Kaisa Coborn, Kamree Carlson, Rilee Michaelson and Katelyn Weaver painfully remember the feeling the last time they walked out of the Fosston gym.
That was a year ago when those four members of the Park Rapids volleyball team saw a historic season end with a loss to Roseau in the Section 8AA championship match.
That loss provided motivation for that group entering this season. Remembering that loss provided the drive that paved the way for a rematch with Roseau in this year’s Section 8AA championship match. This time those four relished the feeling of leaving the Fosston gym after earning the program’s first section title and first trip to the state tournament.
Those four were starters a year ago when the Panthers finished with a school record of 24 wins during a 24-3 season. However, that record-setting season ended on a sour note when Roseau posted a 25-23, 21-25, 25-18, 25-21 victory over Park Rapids in the section title match.
The rematch on Nov. 3 was a totally different story as the Panthers took control early in the first set in rolling to a 25-16, 25-13, 25-13 victory.
“We didn’t want to have that feeling again,” said Coborn, a senior outside hitter. “We worked so hard for this. It feels good. This has been a long time coming. It was our turn.”
“Last year didn’t turn out the way we wanted,” said Carlson, a junior outside hitter. “We used the experience from last year’s final to help us this year. It feels really good. All the hours we put in paid off. We proved what we were capable of doing.”
“Last year we didn’t realize how far we’d gone. I didn’t think we knew what to do and we kind of panicked,” said Michaelson, a junior middle hitter. “We didn’t want what happened last year to happen again this year. That motivated us. We didn’t want to feel the same way as last year. It’s exciting knowing we accomplished something that not many teams have done in Park Rapids.”
“We were very disappointed last year. That motivated us for this year,” said Weaver, a junior who took over the setter position this season. “It feels awesome. We worked super hard for this.”
Those four starters entered the section title match confident of defeating Roseau for the second time this season.
“I was so confident,” said Coborn. “As soon as the playoffs started, I knew we were going all the way. We worked harder in the off-season than ever before and we kept reminding ourselves not to have that feeling (of losing in the section finals) again. We proved that our skills were better.”
“The year before, we were so nervous. This year, we hardly felt any nerves,” said Carlson. “We wanted it so bad. We were motivated by the year before and knew what it would take. We knew we were capable of achieving our goal of making it to state.”
“We wanted to play Roseau again and prove that we were the better team,” said Michaelson. “I’ve never been so nervous because I knew how important this was. We knew we were capable of winning. We were confident and believed in ourselves. We wanted it so bad. We wanted to accomplish our goal that we’ve worked so hard for the last three years.”
“We wanted to get revenge and redeem ourselves,” said Weaver. “I was very confident. With all the hours we put in, I knew we had the skills and the tools to win if we just played the way we knew how to play.”
The other three key players - junior middle hitter Kayleah Breitweser, junior libero Kora Just and sophomore middle hitter Kendra Scholz - were also confident entering their first section championship match.
“We were really confident,” said Breitweser. “We knew we were capable and could do it. It feels awesome.”
“We were pretty confident. We knew we could do it. We had the mindset that we were going to win,” said Just. “We worked so hard and we proved that we could do it. This is a big accomplishment for the team. It feels really good.”
“I felt a little nervous since this was my first section final, but I was pretty confident we’d win,” said Scholz. “I knew if we played our game that we could beat them. It feels really cool.”
Getting off to a quick start was key for the Panthers, who defeated Roseau 25-13, 25-21, 25-22 in the season opener..
“We knew getting off to a good start was important,” said Coborn. “They won the first set last year. That was the first time we lost the first set all year. We knew we had to play well from the get-go. After we won the first set, I knew it was our game. Nobody was going to take it from us.”
“They kept up to us for a few points, but as the points kept going, we proved we were the better team,” said Carlson. “We were stronger than them and we pulled it out.”
“It was very important to get off to a good start,” said Just. “We can be up-and-down, so we had to hit the ground running.”
“The first set is always very important,” said Weaver. “Our mindset was to win that first set. After we won it, we had a lot of confidence.”
Playing tough opponents during the summer and playing another tough schedule during the regular season helped prepare the Panthers for their first trip to state.
