Panthers made progress, look ahead
After going 2-24 last season, Matt Brandt was looking for the Park Rapids boys basketball team to improve this season.
Even though the Panthers finished with a 1-24 overall record, Brandt did see improvement from his players.
The Panthers opened the season with losses to Staples-Motley (68-33), Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (69-57), Crosby-Ironton (62-40) and Pequot Lakes (70-37).
At the Park Rapids tournament, the Panthers opened with a 74-43 loss to Sauk Centre before defeating Frazee 63-59 in the third-place game.
That would prove to be the Panthers' only win of the season.
Park Rapids ended the regular season with losses to Bagley (91-57), Detroit Lakes (99-37), Wadena-Deer Creek (59-40), Perham (76-23), Nevis (79-34), Staples-Motley (69-36), Crosby-Ironton (77-62), Pine River-Backus (65-33), Pequot Lakes (94-24), Detroit Lakes (81-35), Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (56-44), Thief River Falls (77-27), Wadena-Deer Creek (61-46), East Grand Forks (78-40), Menahga (65-43), Pelican Rapids (91-48), Crookston (67-22) and Hawley (82-42).
Going 0-10 in Mid-State Conference play and 1-23 overall gave the Panthers the No. 9 seed for the South Section 8AA tournament. No. 8 Frazee ended the Panthers' season with a 72-61 win in the first round of the section playoffs.
For the season, the Panthers averaged 41.4 points a game while allowing an average of 73.4 points a night.
Of Park Rapids' 19 opponents, 13 finished with at least a .500 record while seven had at least 20 wins. Topping that list was Perham, which went 31-1 and won the state Class AA title. Bagley (27-3), Pequot Lakes (24-5), Pelican Rapids (23-5), Thief River Falls (21-8), Detroit Lakes (21-8) and Nevis (20-6) also had at least 20 victories while Hawley (17-9), Sauk Centre (17-9), Crookston (15-13), Crosby-Ironton (14-13), East Grand Forks (14-14) and Men-ahga (13-13) finished at .500 or better. Pequot Lakes (No. 4), Perham (No. 6) and Pelican Rapids (No. 10) were all ranked in the final state Class AA poll.
"Winning one game can make for a long season. When you are struggling and trying to get going, it is easy to give up. But the guys kept working hard all season long and they made nice player improvements throughout the season," said Brandt. "If you look at the wins and losses, we had a tough season. But if you look at some of the gains each of the players made, it puts a more positive spin on things, especially since we are so young."
Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Christian Ridlon and Taylor Kimball; juniors Josh Bergquist, Josh Crist, Ryan Peterson, Tyler Ridlon and Scott Wolff; and sophomores Chris Goplerud, Kyle Goplerud, Mason Long and Andy Waller.
Christian Ridlon was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Player after leading the team by averaging 12.0 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. In 25 starts, Ridlon had 301 points, 167 rebounds, 31 steals and 21 assists. Ridlon (who had 25 points and 21 rebounds in the win over Frazee, 24 points against C-I, 22 points against Pelican Rapids and 20 points against W-H-A) also earned all-conference honors.
Kimball was second on the team in scoring at 11.3 points a game. Kimball, who missed 13 games in the middle of the season with an elbow and wrist injury, scored 136 points and had 23 rebounds, 22 steals and 19 assists in 12 games. Kimball had 26 points in the win over Frazee.
"Christian was our anchor inside. We always looked to him to get us big points and rebounds from the inside. Throughout his career, he developed into a nice post player and helped many other players improve their game due to him pushing them around inside and guiding them on different aspects of the game," said Brandt. "Taylor was a scoring threat on the floor. He had a good career and helped many players learn how to play the upper positions on the floor. He helped provide guidance and pushed others to become better. Both seniors made a difference in the program in gearing the younger players to play at a higher level."
Chris Goplerud received all-conference honorable mention honors after finishing third on the team in scoring at 5.2 points a game and second in rebounds with 140. In 25 games, Goplerud scored 129 points and had 31 steals and 26 assists.
Kyle Goplerud also played in all 25 games and scored 101 points (4.0 per game) with 108 rebounds, 19 assists, 15 steals and 13 blocked shots. Goplerud received the team's Mr. Hustle award.
Tyler Ridlon played in all 25 games and tallied 74 points, 39 rebounds and 17 steals.
Wolff led the Panthers with 23 blocked shots and contributed 85 points and 53 rebounds in 25 games.
Waller compiled 52 points, 46 rebounds, 16 steals and 10 assists in 20 games.
Crist played in 18 games and tallied 38 points and 37 rebounds.
Long had 37 points, 27 assists and 20 rebounds in 20 games and received the team's Most Improved Player award.
Peterson played in all 25 games and had 21 points, 35 rebounds, 12 assists and 11 steals. Peterson received the Team Spirit award.
Bergquist also played in all 25 games and had 9 points and nine rebounds.
Also seeing some varsity time this season were sophomores Cory Gartner (21 points), John Massie (13 points) and Tanner Otterness (8 points) and freshman Austin Carlson (13 assists, 12 rebounds).
Even though the Panthers have two starting spots to fill, Brandt is looking for major improvement from his team next season.
"With all the players that are coming back and the ones that will be added, we have the potential to be a very strong basketball team. All of the players coming back have the drive and determination to be successful and get themselves better and that will turn into success," said Brandt. "When we start next season, it will be critical we all get on the same page right away. If we can do that, we will be very competitive. The expectations are high for next year's seniors and juniors to lead the way to a successful season because they'll have a great sophomore class ready to fill in spots if they have to. If the kids put the work in over the summer to continue to get better, it will only bring them more success when next season comes around. We are hopefully on the verge of turning the corner and excelling, not only in wins but also in the playoff rankings. With the talent returning and coming up, the boys basketball program is going to have some great seasons ahead."