Stephanie Hanson expected a record-setting season from the Park Rapids volleyball team.
The Panthers delivered by repeating as Mid-State Conference champs, advancing to the Section 8AA championship match and setting a school record by going 24-3.
"These girls spent a lot of hours in the gym and they were rewarded for their hard work," said Hanson. "They gained so much confidence and their level of play was consistent, which is why they won so many matches. I heard from a lot of other coaches and people in the community that they were so fun to watch. The season was full of great memories. This was a great all-around team. We had so many weapons offensively and we improved our overall defense. They all played a role in the success of the season. It all came together this year."
The Panthers started their record-setting season by winning their first seven matches. Park Rapids defeated Roseau (25-11, 25-14, 20-25, 25-15), Nevis (25-19, 25-4, 25-17), Frazee (25-17, 25-9, 25-8), Crosby-Ironton (28-30, 25-14, 25-16, 25-15 in the conference opener), Pine River-Backus (25-19, 25-21, 25-12), Detroit Lakes (25-8, 25-22, 25-16 in another conference match) and Crookston (25-12, 25-12, 25-8).
Wadena-Deer Creek ended that streak in five sets (18-25, 25-23, 18-25, 25-22, 15-6), but the Panthers responded with an eight-match winning streak. The Panthers defeated Pequot Lakes (25-12, 25-23, 25-14 in a conference match), Staples-Motley (25-8, 25-16, 25-12 in the conference finale), Barnesville (25-18, 17-25, 25-14, 25-18) and Bemidji (25-17, 25-13, 26-24) before opening the Perham tournament with wins over Sebeka (25-20, 25-5), Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (25-14, 25-17), Hawley (25-16, 25-19) and Frazee (25-10, 25-13) before falling to Melrose (25-23, 15-25, 15-17).
Park Rapids ended the regular season with a seven-match winning streak. The Panthers defeated Perham (26-24, 25-22, 18-25, 25-17), Thief River Falls (25-11, 25-18, 25-13) and East Grand Forks (25-16, 25-14, 25-13) before defeating Pelican Rapids (25-18, 25-21), Warroad (25-10, 25-15), Breckenridge (25-23, 25-22) and Pequot Lakes (25-20, 25-14) at the Fergus Falls tournament.
Going 4-0 in Mid-State Conference matches and 12-0 against section teams gave the Panthers the No. 1 seed in the South for the Section 8AA tournament. Park Rapids eliminated Fergus Falls (25-17, 25-19, 25-16) and Pequot Lakes (26-24, 25-19, 23-25, 25-18) before seeing the season end with a loss to Roseau (25-23, 21-25, 25-18, 25-21) in the Section 8AA championship match. That prevented the Panthers from advancing to the state Class AA tournament for the first time in school history. The Panthers had 30 hitting errors, 10 service errors and eight errors on serve receive in that match.
Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Kennedy Carlson, Jaiden McCollum and Kortne Byer; junior Kaisa Coborn; and sophomores Kamree Carlson, Rilee Michaelson, Katelyn Weaver and Kayleah Breitweser. Kennedy Carlson, McCollum, Coborn, Kamree Carlson and Michaelson received all-conference honors while Byer and Weaver were all-conference honorable mention players.
Kennedy Carlson became the Panthers' all-time leader in set assists with 3,115, including a school-record 920 this season. The senior setter put 237 of 271 serves in play, served 39 aces and 151 points, had 142 digs and tallied 51 total blocks in 81 sets.
McCollum led the team with 69 total blocks and 316 kills to end her career with a school-record 1,083 kills. The senior middle hitter also served 26 aces and 164 points and had 213 digs in 81 sets while leading the team by serving at a 98-percent clip (299 for 305)..
Coborn set school records for career digs (984) and career ace serves (166) after tallying 255 digs and 41 ace serves this season. The outside hitter also had 150 kills and 17 blocks while putting 275 of 304 serves in play with 171 points in 70 sets.
Kamree Carlson led the team with 359 digs and was second with 294 kills. Carlson served 21 aces and 103 points while putting 180 of 208 serves in play and had 25 blocks in 81 sets as an outside hitter.
Michaelson started as a middle hitter in 81 sets and had 239 kills, 37 ace serves, 168 service points and 53 blocks. Michaelson put 277 of 314 serves in play.
Byer capped off her senior season as a libero by serving at a 92-percent clip (172 for 188) with 24 ace serves, 108 service points and 194 digs in 81 sets.
Weaver led the team with 188 service points and shared the team lead with 41 ace serves while putting 305 of 328 serves in play. The right-side hitter also had 46 kills, 202 digs, 17 blocks and 30 set assists in 70 sets.
Breitweser contributed 11 kills, 27 blocks and 16 digs in 34 sets as a middle hitter.
Also seeing some varsity time were sophomore middle hitter Kayla Brock and freshman outside hitter Katie Burlingame.
Receiving team awards were McCollum and Kamree Carlson (Most Valuable Players), MIchaelson and Kennedy Carlson (Offensive Players of the Year), Byer and Coborn (Defensive Players of the Year), Kennedy Carlson (Player's Choice Award) and Weaver (Most Improved Player). The team also received a Silver Academic Award while Kennedy Carlson and McCollum received academic all-state honors.
Even though the Panthers have three key players to replace, Hanson is counting on another successful season in 2018.
"The seniors brought so much to our program. They set the bar high with their leadership and great work ethic and they were great role models. I always start the year by saying you only get to play with this team once. Those seniors made that 'once' pretty special. They're going to be hard to replace," said Hanson. "The girls returning learned a lot about winning and what it takes to achieve their goals. They're going to have to step up and fill big roles next season, but I know they're going to put in the work. They're going to be hungry and motivated. They want that piece of the pie that we didn't get this year."