The Panthers played some of the best teams in the state during the summer Junior Olympic season. This fall, Park Rapids lost to Pine River-Backus 3-1 in a regular-season match and lost matches to Belle Plaine (2-1), Kenyon-Wanamingo (2-1) and Glencoe-Silver Lake (2-0) at the Class AA Showcase. Park Rapids also dropped a 2-0 match to Sauk Centre at Perham. Pine River-Backus was rated No. 5 in the last state Class A poll while Belle Plaine (No. 7), Kenyon-Wanamingo (No. 8), Sauk Centre (No. 9) and Glencoe-Silver Lake (No. 11) were rated in the last state Class AA poll. Belle Plaine defeated Kenyon-Wanamingo in the Section 2AA title match while Pine River-Backus and Sauk Centre lost in section finals.
Facing tough competition all season had this group ready to handle the pressure of winning the section title and has them ready to face some of the best Class AA teams in the state.
“We definitely wanted to play tougher teams. We didn’t care about wins and losses,” said Coborn. “We wanted the harder competition to help us play at a higher level.”
“Playing a tougher schedule was crucial,” said Carlson. “We didn’t want to play easy teams. Playing tougher teams prepared us for the big games.”
“Seeing that we could keep up with the good teams this summer showed us that we are a good team,” said Weaver. “We learned how to compete with them.”
“Playing tough teams helped us,” said Michaelson. “We know we can play with the tougher teams.”
“We played a lot this summer against better competition,” said Breitweser. “Knowing that we could keep up with the good schools gave us confidence.”
“We practiced every day and put in a lot of time this summer,” said Just. “We played a lot of good teams and that got us ready for the season.”
Getting to state for the first time in school history was the major goal for the Panthers this season.
The Panthers’ next goal is to perform well in their state debut.
Park Rapids (24-6) will make its state debut by facing Marshall (27-5) in a quarterfinal match Thursday night (Nov. 8) at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Marshall was rated No. 4 in the final state Class AA poll prior to the section tournaments and received the No. 3 seed for the state tournament. Also seeded in the state tournament field were No. 1 Kasson-Mantorville (30-2), No. 2 Concordia Academy of Roseville (27-3), No. 4 North Branch (26-4) and No. 5 Watertown-Mayer (24-6). St. Cloud Cathedral (28-2) and Belle Plaine (24-6) also qualified for the state tournament. Concordia Academy was rated No. 3, North Branch was rated No. 5, Watertown-Mayer was rated No. 10 and St. Cloud Cathedral was rated No. 12 to join Belle Plaine among schools listed in the final state poll.
All seven of those teams have played in the state tournament before. Marshall qualified for state for a record-setting 28th time and won state titles in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Concordia Academy is making its 14th state appearance and won titles in 1984 and 1987. St. Cloud Cathedral advanced to state for the 11th time while Belle Plaine qualified for the 10th time, winning the state title in 2015. North Branch (five times) and Watertown-Mayer (three times) competed at state the last two years.
Having to compete against state-tested teams doesn’t worry the first-time state qualifiers.
“We were able to stick with the good teams this summer,” said Scholz. “We just have to play our game and do what we know how to do.”
“Hopefully we can play at our highest level and don’t regret anything,” said Just. “We know we can play with them. We want to prove that we deserve to be there.”
“Hopefully we can win it all,” said Breitweser. “We’re going to play our hearts out. If we do that, we can do anything.”
“Winning the section final gave us a lot of confidence,” said Weaver. “We know we can compete with the good teams. We just have to believe in our skills. This is our first trip to state, but we want to make a statement. We want to show them who Park Rapids is.”
“We know we can stay with the best teams,” said Michaelson. “We’re hoping to do our best. We want to show them that Park Rapids can play volleyball.”
“We wanted to make it to state, but we still have more goals,” said Carlson. “We’re not satisfied just going down there. Now we want to be super successful down there and I think we can be.”
“Hopefully we don’t have any nerves,” said Coborn. “We have to be confident in our skills and prove that we belong down there.”
There will be a community welcome home for the volleyball team Saturday night (Nov. 10) at 9 p.m. at the Area High School gym.