Panthers enjoyed record-setting season

John Schumacher knew he had a powerful engine as he geared the Park Rapids girls basketball team to win the race for Mid-State Conference and Section 8AAA titles.

John Schumacher knew he had a powerful engine as he geared the Park Rapids girls basketball team to win the race for Mid-State Conference and Section 8AAA titles.

The key to crossing the finish line in first place was fine-tuning the other parts of the machine.

Led by Janessa Wolff's record-setting numbers and a supporting cast who filled their roles to perfection, the Panthers put together a record-setting season. Park Rapids went 8-2 to finish second in the conference standings behind Detroit Lakes' 9-1 mark, pushed Willmar into overtime in the section semifinals and ended the season with a 22-5 overall record to set a school record for victories in a season.

Even though the Panthers didn't win the race for the conference title and a trip to state, Schumacher was pleased with the way his "car" performed all season.

"You can have a great engine, but if you don't have four tires the car won't go anywhere," said Schumacher, whose team lost four games to teams ranked among the top-10 in the state in their class. "Janessa was the engine and we had to have four tires around her to accept their roles. The key to this year was the way the kids accepted their roles. They knew what they had to do to win. The girls accepted their roles, believed in each other and gave 110 percent every game. They were not willing to let their teammates down. That's why we had such a great season."


The Panthers opened the season by winning their first eight games. After opening the season with a 53-46 win over Pine River-Backus, the Panthers defeated Menahga 60-42. The Braves were ranked No. 9 in the Class A poll at the time.

A 61-47 win over Thief River Falls, a 52-44 win over Perham, a 39-29 win over East Grand Forks and a 50-21 win over Frazee gave the Panthers a 6-0 mark before the Panthers opened Mid-State Conference play with a 51-45 win over Crosby-Ironton. Park Rapids then defeated Thief River Falls 55-50 to stay unbeaten.

That winning streak ended with a 49-44 loss to Badger/Greenbush in the first round of the Walker holiday tournament. Badger/Greenbush ended the season ranked No. 4 in Class A. Park Rapids rebounded from that setback to defeat Mountain Iron-Buhl 53-35 and Virginia 67-53 to win the consolation title.

A 64-36 conference win over Wadena-Deer Creek, a 64-38 win over Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, a 57-38 win over Warroad and a 64-39 conference win over Pequot Lakes lifted the Panthers to 14-1 on the season.

Detroit Lakes ended that run with a 60-42 victory. The Panthers then defeated Bagley 63-53 and Staples-Motley 52-44 in another conference game before falling 56-41 to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. Detroit Lakes ended the season ranked No. 5 in the Class AAA poll while D-G-F was rated No. 10 in the final Class AA poll.

Park Rapids gained momentum down the stretch with conference wins over C-I (51-25), Pequot Lakes (54-46) and W-DC (64-40) and posting a 62-60 win at Crookston, which ended up placing second at the state Class AA tournament.

The Panthers put themselves in position to share the conference title with a 47-46 win over Detroit Lakes, but a 58-48 loss to Staples-Motley in the regular-season finale led to a runner-up showing in the conference.

Park Rapids earned the No. 2 seed in the north half for its first Section 8AAA tournament and the Panthers eliminated No. 3 Perham 47-29 before Willmar prevailed 53-50 in overtime in the section semifinals to end the Panthers' season. Willmar was ranked No. 8 in the final state Class AAA poll and went on to win the section title.


For the season, the Panthers averaged 53.9 points a game while allowing 43.8 points a night. Park Rapids shot 44 percent from the field (574 for 1,304, including 77 for 222 on 3-pointers) and 55.6 percent at the free-throw line (230 for 414) while averaging 18.4 turnovers a game.

Leading the way was Wolff, who had the best individual season in Park Rapids basketball history.

The 6-foot-3 junior center broke several school records, including scoring average in a season (25.4 to break Orla Hohnstadt's record of 21.4 set in 1983-84), points in a season (685, breaking her mark of 531 set last year), points in a game (42 against Thief River Falls to break her old record of 35 set last year against Red Lake), most field goals in a game (18 against TRF, breaking her old mark of 15) and most field goals in a season (286, breaking her old mark of 214). Wolff also holds school records for rebounds in a game (23) and rebounds in a season (328). Wolff is the school's all-time leader in points (1,544) and rebounds (921).

Wolff was a force all season, making 286 of 462 shots (61.9 percent), including 10 of 17 3-pointers. Wolff also shot 63.6 percent at the line (103 for 162) and just missed breaking her school record with 328 rebounds (12.1 per game). Wolff also had 116 blocked shots (4.3 per game), 35 steals and 41 assists in 27 games. Wolff scored more than 30 points seven times and more than 25 points 16 times and had double digits in points and rebounds in the same game 23 times. Wolff was named the teams' Most Valuable Player and the Fargo Forum's Player of the Year.

While Wolff was the main focus of opposing defenses, it was the contributions of the other players that led the Panthers to their record-setting season.

Seniors Lauren Knuttila, Lindsey Czeczok, Nicki Schumacher and Jenny Gravalin; juniors Jena Pike and Ashley Grewe; and sophomore Heather Tretbar also played crucial roles all season.

Knuttila started all 27 games at guard and finished second on the team in scoring at 9.6 points a game. Knuttila shot 41.1 percent from the field (making 90 of 219 shots, including 49 of 111 3-pointers) and 61.2 percent at the line (30 for 49) for 259 points. Knuttila also had 41 rebounds, 23 steals and 47 assists.

Czeczok averaged 5.7 points and 4.7 rebounds a game in 27 starts at forward. Czeczok shot 38.8 percent from the field (59 for 152) and 51.5 percent at the line (35 for 68) to finish the season with 153 points, 128 rebounds, 44 steals and 79 assists.


Schumacher also had a solid season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.4 rebounds a game. In 27 games at guard, Schumacher shot 25 percent from the field (making 37 of 148 shots, including 11 of 66 3-pointers) for 92 points. Schumacher led the team with 75 assists while adding 65 rebounds and 25 steals. Schumacher received the Spirit Award.

Gravalin also played in all 25 games, tallying 65 points, 50 rebounds, 14 steals and 55 assists.

Tretbar averaged 3.7 points a game, making 35 of 101 field goals and 27 of 41 free throws for 100 points. Tretbar also had 89 rebounds, 16 steals and 30 assists in 27 games at guard.

Pike was a reserve forward in 27 games and compiled 67 points, 56 rebounds, four steals and 12 assists. Pike made 28 of 73 field goals and 9 of 13 free throws.

Grewe also played in all 27 games as a reserve forward/center and finished the season with 28 points, 43 rebounds, four steals and eight assists. Grewe was named the Panthers' Most Improved Player.

Also seeing some varsity action this season were juniors Sarah Ament and Leah Goetz; sophomore Holly Roepke; and freshmen Danielle Dent and Kayla Stursa.

"This was the biggest overachieving group I've ever had. The kids played during the summer and were willing to make the sacrifices to be a competitive team," said Schumacher. "The seniors were a big part of that. Each brought something different and they all blossomed this year. They brought a lot of chemistry to the floor."

Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have four important players to replace. But Schumacher is looking for the underclassmen to fill those spots and make the Panthers another legitimate contender in the conference and section.


"The four seniors are going to be tough to replace, not only because of their skills but because they played so much basketball together and had so much chemistry," said Schumacher. "We're going to have to work on replacing that chemistry. This summer is going to be huge for us. The kids will have to be committed to playing this summer so they can learn their new roles. We're going to need some younger girls to step in and fill some major roles. We lose four key players, but I'm expecting us to play in the section title game next year and have a chance to win it."

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