Determined group seeks to serve up section title
Over the last 10 seasons, the Park Rapids girls tennis team has sent either a singles player or a doubles team to the state Class A tournament.
Head coach Brianne Morris is looking to improve on that trend this fall by sending the entire team to state for the first time in school history.
The Panthers return a veteran group with eight starters and four other players returning with varsity experience. Having plenty of experienced players back has Morris counting on the Panthers to make a run at claiming that elusive section title.
"We want to be competitive, improve, play hard and give 110 percent on the court," said Morris, who will be assisted by Chelsie Weeding and Sarah Bowman. "Of course, our main goal is to make it to state. That's a goal nearly every year."
The Panthers compiled an 11-11 overall record in dual meets last season, finishing third at the Mid-State Conference tournament and earning the No. 4 seed for the section tournament. Park Rapids opened section play with a 4-3 win over No. 5 Staples-Motley before falling to No. 1 Roseau 6-1 in the semifinals. Roseau defeated Perham/New York Mills 6-1 in the championship match.
Natalie Kinkel kept the Panthers' streak of being represented at the state meet intact by placing second at the section meet in singles. Kinkel went 1-2 in her state debut.
Kinkel and fellow seniors Kendra Coborn, Chloe Johnson, Gracie Eischens and Meagan Powers will be looking to lead the Panthers this season. Also returning as starters are junior Jada Renneberg and freshmen Abby Morris and Rachael Herman.
The graduation of Tori Hilmanowski and Olivia Wallace leave two key starting spots to fill. Hilmanowski was an all-conference player after placing second at No. 2 singles at the Mid-State tournament and finished the season with a 17-15 overall record, including a 13-6 mark at No. 2 singles. Wallace compiled an 11-17 record at five different positions and received all-conference honorable mention honors.
Also returning as letterwinners are junior Emma Miller and eighth graders Mickey Clark and Morgan Koppelman. Looking to earn the other starting spots are seniors Abby Eystad, Madison Johnson and Kinley Nordin and sophomore Cassidy Bera.
Rounding out the junior varsity lineup are sophomores Taylor Dravis, Mikayla Snyder, Hannah Morgan and Destiny Villarreal; freshmen Maeve Bolton, Natalie Harvey and Hailee Hofmeister; and eighth grader Macy Goochey.
Kinkel returns at No. 1 singles after going 18-8 at that position. Kinkel compiled a 25-12 overall record last season and received all-conference honors after winning the Mid-State title at No. 1 singles.
Coborn and Eischens held the No. 2 doubles spot most of the season, going 15-6 as partners while placing second at that position at the conference meet. Coborn compiled an 18-13 overall record in her first year in tennis, going 1-2 at No. 1 doubles and 17-11 at No. 2 doubles. Coborn and Wallace received the No. 11 seed in doubles for the section tournament. Eischens had a 15-14 overall record, including a 0-3 mark at No. 3 singles, an 0-1 record at No. 4 singles and an 0-3 mark at No. 3 doubles.
Chloe Johnson was the No. 14 seed in singles for the section tournament and ended the season with a 12-19 overall record. Johnson went 0-6 at No. 2 doubles, 1-1 at No. 3 singles, 1-0 at No. 4 singles, 8-10 at No. 1 doubles and 2-2 at No. 2 doubles. Johnson teamed with Wallace to place fifth at No. 1 doubles at the Mid-State meet.
Morris returns as the other section competitor after teaming with Hilmanowski to earn the No. 7 seed in doubles. Morris had an 18-14 overall record, going 0-3 at No. 2 singles, 12-5 at No. 3 singles and 6-6 at No. 1 doubles. Morris was the runner-up at No. 3 singles at the conference meet.
Powers played No. 4 singles most of the season, going 9-16 at that position while placing fifth at the Mid-State meet. Powers also went 0-1 at No. 3 singles and 1-1 at No. 3 doubles.
Renneberg and Herman held the No. 3 doubles spot most of last season, going 7-11 and placing fifth at the conference meet. Renneberg went 11-23 overall, including a 0-1 mark at No. 2 singles, an 0-8 mark at No. 3 singles, a 1-1 mark at No. 4 singles, a 1-2 record at No. 2 doubles and a 9-11 record at No. 3 doubles. Herman went 0-1 at No. 4 singles and 7-13 at No. 3 doubles.
Miller (0-1 at No. 4 singles, 0-1 at No. 2 doubles and 1-4 at No. 3 doubles), Clark (3-3 at No. 3 doubles) and Koppelman (3-0 at No. 3 doubles) saw some varsity time last season.
Park Rapids, which qualified six singles players and six doubles teams for state in the last 10 seasons, will be looking to return to the section team finals for first time since 2014. The Panthers also reached the section finals in 2010 and 2013 in the last decade.
"I think that both our conference and section are going to be competitive. I know the girls are going to be prepared to play each team and they are excited for the season. We again will have a tough section, as usual, but I think we are right there with everyone. Many teams lost a good chunk at the top of their lineup, so I'm excited to see how we do," said Morris. "Natalie still has a good shot at state in singles and most of the top doubles teams graduated, so I'm hoping to put together a competitive doubles team for a section run to make it to state also. Of course, making it to state (as a team) is our goal and we are going to work hard to get there. I know they want to do everything they can to get there. I've been very impressed with their play so far, even though we still have a lot of work to do. It's going to take a lot of work, but I know we are one of the teams in the mix for the section title."