The first four days of practice were typical for the Park Rapids girls tennis team.
The rest of the season won’t be.
Park Rapids head coach Brianne Morris was thrilled when the Minnesota State High School League’s Board of Directors announced that girls tennis would be held as usual in the fall. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions were placed on the season.
Those restrictions included a shorter season with teams only being able to compete in a maximum of 11 dual meets. That meant all invitational meets, quadrangulars and triangulars that were already scheduled had to be canceled as practices began on Aug. 17.
“Only having duals is going to be very strange. We are used to having so many all-day meets and so many matches in a year,” said Morris, who will be assisted by Chelsie Weeding. “We usually play about 30 matches in a season and then have postseason matches. Our days will be very short, but we are all doing our best to enjoy every minute we can on the court because we know not everyone is able to play right now.”
Even though the season was up in the air, Morris still held practices this summer for two hours every Monday and Wednesday nights starting in the middle of June. The attendance showed how much the girls wanted to play this fall.
“The turnout was great. Almost all of them were able to come to our practices, so I knew they wanted to play,” said Morris. “I was super happy, not for me but for the girls. They have missed competing and being a part of a team, so they were ready to get started again. I was excited for them to have some sort of season, even if it was going to be a little different. Playing sports is such a big part of high school, so I knew it was important for the girls to have a season.”
The Panthers return a veteran team that was looking to contend for conference and section honors this fall. Jada Renneberg was the only senior on last year’s team that went 7-16 in dual meets and received the No. 6 seed for the section tournament. No. 3 East Grand Forks defeated the Panthers 6-1 in the section quarterfinals while No. 1 Thief River Falls defeated No. 2 Perham/New York Mills 5-2 for the section title.
Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are seniors Cassidy Bera, Taylor Dravis, Hannah Morgan and Destiny Villarreal; juniors Natalie Harvey, Rachael Herman, Abby Morris and Emily Schulz; and sophomores Mickey Clark, Macy Goochey and Morgan Koppelman.
Morris was named the team’s MVP last season and earned all-conference honors. Morris placed fourth at No. 1 singles at the Mid-State meet and placed fourth in singles at the section tournament as the No. 3 seed, finishing with an 11-8 record at No. 1 singles, a 5-3 record at No. 1 doubles and a 2-2 record in singles at the section tournament.
Herman played No. 2 singles most of last season, placing fifth at that spot at the conference meet and finishing with a 6-9 record. Herman also played No. 1 singles (going 2-4) and doubles (posting a 1-3 record at No. 1 doubles and a 2-1 record at No. 2 doubles). Herman entered the section tournament as the No. 10 seed in singles.
Clark teamed with Renneberg in doubles, going 4-11 at No. 1 doubles while placing sixth at the conference meet at No. 1 doubles and entering the section tournament as the No. 9 seed in doubles. That duo earned all-conference honorable mention honors. Clark finished with an 11-18 overall record last season, going 0-1 at No. 1 singles, 2-2 at No. 2 singles, 8-13 at No. 1 doubles, 0-1 at No. 2 doubles and 1-1 in doubles at the section tournament.
Goochey and Koppelman teamed up to place fourth at No. 2 doubles at the conference meet while earning all-conference honorable mention honors and entered the section tournament as the No. 11 seed in doubles. That duo went 9-14 as doubles partners, going 8-12 at No. 2 doubles and 1-1 at No. 3 doubles. Goochey compiled an 11-15 overall record in doubles (9-13 at No. 2 doubles and 2-1 at No. 3 doubles) while Koppelman went 14-16 overall in singles and doubles (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 filled the No. 3 singles spot last season, placing fifth at that position at the conference tournament and finishing with a 7-10 record at that spot. Bera posted a 13-15 overall record, going 0-1 at No. 1 singles, 0-1 at No. 2 singles, 0-1 at No. 4 singles, 5-0 at No. 2 doubles and 1-2 at No. 3 doubles.
Schulz placed fifth at No. 4 singles at the Mid-State meet and compiled a 9-17 overall record by going 0-3 at No. 2 singles, 0-2 at No. 3 singles, 4-7 at No. 4 singles, 4-0 at No. 2 doubles and 1-5 at No. 3 doubles.
Harvey and Morgan teamed up to place seventh at No. 3 doubles at the conference tournament. Harvey posted a 7-17 overall record, going 0-4 at No. 3 singles, 4-7 at No. 4 singles and 3-6 at No. 2 doubles while Morgan went 1-3 at No. 4 singles and 0-9 at No. 3 doubles.
Dravis and Villarreal filled in as starters at No. 3 doubles. Dravis went 0-1 at No. 4 singles, 1-0 at No. 2 doubles and 1-16 at No. 3 doubles while Villarreal posted a 1-6 record at No. 3 doubles.
Three eighth graders - Shailyn Hayes, Emmy Goochey and Abby Runyan - are also expected to compete for varsity spots this fall. Providing depth are senior Amber Berndt; sophomore Riley Pike; and freshmen Lauren Cunningham, Anna Eckmann, Emily Knapp and Lexi Usher.
That group will be looking to improve on last year’s 1-6 record against Mid-State opponents and 2-7 record against section teams. The Panthers placed sixth out of seven teams at the conference tournament as Pequot Lakes captured the Mid-State title for the sixth year in a row and capped off the season by placing fourth at the state tournament.
With an emphasis on avoiding large groups, there most likely won’t be a Mid-State Conference tournament, a Section 8A meet or the state Class A tournament. A decision on those meets will be made at a later date.
Coaches and players usually use the regular season to prepare for those important tournaments. While Morris is disappointed her players most likely won’t be able to compete for all-conference honors and state berths, the Park Rapids head coach is just happy her players get to hit the courts in some form this fall.
“Right now they haven't completely decided no section and state meet, but we know the chances are highly unlikely. We are approaching the season as a time to continue to improve, grow and enjoy every moment on the court because you never know when it might be taken away,” said Morris. “It’s just nice to be back. The girls have put in a lot of time and I can see lots of improvement already. I'm excited to see what happens and pray we have some sort of postseason for them.”