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Panthers look to serve up success

Senior Josh Johnson will be counted on to lead the Park Rapids boys tennis team this season.1 / 2
Senior Chris Shaw will be counted on to lead the Park Rapids boys tennis team this season.2 / 2

  Jeff Renner knows the Park Rapids boys tennis team will face several challenges this spring.

     Last season, the Panthers went 4-11 in dual meets highlighted by two 4-3 victories over Wadena-Deer Creek and a pair of 4-3 wins over Perham. The Panthers were blanked 7-0 in nine of the 11 other matches and finished fifth at the Mid-State Conference tournament. Park Rapids received the No. 6 seed for the Section 8A tournament and opened with a 7-0 loss to No. 3 Staples-Motley.

     Going into this season, the Panthers face a tougher schedule since Perham and Wadena-Deer Creek have merged. With that merger and Staples-Motley dissolving its boys tennis program for at least this season, Section 8A is down to six teams with defending champion Thief River Falls being the heavy favorite to return to state. East Grand Forks, Crookston and Detroit Lakes are expected to be the top contenders.

     Once the snow clears, the Panthers are hoping to put a competitive team on the court with eight veterans back to reclaim their starting spots.

     Leading the Panthers this season will be seniors Chris Shaw and Josh Johnson; juniors Calvin Bateman and Iain Wallace; and sophomores Jeff Dickinson, Jackson Kimball, Nick Lopez and Jaden Olson.

     Shaw went 0-9 at No. 1 singles, 1-7 at No. 2 singles and 0-2 at No. 2 doubles last season and finished fifth at No. 2 singles at the conference tournament.

     Johnson compiled a 3-17 overall record, going 3-12 at No. 2 doubles, 0-1 at No. 2 singles, 0-2 at No. 4 singles, 0-1 at No. 1 doubles and 0-1 at No. 3 doubles. Johnson finished fourth with Wallace at No. 2 doubles at the Mid-State meet and teamed with Shaw as the No. 13 seed for the section tournament.

     Bateman went 3-16 last season, going 0-1 at No. 1 singles, 0-8 at No. 2 singles, 1-0 at No. 4 singles, 2-6 at No. 1 doubles and 0-1 at No. 2 doubles. Bateman was the No. 14 seed in singles for the section meet and teamed with Dickinson to finish sixth at No. 1 doubles at the conference meet.

     Wallace compiled a 4-19 overall record at five positions, going 0-1 at No. 2 singles, 0-2 at both No. 3 and No. 4 singles, 1-7 at No. 2 doubles and 3-7 at No. 3 doubles.

     Lopez returns at singles after going 6-11 last season. Lopez went 0-2 at No. 1 singles, 0-1 at No. 2 singles, 0-3 at No. 3 singles and 6-5 at No. 4 singles while going 0-1 at No. 1 doubles and 0-2 at No. 2 doubles. Lopez was the Mid-State runner-up at No. 4 singles and was the No. 13 seed in singles for the section tournament.

     Dickinson had a 4-16 overall record last season, going 0-6 at No. 3 singles, 0-1 at No. 4 singles, 3-6 at No. 1 doubles, 1-2 at No. 2 doubles and 0-1 at No. 3 doubles.

     Kimball and Olson teamed up to finish fifth at the conference meet at No. 3 doubles. Kimball went 4-12 at No. 3 doubles and 0-1 at both No. 3 and No. 4 singles while Olson had a 2-4 record at No. 2 doubles and 1-10 record at No. 3 doubles.

     The Panthers have to replace last year’s No. 1 doubles team of Scott Smith and Mitch Fossen, who went 1-9 at that position and earned the No. 7 seed in doubles for the section tournament. At the conference tournament, Smith took third at No. 1 singles while Fossen finished sixth at No. 3 singles. Smith had a 5-3 record at No. 1 singles while Fossen went 3-5 at No. 3 singles.

     Looking to fill those two spots are sophomores Alex Boyd, Brandon Johnson, Tristan Hendrickson, Marcus Hoyer, Zach Tretbar and Andrew Zinke; and freshmen Jacob Bridgman, Bobby Bruce, Marcus McKeever and Riley Wilcox. Boyd went 0-1 at No. 2 doubles while Zinke went 1-1 at No. 4 singles last season.

     Not being able to practice outdoors and having several matches canceled or rescheduled has made it tough for Renner to figure out his best lineup.

     “We’ve never had a spring like this. We’re going to have to be creative and schedule tris and quads in order to get as many matches in as we can,” said Renner, who enters his fourth season as the Panthers’ head coach. “We’ve been very fortunate to be able to practice on a private indoor court. We’ve been able to do a lot of drills and work on conditioning and fundamentals, but we can’t challenge for positions. I just have to base my lineup by what I had last year.”

     When the outdoor season finally begins, Renner is counting on his team to show improvement during the abbreviated season.

     “I’ve seen improvement during practices and hopefully that will continue,” said Renner. “It’s going to be tough, but I’m hoping we can pull off a few wins. We’re going to give it our best shot.”