Panthers show steady improvement

Walt Harrison was expecting the Park Rapids girls golf team to shoot a round close to 400 and move up in the North Subsection 6A standings this spring.

Walt Harrison was expecting the Park Rapids girls golf team to shoot a round close to 400 and move up in the North Subsection 6A standings this spring.

The Panthers fulfilled those goals by having their best season since 2001.

Park Rapids opened the season by shooting a 442 for ninth place at the 18-team Perham Invitational and followed with rounds of 426 and 432 for an 858 and 11th place at the 13-team Brainerd/Pequot Lakes Invita-tional. The Panthers then carded a 416 for fourth place at the nine-team Pelican Rapids Invitation-al.

After being shorthanded at the Cass Lake Invitational and at the Park Rapids Invitational at Bears Den (shooting a 482 for 10th place out of 11 teams), the Panthers began peaking by carding a 420 for ninth place at the 14-team Fergus Falls Invitational, a 432 for eighth place at the 16-team Menahga-Sebeka Invita-tional at Blueberry Pines, and a 412 for 10th place at the 19-team Detroit Lakes Invitational.

Harrison's team shot a season-best 409 for fifth place at the six-team Mid-State Conference meet at Staples. That was the Panthers' best team score since shooting a 381 during the 2001 season. Park Rapids' top team scores since that 381 were a 457 in 2002, a 458 in 2003, a 451 in 2004 and a 424 last spring.


The Panthers ended the season with a 422 for fourth place at the North Subsection 6A meet. That fourth-place showing was the Panthers' best finish since moving to Section 6A in 2002. Park Rapids had an incomplete score that season and followed by finishing ninth with a 458 in 2003, ninth with a 454 in 2004 and seventh with a 433 last season.

"I was very happy with the season," said Harrison. "The girls continued to make improvement. We had some of our better scores in the last few years. We didn't break 400, but we were close. We were competitive with schools our size. We couldn't compete with the top teams, but we definitely held our own."

Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Caitlyn Aho, Megan Yliniemi, Alison Utke and Stephanie Walsh; and juniors Lexi Aho and Megan Goebel. Of that group, Lexi Aho and Yliniemi qualified for the Section 6A meet.

Lexi Aho led the Panthers with a 101.0 average in 11 18-hole meets. Aho broke 100 five times, shooting a 99 at Perham, a 96 at Bears Den, a 98 at Fergus Falls and a 98 at Detroit Lakes before ending the season with a 97 at the section meet. Aho also had a 104 at the Mid-State meet and a 102 at the subsection meet to qualify for her third straight section tournament. Aho completed her fifth year on the varsity as her average dropped from 127.0 in 2002 to 115.1 in 2003 to 111.8 in 2004 to 106.50 last year.

Yliniemi was the Panthers' other section qualifier and ended her fourth year on the varsity with a personal-best 93 in her section debut. Yliniemi ended the season with a 106.7 average in 10 varsity meets, highlighted by a 103 at Pequot Lakes, a 105 at the conference meet and a 103 at the subsection meet. Yliniemi saw her average drop from 138.6 in 2003 to 125.4 in 2004 to 118.0 last spring.

Caitlyn Aho also completed her fifth year on the varsity with a 102.2 average in nine varsity rounds. Aho had a 127.0 average in 2002, a 116.9 average in 2003, a 107.9 average in 2004 and a 100.6 average in 2005. Aho just missed qualifying for the section meet with a 106 at the subsection tournament. Aho's best rounds this season were a 99 at Pelican Rapids, a 98 at Fergus Falls and a 95 at the Mid-State meet.

Goebel, who didn't compete in golf last season, returned to finish fourth on the team with a 115.0 average in 10 varsity meets. Goebel, who had a 150.3 average in 2003 and a 126.1 average in 2004, carded a career-best 105 at the Mid-State tournament. Goe-bel also shot rounds of 108 at Pelican Rapids and 119 at the subsection meet.

Utke made an impressive varsity debut with a 115.9 average in eight meets. Utke peaked at the end of the season, carding a 100 at Detroit Lakes, a 110 at the Mid-State meet and a 119 at the subsection tournament.


Walsh also returned to golf after sitting out a year and ended the season with a 118.8 average in six varsity meets. Walsh, who had a 121.0 average in 2004, had a season-best 111 at the subsection tournament.

Also competing in some varsity meets this spring were junior Sarah Griffith and freshmen Megan Lawrence, Mindy Lawrence and Ashley Sauer. Griffith carded a 146 at Bears Den, Megan Lawrence had rounds of 122 at Cass Lake and 154 at the conference meet, Mindy Lawrence shot a 136 at Cass Lake and a 128 at Bears Den, and Sauer had a 133 at Cass Lake.

"Everyone showed improvement," said Harrison. "It seemed every week we had somebody shoot a new career low."

Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will lose four quality players in Caitlyn Aho, Yliniemi, Utke and Walsh. However, with Lexi Aho and Goebel returning with plenty of varsity experience and the potential shown by the younger golfers, Harrison is looking for Park Rapids to field another competitive group next spring.

"It's going to be hard to replace the experience of this year's seniors," said Harrison. "Next year could be a rebuilding year. The key will be how much golf these girls play in the summer. The younger girls show a lot of potential. If the younger girls play a lot of golf this summer, we could have a solid team next year."

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