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Panthers show major improvement

Charity Ridlon (dark jersey) led the Park Rapids girls basketball team in scoring (306 points), assists (49) and blocked shots (20) and was second in rebounds (169) and steals (56).1 / 2
Katie Klein finished second on the Park Rapids girls basketball team in scoring at 8.2 points a game.2 / 2

  Tina Ridlon is hoping the foundation has been set in making the Park Rapids girls basketball team a contender in the Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA ranks.

     After going 9-115 the last five years, the Panthers finished with a 7-19 record in Ridlon’s first year as head coach.

     “I had a lot of fun coaching this group of girls,” said Ridlon. “I stepped in not knowing how they would handle my expectations, yet they rose up and met them. I pushed them hard and was pleased with the willingness and effort the girls put forth.”

     The Panthers got off to a slow start by losing their first five games. After opening the season with a loss at Menahga (68-53), the Panthers dropped conference games to Crosby-Ironton (66-28), Staples-Motley (88-36), Pequot Lakes (82-34) and Detroit Lakes (67-27).

     A 63-48 win over Rothsay at the Pelican Rapids Valkyrie Tournament snapped a 24-game losing streak. Lester Prairie defeated the Panthers 59-39 in the title game.

     Park Rapids began 2013 with a 66-62 win at Sebeka before dropping games to Roseau (70-53), Frazee (72-51), Staples-Motley (87-34) and Wadena-Deer Creek (72-39 in another conference game). Staples-Motley ended the season rated No. 5 in the Class AA poll.

     The Panthers defeated Warroad (53-51) in a section game, lost to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (76-52) and defeated Perham (44-40).

     After conference losses to Crosby-Ironton (69-51) and Pequot Lakes (88-47), the Panthers defeated Nevis (51-45) before dropping games to Bagley (70-54) and Detroit Lakes (59-33).

     A win over Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (43-31) was followed with losses to Pine River-Backus (77-26), Wadena-Deer Creek (71-62) and Pelican Rapids (84-45).

     The Panthers ended the regular season with a win over Northland (68-64) and received the No. 6 seed in the North for the Section 8AA tournament. Park Rapids’ season came to an end with a 62-47 loss to No. 3 Crosby-Ironton in the first round of the section playoffs.

     “My goal this year was to make it to state. We fell short of that goal and it was a disappointment not to get a single win in the playoffs,” said Ridlon. “However, we did increase our wins from last season and I saw improvement throughout the year with how the team played along with individual improvement. The girls are beginning to believe they can win and are starting to understand the team effort it takes to solidify a win.”

     For the season, the Panthers averaged 46.1 points per game while allowing 66.5 points a night. Park Rapids went 0-10 in conference play and 2-12 against section opponents. The Panthers shot 32.9 percent from the field (449 for 1,363), including 44 for 182 on 3-pointers (24.2 percent). Park Rapids made 48.6 percent of its free throws (257 for 529) while averaging 21.2 turnovers a game.

     Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Cassidy Haggard, Katelyn Hilmanowski, Caitlan Isaacson, Tori Lauderbaugh and Morgan Olson; juniors Charity Ridlon and Justine Rittgers; sophomores Megan Grimes, Hope Johnson, Katie Klein and Bria Wolff; and freshman Gabie Johnson.

     Ridlon was the Panthers’ leading scorer at 11.8 points per game. In 26 games, Ridlon made 104 of 297 shots (35.0 percent), including 14 of 44 3-pointers, and 84 of 143 free throws (58.7 percent) for 306 points. Ridlon also led the team in assists (49) and blocked shots (20) and was second in rebounds (169) and steals (56).

     Klein also played in all 26 games and was second on the team in scoring at 8.2 points a night. Klein made 70 of 229 shots (29.7 percent), including 14 of 63 3-pointers, and 59 of 85 free throws (69.4 percent) for 213 points. Klein also had 71 rebounds, 52 steals, 29 assists and 10 blocked shots.

     Wolff was third in scoring at 6.5 points a game in her first varsity season. In 26 games, Wolff made 73 of 202 shots (36.1 percent) and 21 of 71 free throws (29.6 percent) in scoring 168 points. Wolff also had 102 rebounds, 30 steals, 27 assists and 13 blocked shots.

     Grimes played in all 26 games and averaged 6.3 points and a team-leading 9.8 rebounds a game. Grimes made 69 of 204 shots (33.8 percent) and 25 of 60 free throws (41.7 percent) in scoring 163 points. Grimes led the team with 255 rebounds and 60 steals and had 34 assists and 16 blocks.

     Gabie Johnson played in all 26 games in her first varsity season and averaged 4.2 points a game. Johnson made 47 of 131 shots (35.9 percent) and 16 of 44 free throws (36.4 percent) in scoring 110 points. Johnson also had 77 rebounds, 16 steals and 10 assists.

     Lauderbaugh played in 25 games and averaged 3.4 points and 4.3 rebounds a game. Lauderbaugh shot 43.2 percent from the field (35 for 81) and 41.7 percent at the line (15 for 36) in scoring 85 points. Lauderbaugh also had 107 rebounds, 15 blocks and 10 steals.

     Olson averaged 2.3 points a game, making 20 of 61 shots (32.8 percent), including 13 of 45 3-pointers, and 8 of 9 free throws (88.9 percent) in scoring 61 points in 26 games.

     Hope Johnson played in all 26 games and made 19 of 87 shots (21.8 percent) and 21 of 61 free throws (34.4 percent) in scoring 59 points. Johnson also had 30 rebounds, 28 steals and 17 assists.

     Hilmanowski played in all 26 games and scored 16 points, making 6 of 27 field goals and 4 of 11 free throws. Hilmanowski also had 25 rebounds.

     Haggard, Isaacson and Rittgers combined to score 13 points and grab 17 rebounds.

     “Most of the seniors played a supportive role this year. All of the seniors will be missed,” said Ridlon. “Tori was a solid starter, pulling down key rebounds and scoring off those rebounds. Katelyn was our senior captain who proved to be a leader for the team on and off the court. Her role coming off the bench was to rebound and muscle the girls underneath. Morgan was our 3-point shooter. Caitlan played the point guard position and had to step up and take the team when the starting point guard was in foul trouble. Cassidy unfortunately injured her wrist, which put her out of play for half of the season. Her role coming off the bench was to shoot the outside shot.”

     With four starters and two top reserves returning, Ridlon is counting on the Panthers to produce even more wins and become a team to contend with in the conference and section next season.

     “I have four of my five starters returning (in Charity, Katie, Megan and Bria), along with Hope and Gabie,” said Ridlon. “One aspect I’ve admired about this team is they are not afraid of hard work. Now they need to continue that hard work in the offseason with dedication and the willingness to improve their individual skills and team play. I have high expectations with this group of girls and expect nothing less than state.”