Panthers look to surprise foes
Even though the Park Rapids boys basketball team graduated its two leading scorers, Matt Brandt is confident a more balanced scoring attack will lead to more success this season.
The Panthers will be counting on the returning varsity players to take over the scoring production lost to the graduation of Christian Ridlon and Taylor Kimball. Ridlon earned Mid-State Conference honors and was named the team's Most Valuable Player after leading the Panthers with 301 points and 167 rebounds last season. Kimball, who missed 13 games with a wrist injury, still finished second on the team in scoring with 136 points.
Returning from last year's team that went 0-10 in Mid-State Conference play and 1-24 overall are seniors Jordan Bergquist (6-foot-1 forward), Josh Crist (6-2 forward), Ryan Peterson (6-0 guard/forward), Tyler Ridlon (6-2 guard) and Scott Wolff (6-6 center); juniors Cory Gartner (6-0 forward), Chris Goplerud (6-2 forward), Kyle Goplerud (6-2 forward), Mason Long (5-7 guard), John Massie (5-8 forward), Tanner Otterness (5-11 guard) and Andy Waller (6-2 forward); and sophomore Austin Carlson (5-9 guard). Also being counted on to produce on the varsity are sophomores Rilee Johnson (6-3 forward) and Tyler McCollum (6-3 guard).
Chris Goplerud was an all-conference honorable mention selection after scoring 129 points, grabbing 140 rebounds and tallying 31 steals and 26 assists in 25 games a year ago.
Kyle Goplerud also returns to the starting lineup after tallying 101 points, 108 rebounds, 19 assists and 15 steals in 25 games last season.
Ridlon scored 74 points and had 39 rebounds in 25 games a year ago.
Wolff returns at center after scoring 85 points, grabbing 53 rebounds and blocking 23 shots in 25 games last season.
Waller scored 52 points and had 46 rebounds and 16 steals in 20 games last year.
Crist had 38 points and 37 rebounds in 18 games last season.
Returning in the backcourt are Long (37 points, 20 rebounds, 27 assists in 20 games) Peterson (21 points, 35 rebounds, 12 assists in 25 games), Carlson (3 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists in 14 games) and Otterness (8 points in 17 games) while Bergquist (9 points, nine rebounds in 25 games) and Massie (13 points in 20 games) return at forward.
"We have a lot of experience back and some talented kids coming up," said Brandt. "We have a lot of depth, which is a nice asset to have. I can play nine guys and not see a drastic change. We're going to be extremely quick and we're going to look to push the ball every opportunity we get. We're going to be a fun team to watch."
Pequot Lakes and Detroit Lakes shared the Mid-State Conference title last season by going 9-1. Crosby-Ironton and Wadena-Deer Creek both finished 5-5 while Staples-Motley went 2-8. Park Rapids' last conference win was against Wadena-Deer Creek (64-45) in March of 2008.
Section 8AA has a new look this season with East Grand Forks, Red Lake, Thief River Falls and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley moving to other sections and Barnesville and Breckenridge moving in. Park Rapids joins Bagley, Crookston, Crosby-Ironton, Pequot Lakes, Roseau and Warroad in the north half while Barnesville and Breckenridge join Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Frazee, Hawley, Pelican Rapids, Perham and Wadena-Deer Creek in the south half. Perham is the defending section and state Class AA champion.
Brandt expects the Panthers to snap a 30-game losing streak in conference play and win at least half their conference games this season. Brandt is also looking for the Panthers to win at least 10 games and contend for a home game to open the section playoffs.
"With our depth and athleticism, I think we're going to shock some teams this year. The kids have a goal of going .500 and making it to the semifinals of the section playoffs. Those are realistic goals to have. I think we have the talent and the skill level to get there," said Brandt. "Our program is heading in the right direction. We had a great summer and the kids aren't afraid to play against the top teams in our conference and section. Our conference and section are tough, but I can see us finishing as the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the north and drawing a home playoff game. If the kids continue to work hard, we'll reach our goals."