Nic Lembcke is looking forward to building the Park Rapids girls basketball team into one of the top programs in the Mid-State Conference and Section 8AA ranks.
Lembcke begins his second stint as the Panthers’ head coach. Lembcke posted a 1-50 record in two seasons as the head coach of the Park Rapids girls basketball team during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
After serving as the Panthers’ junior varsity girls basketball coach last season, Lembcke is thrilled to take over the program once again.
“I am extremely excited to be taking over the girls basketball program. As the JV coach last season, I really enjoyed working with this entire group of girls. I want to build a culture of hard work, feeling like a family and learning life lessons through sports. I think this group of girls is perfectly suited to help set those priorities,” said Lembcke. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to solidify girls basketball as one of the elite programs in Park Rapids. I feel confident that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”
The Panthers will have an entirely new look this season. In addition to Lembcke taking over as head coach, Park Rapids will focus on perimeter play instead of post play.
Last year, seniors Rilee Michaelson and Paige Johnson were the focus of the offense. Those two post players combined to average 25.8 points and 15.1 rebounds a game.
Michaelson averaged 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while leading the Panthers with 388 points, 212 rebounds and 24 blocked shots in 25 games. Michaelson added 67 assists and 67 steals while ending her high school career with 1,631 points to rank second in school history.
Johnson was second on the team in scoring with 257 points (10.3 per game) and 164 rebounds (6.6 per game) while leading the Panthers with 81 steals and finishing second with 69 assists and 19 blocks in 25 games.
Michaelson was named the Mid-State Conference’s MVP and was joined by Paige Johnson as all-conference players.
Maddie Soldwisch also graduated after scoring 26 points and contributing 33 rebounds and 11 steals in 18 games.
“The strength of our team this year will be our team speed and our depth. This will lead to a much different style of play,” said Lembcke. “Last year our offense ran through Paige and Rilee. They ran a lot of high-low action and the other girls played off that. We don’t have a lot of team height this year, so on offense we are going to need to spread things out and make the other teams try to guard us on the perimeter. We will also need to play aggressive defense, pick teams up full court and sub quicker to stay fresh. This style should best utilize our strengths as a team.”
Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are the four players who saw extensive action last season. That group features senior Hannah Morgan; juniors Holly Johnson and Abby Morris; and sophomore Tori Weaver. Sophomores Olivia Davis and Mickey Clark also saw plenty of varsity time last season as the Panthers went 7-3 to tie Pequot Lakes for second place in the conference standings and finished with a 13-15 overall record. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with a 9-1 mark. For the Section 8AA tournament, the Panthers received the No. 4 seed in the North and opened with an 86-75 win over No. 5 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton before being eliminated with an 82-51 loss to Fergus Falls, the No. 1 seed in the South. Pelican Rapids edged Fergus Falls 43-41 in the section title game.
Weaver averaged 9.8 points a game, making 93 of 238 shots (including a team-leading 43 of 124 3-pointers) for 39.1% and 46 of 68 free throws for 67.6% in scoring 275 points. Weaver also had 116 rebounds, 68 assists and 46 steals in 28 games.
Morris started all 28 games and averaged 5.8 points a game, shooting 37.0% from the field (51 for 138, including 14 for 50 on 3-pointers) and 53.4% at the line (47 for 88) in scoring 163 points. Morris led the team with 82 assists and had 91 rebounds and 62 steals.
Morgan averaged 7.6 points a game by shooting 28.8% from the floor (61 for 212, including 25 for 103 on 3-pointers) and 65.1% at the line (28 for 43) for 175 points. Morgan also had 62 rebounds, 30 assists and 29 steals in 23 games.
Holly Johnson played in 23 games, averaging 2.8 points a game. Johnson made 26 of 90 shots (including 3 of 21 3-pointers) for 28.9% and 9 of 20 free throws for 45.0% in scoring 64 points. Johnson also chipped in 57 rebounds, 26 assists and 22 steals.
Davis played in 27 games and had 58 points, 54 rebounds, 15 steals and eight assists while Clark had 10 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and six steals in 15 games.
Morris and Weaver received all-conference honorable mention honors.
That group helped the Panthers average 55.0 points a game while allowing 59.1 points a game last season. Park Rapids shot 37.2% from the field (584 for 1,568, including 102 for 402 on 3-pointers) and 54.5% at the free throw line (269 for 494) while the opposition shot 39.2% from the field (590 for 1,507, including 117 for 414 on 3-pointers) and 65.5% at the line (359 for 548). The Panthers averaged 23.2 turnovers while forcing 22.6 turnovers a game.
Looking to contend for varsity minutes are senior Brooke Knutson; sophomores Avery Cederstrom, Christina Engst, Julia Harmon, Natalia Lopez, Mady Maninga and Chloe Tretbar; and freshmen Macey Lund, Kilea Persons and Gabi Sheperski. Providing depth will be sophomores Hailey Kerr and Lyvia Livermore; and freshmen Amelia Bagstad, Anna Eckmann, Abby Felts, Kasen Girtz, Nora Gwaizdon and Ali Roberts.
“There are a lot of talented girls in this program. There will be plenty of competition for spots at all levels. Looking at our strengths as a team, we figure to play a much different style this year. We are looking for girls that fit this new style of play. I was pleased with the number of girls in the gym this offseason working hard to improve their game and learn the new system. This commitment should make earning spots even more competitive,” said Lembcke. “The COVID regulations may also throw a wrinkle into playing time decisions. We have not been given a definitive answer on whether players are allowed to get minutes at different levels or if we need to keep our rosters consistent. In a normal year, girls are able to play three halves each night. This extra half allows coaches to fill varsity roles while still getting girls enough overall playing time to develop. If we are not allowed this movement, it will make those decisions more difficult. Having a young player fill a varsity role could mean cutting her minutes and possibly hindering her development.”
Even though the area features several talented teams, Lembcke feels this year’s team can be competitive in both the conference and section.
“Our conference and section have a lot of good teams. I feel through hard work and playing together, we can be competitive,” said Lembcke, who will be assisted by Josh Yliniemi and Rebecca Grant. “Our main goal as a program will be to set a baseline for our culture going forward. I think this group of girls is exceptionally suited to help us do that. There are a lot of great role models and leaders in this program. Mentally, the girls are ready to go. Now it will just be getting into the gym and getting ourselves physically ready to compete. Having a new coach and trying to learn a new system, I would say that the COVID restrictions have hindered us a little more than some programs that are carrying over some consistency from last year. We aren’t going to spend time dwelling on it or using it as an excuse for why we aren’t at our best. We have talked a lot about controlling the things you can control. If we do that, the rest will take care of itself.”