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Hanson accepts new challenge as Park Rapids volleyball coach

This year’s Park Rapids volleyball team features seniors (from left) Hannah Hensel (manager), Bria Wolff, Megan Grimes and Vanessa Kangas.

     Steph Hanson has accepted a new challenge on the volleyball court.

     Hanson played her senior season at Park Rapids before competing at the collegiate level for North Dakota State University and the University of Texas at Arlington.

     In seven seasons as the head coach at Nevis, Hanson led the Tigers to three state Class A tournament appearances, finishing second in 2011 and fifth in 2009 and 2012. Hanson led the Tigers to a 169-58-9 overall record while compiling at least 19 wins in all seven seasons.

     Now Hanson is looking to bring that success to Park Rapids as she takes over for Molly Aukes as the Panthers’ new head coach.

     “It’s nice to be back in Park Rapids,” said Hanson, who will be assisted by Marion Goeden and Jackie Griffin. “Volleyball has been my life and. I missed coaching and being able to make a difference. I felt like this was the right thing to do.”

     Hanson inherits a young team with only two starters and four other players returning from last year’s varsity team that went 2-3 in Mid-State Conference play and 10-12 overall.

     Four starting spots need to be filled with the graduation of Shania Johnson, Mady Vaudrin, Justine Rittgers and Morgan Dean. Johnson (setter) and Vaudrin (middle hitter) received all-conference honors with Johnson leading the team with 474 set assists along with 121 service points and 157 digs while Vaudrin led the team with 38 ace serves and 187 kills along with 115 service points and 174 digs. Rittgers (outside hitter) led the team with 137 service points along with 234 digs and 79 kills while Dean had 107 service points, 207 digs and 87 kills as an outside hitter.

     Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are the six returning letterwinners: seniors Megan Grimes and Bria Wolff; juniors Sydney Bynum, Gabie Johnson and Madi Wagner; and sophomore Emily Dean.

     Grimes earned all-conference honorable mention honors after leading the Panthers with 270 digs and 34 blocks while setting a school record with 43 digs in a match. Grimes put 217 of 249 serves in play with 34 aces and 132 points and also had 184 kills in 73 sets. Grimes will start at middle hitter.

     Wagner earned a starting spot midway through the season and went 91 for 97 in serves with 40 points and had 20 kills and 102 digs in 41 sets as a setter.

     Wolff played in 21 sets and had 13 service points, eight digs and two kills as a middle hitter. Bynum played in 23 sets and tallied 40 digs, 20 service points, seven set assists and six kills as a setter. Johnson played in 22 sets and had 18 service points, 25 digs and four kills as a middle hitter. Dean played 19 sets as a right-side hitter and had 11 service points, 22 digs, four set assists and four kills.

     Looking to compete for starting spots and providing depth will be senior Vanessa Kangas (defensive specialist); junior Sarah Harshman (middle hitter); freshmen Jaiden McCollum (outside hitter), Kennedy Carlson (setter) and Taylor Hilmanowski (defensive specialist); and eighth grader Kaisa Coborn (defensive specialist).

     The junior varsity and C squad teams feature juniors Paige Hill (outside hitter) and Talya Smith (outside hitter); sophomores Olivia Fischer (defensive specialist), Mackenzie Warne (defensive specialist), Isabel Bagstad (setter), Brooke Jerger (middle hitter), Megan Jewison (middle hitter), Mikayla Hensel (defensive specialist), Elizabeth Bradt (outside hitter), Chelsea Swenson (outside hitter) and Ally Vaudrin (middle hitter); freshmen Brianna Weckwerth (outside hitter), Kortne Byer (defensive specialist), Lexi Hinkley-Smith (middle hitter), Lizzie Hensel (outside hitter), Mackenzie Noonan (outside hitter) and Olivia McDonald (outside hitter); and seventh grader Kamree Carlson (outside hitter).

     “I’ve been impressed with the girls’ energy, effort and willingness to learn. That’s a credit to Molly for developing that kind of atmosphere and the positive attitude of the kids,” said Hanson. “The girls have been working hard and have been very receptive of their roles.”

     Despite having to adjust to a new system, Hanson is optimistic the Panthers will put a competitive unit on the floor.

     “It’s going to take a while to put things together, but I expect a lot of growth this season,” said Hanson. “I know everybody’s strengths and we’re going to utilize them. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but the girls are determined to be successful.”