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Panthers earned rewarding 10-12 record

Mady Vaudrin, who led the Panthers in ace serves (38) and kills (187), capped off her senior season by earning MId-State Conference honors.1 / 2
Shania Johnson (15), who led the Panthers with 474 set assists, capped off her senior season by earning Mid-State Conference honors.2 / 2

     Molly Aukes thought the Park Rapids volleyball team had the talent to put together a winning record this season.

     The Panthers were in position to accomplish that goal before a three-game losing streak at the end of the season resulted in a 10-12 overall record.

     During the regular season, the Panthers alternated wins and losses.

     After opening the season with a loss to Nevis (25-11, 25-11, 25-14), the Panthers rallied for a win over Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (28-26, 12-25, 23-25, 25-15, 15-8). Park Rapids then dropped a match to Frazee (25-15, 25-15, 19-25, 25-11) before defeating Staples-Motley (25-16, 25-22, 25-13) in the Mid-State Conference opener.

     At the Pequot Lakes/Pine-River Backus tournament, the Panthers rebounded from a loss to Blackduck (24-26, 25-23, 15-10) to defeat Parkers Prairie (25-9, 25-21) and Cass Lake-Bena (25-15, 19-25, 15-9).

     A two-match losing streak followed as Menahga prevailed in a five-setter (25-17, 16-25, 25-21, 20-25, 15-10) and Detroit Lakes prevailed in a conference match (25-20, 25-22, 25-20).

     The Panthers rallied to defeat Crookston (25-13, 24-26, 15-25, 25-20, 15-12), but dropped another conference match to Wadena-Deer Creek (25-18, 25-23, 25-19). A win over Pine River-Backus (25-20, 25-21, 20-25, 25-23) lifted the Panthers back to the .500 mark at 6-6.

     Park Rapids split matches at the Fergus Falls Blocktoberfest tournament, opening with a loss to Fergus Falls (25-13, 25-21), defeating Crookston (25-21, 25-20), losing to Pequot Lakes (25-22, 22-25, 15-8) and defeating Breckenridge (25-16, 22-25, 15-9).

     After falling to Thief River Falls (25-15, 25-19, 25-20), the Panthers defeated Crosby-Ironton in a Mid-State match (25-15, 25-17, 25-19) and Pelican Rapids (25-17, 27-25, 25-18) to climb over the .500 mark with a 10-9 record.

     The regular season ended with a conference loss to Pequot Lakes (25-11, 12-25, 25-19, 25-22) and a loss to East Grand Forks (25-13, 16-25, 25-7, 25-11).

     For the Section 8AA tournament, the Panthers received the No. 6 seed in the north and saw their season end with a loss to No. 3 Hawley (25-9, 25-16, 25-20).

     “This team set a goal to be .500 and they came very close,” said Aukes. “This team improved in almost every part of the game. This season was very rewarding in many aspects.”

     Leading the Panthers were the six starters: seniors Mady Vaudrin, Shania Johnson, Justine Rittgers and Morgan Dean; junior Megan Grimes; and sophomore Madi Wagner. Freshman Emily Dean also started a few matches while junior Bria Wolff and sophomores Sydney Bynum and Gabie Johnson saw some varsity action. Sophomore Sarah Harshman rounded out the varsity team.

     Vaudrin and Johnson earned all-conference honors while Grimes was an all-conference honorable mention selection. Vaudrin also received all-state academic honors by having at least a 3.80 GPA while the team received an All-State Academic Bronze Award for having a team GPA of at least 3.25. Team awards went to Vaudrin (Offensive Player of the Year), Grimes (Defensive Player of the Year and “The Wall” Blocking Award), Wagner (Most Improved Player, Hustle Award and Spirit Award), and Harshman (Coaches Award).

     Vaudrin led the team with 38 ace serves and 187 kills and was second with 25 solo blocks and 14 assisted blocks. In 73 sets, the middle hitter put 180 of 213 serves in play with 115 points, was 133 for 176 in serve receive, and had 174 digs. Vaudrin had single-game highs of 16 service points and eight service aces against C-I.

     Johnson also played in all 73 sets and led the team with 474 set assists and was third with 121 service points. Johnson put 228 of 250 serves in play with 19 aces and added 30 kills and 157 digs. The setter had 43 set assists against Crookston to break Sara Pachel’s school record of 42 set in 1998.

     Grimes led the Panthers in digs (270) and blocks (34 solo and 21 assists) and had single-match highs of eight ace blocks against Crookston, 20 kills against Menahga and 43 digs against PR-B. The 43 digs broke Janessa Wolff’s school record of 35 set in 2006. The middle hitter went 217 for 249 in serves with 34 aces and 132 points, went 230 for 293 in serve receive and had 184 kills in 73 sets.

     Rittgers had a single-match high of 16 service points against Pequot Lakes and led the Panthers with 137 service points. The outside hitter put 235 of 261 serves in play with 29 aces, went 166 for 225 in serve receive, and had 234 digs and 79 kills.

     Morgan Dean played in 63 sets and went 180 for 213 in serves with 25 aces and 107 points, went 103 for 125 in serve receive, and had 87 kills and 207 digs as an outside hitter.

     Wagner played in 41 sets and went 91 for 97 in serves with 40 points and 50 for 65 in serve receive with 20 kills and 102 digs as a setter.

     Bynum played in 23 sets with 20 service points and 40 digs as a setter, Gabie Johnson played in 22 sets with 18 service points and 25 digs as a middle hitter, Wolff played in 21 sets with 13 service points as a middle hitter and Emily Dean played in 19 sets with 11 service points and 22 digs as a right-side hitter.

     “The experience the seniors brought to the floor this year was crucial. They understood each other and were able to help carry each other through the roller-coaster game of volleyball. Those four, along with Megan, have played together for years and have led the way in the off-season and in the weight room,” said Aukes. “This team focused on limiting our errors. Unforced errors hurt us last season and we had to decrease the points we gave away. Our hitters were also more productive, getting more kills as well as decreasing their errors. They were an extremely close group. They were able to use that to help pull off the close wins this season.”

     Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will have to replace their four senior leaders. However, Aukes is counting on the younger players to step up and put another competitive team on the floor.

     “We will need to replace many key players. There will be some learning curves, but our program has great athletes looking to get a chance to play at a high level,” said Aukes. “Finding the team that clicks together and believing in each other will be critical. We have players already setting goals for next season. It is always exciting to see who steps up and we have a lot of players with their eyes on the varsity team. I believe they all understand that nothing is a given and there is no entitlement to a varsity jersey. They will have to work for it and prove themselves on the court.”