Not having a go-to scorer will create a drastic change for the Park Rapids boys basketball team this season.
Last year, Gabe Bagstad and Tristin Persons accounted for 55% of the Panthers’ points. This season, head coach Matt Brandt will be relying on all 10 varsity players to produce a more balanced attack on the offensive end.
Being counted on to help the Panthers improve on last year’s 3-5 record to tie for fourth place in the Mid-State Conference standings and 8-17 overall mark are seniors Gabe Arola, Hunter Brandt, Kolby Brandt, Jeff Haas and Shawn Ohm; juniors James Hartig and Kaiden Walsh; and sophomores Parker Harmon, Nick Michaelson and Zach VanBatavia.
That group will look to take over leadership roles left by the graduation of Bagstad, Persons, Preston Renneberg, Jake Reish and Ty Karger. Bagstad led the Panthers by averaging 22.4 points a game to end his career with 1,189 points while adding 96 rebounds, 84 steals and 37 assists in 25 games. Persons averaged 9.4 points and had 62 assists, 34 rebounds and 32 steals in 15 games. Bagstad received all-conference honors while Persons was an all-conference honorable mention player. Renneberg (72 points, 102 rebounds, 25 blocked shots in 19 games), Reish (66 points, 74 rebounds in 24 games) and Karger (51 points, 31 rebounds in 21 games) also played major roles last season.
Those seniors helped Park Rapids average 51.4 points a game while allowing 63.7 points a game last season. The Panthers averaged 16.6 turnovers a night.
Brandt will be counting on an intense defense to produce offense and improve on those numbers this season.
Michaelson was third in scoring last season at 5.2 points a game and led the Panthers with 35 blocked shots. Michaelson played in all 25 games and had 131 points, 162 rebounds, 28 steals and 16 assists.
Haas averaged 3.8 points a game, compiling 80 points, 66 rebounds, 46 assists and 36 steals in 21 games.
Kolby Brandt led the team with 172 rebounds while adding 33 points and 33 steals in 24 games.
Walsh averaged 3.2 points game, making 14 3-pointers for 60 points with 13 rebounds, eight steals and seven assists in 19 games.
Ohm played in 20 games and scored 56 points while adding 74 rebounds.
Hunter Brandt played in 13 games and scored 7 points with 12 rebounds and eight steals.
The other four players will be playing key roles on varsity for the first time.
“We had a great summer. A lot of guys worked hard to get better and hopefully that will carry over to the season,” said Brandt. “We will be one of the hardest-working teams in the area. We’re going to rely a lot on our defense to create our offense. The guys have really been getting after it in practice. All 10 players are pretty even across the board. There won’t be a major drop off when we sub. We graduated our whole offensive nucleus, so the big question mark is our offensive scoring ability. Hopefully we’ll have guys step up. We’ll need intense effort from everyone when they are on the floor.”
Starting the season on junior varsity will be junior Isaiah Phillippi; sophomores Isaiah Olson, Kaleb Stearns, Logan Jackson and Sam Reish; freshmen Cory Johnson and Mason Yliniemi; and eighth grader Noah Morris. The C squad will feature freshmen Aiden Yliniemi Hensel, Blaine Hensel, Caleb Arola, Hunter Harrison, Jeremiah Olson, Luke Hartung and Quincy Squires; and eighth graders Alex Brewer, Blake Morris and Noah Larson.
Crosby-Ironton, Detroit Lakes and Pequot Lakes shared the conference title last season with 8-2 records. The Panthers received the No. 5 seed in the South for the Section 8AA tournament and opened with an 87-56 loss to No. 4 Breckenridge. Perham defeated Hawley 53-47 in the Section 8AA title game. Fergus Falls, Pelican Rapids and Menahga join Section 8AA this season.
Brandt is looking for his team to move up in the conference standings and earn a higher seed for the section playoffs.
“I see a lot of potential with this team. When these guys want to play, we can be tough,” said Brandt. “We have the potential to surprise some teams. These guys know that they need to work hard for us to be successful. I like the effort and the attitude I’ve seen so far. If they play with intensity and stay focused, it’s going to be a fun year.”