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Park Rapids volleyball team driven by loss in tournament

Kennedy Carlson returns to set up the offense for the Park Rapids volleyball team after setting a school record with 856 set assists last season to raise her career total to 2,195. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Stephanie Hanson is hoping the disappointing way last season ended with provide incentive for the Park Rapids volleyball team this season.

A year ago, the Panthers put together a successful regular season by going 18-5 and earning the No. 1 seed in the South for the Section 8AA tournament.

Park Rapids' quest to advance to the section championship match fell short with an upset loss to Pequot Lakes in the second round of the tournament. Pequot Lakes was the No. 4 seed in the South. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (the No. 1 seed in the North) ended up defeating Wadena-Deer Creek (the No. 2 seed in the South) for the section title to advance to the state Class AA tournament.

The return of a veteran lineup and a successful summer playing against some tough competition have the Park Rapids head coach expecting her team to make a run at qualifying for state this fall.

"Last year was a tough loss. The girls did use it as motivation this summer to prepare for the upcoming year. The girls did make progress over the summer and participated in tournaments which gave them the opportunity to compete against other teams that challenged them to play at a higher level," said Hanson, who led the Panthers to a 19-6 overall record to break the school record for wins in a season set by the 1980 team (16-2) and matched by the 2004 team (16-9). "They're going to enter the season and take each practice as an opportunity to get better and each match as a challenge to win."

Returning from last year's team that won the Mid-State Conference title for the first time since 1982 with a 4-0 record are seniors Kennedy Carlson (setter), Jaiden McCollum (middle blocker) and Kortne Byer (libero); junior Kaisa Coborn (outside hitter); and sophomores Kamree Carlson (outside hitter), Rilee Michaelson (middle blocker) and Katelyn Weaver (right-side hitter). Kennedy Carlson, McCollum, Coborn and Kamree Carlson earned all-conference honors while Michaelson was an all-conference honorable mention player a year ago.

Providing depth will be sophomores Madison Benham (outside hitter), Kayleah Breitweser (middle hitter) and Kayla Brock (middle hitter) and freshman Katie Burlingame (outside hitter). That group will look to fill the spots vacated by the graduation of Emily Dean (who was an all-conference honorable mention player who had 78 kills, 181 digs and 39 blocks as an outside hitter), Brooke Jerger (who had 53 kills, 40 blocks and 94 service points as a middle hitter) and Isabel Bagstad (who served 28 aces and 122 points).

Kennedy Carlson returns as the starting setter after setting school records for set assists in a match (63) and in a season (856). Carlson, who is the Panthers' all-time leader in set assists with 2,195, put 246 of 278 serves in play with 34 aces and 153 points while adding 76 kills, 121 digs and 45 blocks.

McCollum returns in the middle after leading the team with 364 kills, 54 blocks and 184 service points. McCollum put 318 of 327 serves in play with 37 aces while adding 222 digs.

Coborn, who was the Panthers' libero last season, led the team with 315 digs to set a school record while putting 304 of 340 serves in play with 60 aces and 184 points.

Kamree Carlson returns on the outside after tallying 249 kills, 251 digs, 25 blocks and 170 service points by putting 279 of 317 serves in play with 41 aces.

Michaelson also returns in the middle after compiling 167 kills, 39 blocks and 48 digs.

Byer had 90 digs last season and will move to libero this fall while Weaver put 43 of 50 serves in play with 22 points last season.

Competing on the junior varsity and C squad teams will be junior Anabelle Andres (defensive specialist); sophomores Kora Just (setter) and Noel Skadberg (right-side hitter); freshmen Abby Kirlin (libero), Kendra Scholz (middle hitter), Brenna Behrens (defensive specialist) and Hannah Morgan (outside hitter); eighth graders Kate Aukes (middle hitter) and Keely Peterson (right-side hitter); and seventh grader Riley Pike (setter).

Section 8AA will have a new look with Wadena-Deer Creek and Barnesville moving to Section 6A and Detroit Lakes dropping down from Section 8AAA. W-DC enters the season rated No. 9 in the pre-season Class A poll. Even without the Wolverines, the competition in Section 8AA will be tough as Roseau is rated No. 8 in the state and joins Park Rapids, Detroit Lakes, D-G-F and Perham as the top teams in the section.

"Our conference and section are very competitive. We won the conference last year and it will be a challenge to repeat that title. We can be very competitive with each of our matches we play this year. The challenge will be maintaining the level of play we know we can play at and executing that at the time it's needed during playoffs. Last year's playoffs were a struggle mentally. I think the girls know that the tools needed to be that team at the end are both mental and physical," said Hanson, who will be assisted by Molly Aukes and Spring Bungert. "There are high expectations. However, we're going to take each practice and match one day at a time and do the best that we know we can do. In order to meet those high expectations, we have to live up to what we know we can do. Our goal is to have the confidence and ability to execute the challenges we want to overcome. I'm excited for our school, community, parents and fans to be a part of our season."