With six varsity spots to fill, head coach Brianne Morris expected a rebuilding season from the Park Rapids girls tennis team.
Even though the Panthers finished with a 7-16 record in dual meets and failed to advance a player to the state Class A tournament for the first time since 2007, Morris felt the season was a success.
Senior Jada Renneberg, sophomores Abby Morris and Rachael Herman, and freshman Mickey Clark returned to the starting lineup from last year’s team that finished with a 14-8 record. Playing varsity full time for the first time and filling in the other starting spots were juniors Cassidy Bera, Taylor Dravis, Hannah Morgan and Destiny Villarreal; sophomores Natalie Harvey and Emily Schulz; and freshmen Macy Goochey and Morgan Koppelman.
Morris went 19-1 at No. 2 singles last season and teamed with Kendra Coborn to win the section doubles title and advance to state. That duo went 1-1 in their state debut. Morris took over the No. 1 singles spot vacated by the graduation of Natalie Kinkel, who won the section singles title to qualify for her second state tournament last fall. Renneberg and Herman went 2-5 as No. 1 doubles partners last season with Renneberg going 6-13 at No. 1 doubles and Herman posting a 12-7 record at No. 2 doubles. Clark went 7-8 at No. 4 singles and 4-4 at No. 2 doubles last fall. Bera, Goochey and Koppelman combined to play in four matches at No. 3 doubles last season.
Having the returning players move up spots and having eight players competing on varsity for the first time resulted in a 1-6 record against Mid-State Conference opponents and a 2-7 record against Section 8A foes. For the season, the Panthers went 13-15 at No. 1 singles, 9-19 at No. 2 singles, 12-16 at No. 3 singles, 9-19 at No. 4 singles, 10-17 at No. 1 doubles, 15-14 at No. 2 doubles and 5-23 at No. 3 doubles.
“The beginning of the season was tough for the girls as we had to throw a lot of girls into the lineup with little or no varsity experience,” said Morris, who was assisted by Chelsie Weeding. “Chelsie and I just kept telling them to keep working hard and that the tough matches would help them. Every match we saw improvement. It was fun to see each of them grow throughout the year. Even matches that we lost, we were right in most of the them and knew that we could compete with anyone.”
Park Rapids opened the season by hosting the North vs. South Challenge and going 1-2 in three matches with a 6-1 loss to Pine City, a 5-2 victory over Aitkin and a 7-0 loss to Minnewaska Area. The Panthers then placed seventh at the eight-team Park Rapids Invitational with 10 points as Minnewaska Area claimed the title with 36 points.
The Panthers split matches at Fergus Falls, falling to the host Otters 4-3 and defeating Morris Area 5-2 before sweeping a pair of dual meets at Sauk Centre with 6-1 victories over the host Mainstreeters and Yellow Medicine East.
At a quadrangular meet at Park Rapids, the Panthers went 1-2 with a 7-0 loss to Pequot Lakes in a match between conference rivals, a 5-2 loss to Crookston in a match between section rivals and a 4-1 win over Long Prairie-Grey Eagle in a match that was called early because of rain.
Five conference matches followed as the Panthers lost to Crosby-Ironton (4-3) and Detroit Lakes (5-2), defeated Wadena-Deer Creek (5-2), and lost to Staples-Motley (5-2) and Perham/New York Mills (7-0). The W-DC and P/NYM matches were also section matches.
Pequot Lakes repeated as conference champs with 47 points as the Panthers placed sixth out of seven teams with 20 points. Pequot Lakes, which was rated No. 8 in the final state Class A poll and finished fourth at the state Class A tournament, won the conference title for the sixth year in a row.
Morris finished fourth at No. 1 singles, Herman finished fifth at No. 2 singles, Bera finished fifth at No. 3 singles, Schulz finished fifth at No. 4 singles, Renneberg and Clark finished sixth at No. 1 doubles, Goochey and Koppelman finished fourth at No. 2 doubles, and Harvey and Morgan finished seventh at No. 3 doubles for the Panthers at the Mid-State tournament.
After splitting section matches against East Grand Forks (a 7-0 loss) and Parkers Prairie (a 7-0 win), the Panthers ended the regular season with section losses to Roseau (4-3 and 5-2) and Crookston (5-2) and a conference loss to Pequot Lakes (7-0).
