Sending two golfers to the state Class AA tournament capped off a successful season for the Park Rapids girls golf team in Brent Vandal’s first year as the Panthers’ head coach.
During the regular season, the Panthers won two invitational titles and dominated Northern Pines Conference play. After just missing sending the team to the Section 8AA tournament, freshman Anna Eckmann and sophomore Mady Maninga capped off the season by qualifying for the state tournament.
Joining Eckmann and Maninga on the varsity were junior Emily Schulz, sophomores Natalie Backmann and Emma Vrieze, and freshman Lexi Usher. Sophomores Louisa Etter and Maria Wagner also saw some varsity time this spring.
The Panthers opened the season by topping the nine-team field at the United North Central Invitational at Blueberry Pines with a 403 as Maninga’s 90, Eckmann’s 92, Usher’s 109 and Schulz’s 112 led the way.
Maninga’s 46, Eckmann’s 55, Schulz’s 61 and Usher’s 63 gave the Panthers a 225 team score for fifth place while Detroit Lakes carded a 172 to top the field at the six-team Staples-Motley Invitational at Cragun’s Legacy Course.
Park Rapids then dominated all six rounds in Northern Pines Conference play by winning all six meets. Maninga was the medalist in the first three meets as the Panthers carded a 144 at Cass Lake’s Sandtrap Golf Course and rounds of 132 and 147 at Park Rapids’ Headwaters Golf Club. Maninga’s 40, Eckmann’s 50 and Schulz’s 54 led the way at Sandtrap while Maninga’s 41, Eckmann’s 43 and Usher’s 48 led the Panthers on the front side at Headwaters. Maninga followed with a 45 on the back side with Eckmann’s 46 and Usher’s 56 rounding out the team score.
In the next three NPC meets, Eckmann earned medalist honors as the Panthers carded a 135 at Pequot Lakes’ Whitefish Golf Course and followed with a pair of 134s at Bemidji’s Castle Highlands. Eckmann’s 39, Maninga’s 43 and Usher’s 53 led the way at Whitefish while Eckmann’s rounds of 41 and 38 led the Panthers at Castle Highlands. Maninga had a 43 and Schulz had a 50 on the front side while Maninga carded a 44 and Vrieze had a 55 to comprise Park Rapids’ three-golfer score on the back side.
Eckmann was the overall medalist in NPC play with 161 strokes on her best four rounds while Maninga was second with 167 strokes. Usher had 208 strokes and Schulz had 217 strokes to also earn all-conference honors. In the six NPC meets, Eckmann had a 42.8 average, Maninga had a 43.5 average, Usher had a 54.0 average and Backmann had a 63.3 average. Schulz (54.3 average) and Vrieze (57.5 average) played in four NPC meets while Wagner had an 84.5 average in two meets. The Panthers had a 137.7 average team score in the six NPC meets.
In the other 18-hole tournaments, the Panthers finished third at the 12-team Park Rapids Invitational at Headwaters Golf Club with a 385 as Eckmann earned medalist honors with an 80. Maninga’s 91, Usher’s 104 and Schulz’s 110 rounded out the team score. Detroit Lakes finished first with a 344.
Maninga shared medalist honors with an 80 and Eckmann was fourth with an 82 to headline the all-conference team as Park Rapids placed fourth at the Mid-State Conference tournament at Deerwood’s Ruttger’s Bay Lodge with a 383. Usher’s 105 and Backmann’s 116 completed the team score while Vrieze had a 119 and Schulz carded a 121. Detroit Lakes claimed the team title with a 345 in the six-team meet.
Park Rapids topped the eight-team field at the Pre-Section 8AA North tournament at Bagley’s Twin Pines Golf Course with a 378 as Eckmann claimed medalist honors with an 81. Maninga tied for second with an 82 while Backmann’s 107 and Usher’s 108 rounded out the team score. Schulz had a 113 and Vrieze carded a 116.
At the Section 8AA North tournament at Bagley, the Panthers missed advancing to the Section 8AA tournament after placing fourth with a 408. Eckmann carded a 73 to earn medalist honors while Maninga carded an 88 for third place to qualify for the Section 8AA meet. Backmann (109), Usher (115), Schulz (116) and Vrieze (119) rounded out Park Rapids’ subsection team. Crookston (375), East Grand Forks (379) and Hawley (379) earned the three trips to the section tournament.
Eckmann and Maninga capped off the season by qualifying for the state Class AA tournament at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. Eckmann carded rounds of 76 and 88 for a two-day total of 164 to finish third overall and as the No. 2 individual qualifier while Maninga had rounds of 93 and 82 for a 175 to finish sixth overall and as the No. 4 individual qualifier.
In their state Class AA debuts, Eckmann tied for fifth place with a pair of 81s for a 162 while Maninga tied for 28th place with a 180 after rounds of 91 and 89 at Ridges at Sand Creek near Jordan.
“It was an awesome experience to take Anna and Mady to state,” said Vandal. “They both are strong competitors and they both dedicate a lot of time to their game. I am very happy with how they played at their first state tournament.”
Eckmann finished with an 81.6 average in nine 18-hole rounds while Maninga had an 87.3 average. Usher had a 108.2 average in five 18-hole rounds, Backmann carded a 112.5 average in four rounds, Schulz had a 114.4 average in five rounds and Vrieze had a 124.0 average in five rounds. Etter carded a 148 in her only 18-hole appearance. The Panthers had a team average of 386.8.
“Overall I am very happy with how the season went,” said Vandal. “There are things we could have done better, but we are a young team coming off missing the entire season last year.”
With the entire varsity team returning, Vandal has high expectations for the Panthers next season.
“Next year my goal is to see our whole team moving to the section tournament, and ideally returning at least a couple golfers to state,” said Vandal. “We know what we need to work on, and I think we will come back as a stronger team next year.”