to the varsity. It's going to take some time to learn to play at the varsity level," said Lembcke. "We could struggle this year, but we're going to be better off in the long run."