Park Rapids received the No. 6 seed for the Section 8A tournament and was eliminated with a 5-2 loss to No. 3 East Grand Forks. No. 1 Thief River Falls defeated No. 2 Perham/New York Mills 5-2 in the section championship match. Thief River Falls lost both matches at state.
“The team tournament was great, despite the loss. The girls all played great and we nearly pulled off an upset,” said Morris. “They all definitely saved the best for last. It was great to see all their hard work pay off and play like we knew they could all year.”
In the individual portion of the section tournament, Morris entered as the No. 3 seed in singles and went 2-2 to place fourth while Renneberg and Clark entered as the No. 9 seed in doubles and went 1-1. Herman was the No. 10 seed in singles while Goochey and Koppelman were the No. 11 seed in doubles. Both of those Park Rapids entrants were eliminated in the first round.
Morris held the No. 1 singles spot all season, going 11-8 at that position while posting a 5-3 record at No. 1 doubles for an 18-13 overall record.
Herman played No. 2 singles most of the season, going 6-9 at that position while adding a 2-4 record at No. 1 singles, a 1-3 record at No. 1 doubles and a 2-1 record at No. 2 doubles for an 11-18 overall record.
Renneberg and Clark went 5-12 as doubles partners, including a 4-11 mark at No. 1 doubles. Renneberg compiled a 9-20 overall record, including an 0-1 mark at No. 1 singles, a 1-3 mark at No. 2 singles, a 6-15 record at No. 1 doubles and a 1-0 record at No. 2 doubles. Clark finished with an 11-18 overall mark, going 0-1 at No. 1 singles, 2-2 at No. 2 singles, 8-13 at No. 1 doubles and 0-1 at No. 2 doubles.
Goochey and Koppelman played No. 2 doubles most the season, going 9-14 as doubles partners. That duo went 8-12 at No. 2 doubles and 1-1 at No. 3 doubles. Goochey compiled an 11-15 record in doubles (going 9-13 at the No. 2 spot and 2-1 at the No. 3 spot) while Koppelman had a 14-16 overall record by going 0-1 at No. 2 singles, 5-0 at No. 3 singles, 8-13 at No. 2 doubles and 1-1 at No. 3 doubles.
Bera handled the No. 3 singles spot most of the season, going 7-10 at that position and going 0-1 at each of the other three singles positions. Bera also had a 5-0 record at No. 2 doubles and a 1-2 record at No. 3 doubles.
Harvey and Schulz both went 4-7 at No. 4 singles. Harvey finished with a 7-17 overall record, going 0-4 at No. 3 singles and 3-6 at No. 2 doubles while Schulz compiled a 9-17 overall mark by going 0-3 at No. 2 singles, 0-2 at No. 3 singles, 4-0 at No. 2 doubles and 1-5 at No. 3 singles.
Dravis, Morgan and Villarreal played No. 3 doubles most of the season. Dravis went 0-1 at No. 4 singles, 1-0 at No. 2 doubles and 1-16 at No. 3 doubles. Morgan went 1-3 at No. 4 singles and 0-9 at No. 3 doubles. Villarreal posted a 1-6 record at No. 3 doubles.
Morris received all-conference and team MVP honors while Renneberg, Clark, Goochey and Koppelman received all-conference honorable mention honors. Other team awards went to Goochey and Bera (Most Improved), Morgan (Most Spirited), Clark (Hardest Worker) and Dravis (Rookie of the Year). Renneberg served as captain and received all-state academic honors while the team received a Gold Academic Award for having a team GPA of at least 3.75.
Even though the Panthers will have to fill a major void with the graduation of Renneberg, Morris is counting on her team to use this year of experience to turn the close losses into wins next fall.
“Losing Jada is a big loss to the program. She is an amazing young lady and all of the girls look up to her. She is a role model on and off the court. She always had such a positive attitude, no matter what was happening on or off the court and she has taught that to all of the younger athletes. She will be missed by all of us,” said Morris. “We are really excited for next year knowing we return almost our entire lineup that now have a year of varsity experience under them. They will be so much more confident going out on the court next fall. I also know that they will be working hard in the off season to continue to improve.”