For Walt Harrison, the end of the season came too soon for the Park Rapids girls golf team.
With another late start to the season because of the extended winter, the Panthers had only five weeks to prepare for the Section 8AA tournament. The Panthers were able to hit their stride when it counted by carding their best rounds of the season at the MId-State Conference and Section 8AA tournaments.
"We did about as well as expected. The season went about like last year. It's too bad the weather was so limiting the last two years," said Harrison, who completed his 16th and final season as the Panthers' head coach. "It takes a while to get your game back in shape. We just couldn't get our games back in shape quick enough."
The Panthers returned a solid foundation with the leadership of seniors Chloe Johnson, Madison Johnson, Kinley Nordin and Oliva Ulvin. Freshman Emily Schultz, eighth grader Mady Maninga and seventh grader Lexi Usher would play key roles in their first varsity seasons.
It took that group some time to get back into the swing of things.
At the season-opening Staples-Motley Invitational at The Legacy, the Panthers finished 11th with a 476 as Alexandria topped the 12-team field with a 354. Nordin's 108, Maninga's 122 and a pair of 123s by Ulvin and Usher led the Panthers.
Park Rapids followed with a 433 for 13th place at the 16-team Bemidji Invitational at the Bemidji Town & Country Club. Bemidji carded a 341 to lead the way. Maninga's 95, a pair of 112s by Nordin and Usher, and a 114 by Schultz comprised the Panthers' team score.
It took the Panthers only three meets to fulfill one of their goals by carding a round under 400 with a 390 at the Park Rapids Invitational at Headwaters Golf Club. Chloe Johnson's 93, Madison Johnson's 95, Schultz's 100 and Maninga's 102 led the Panthers, who tied for fourth place. Detroit Lakes took first with a 326 in this 20-team tournament.
On a return trip to Staples, the Panthers placed ninth with a 407 behind Chloe Johnson's 95, Maninga's 101, Madison Johnson's 102 and Nordin's 109 at The Vintage. Alexandria led the 13-team field with a 355.
At the Mid-State Conference meet at The Vintage, the Panthers carded a 378 to tie for third place. Chloe Johnson carded an 88 for all-conference honors while Maninga earned all-conference honorable mention honors with a 92. Madison Johnson's 94 and Nordin's 104 completed the team score. Detroit Lakes captured the conference title with a 318. The Panthers also placed third last season.
Park Rapids qualified for the Section 8AA tournament by placing third at the Section 8AA North meet at the Warroad Estates with a 398. Maninga finished third overall with a 93, Chloe Johnson tied for sixth with a 95 and Madison Johnson tied for 10th with a 101. Nordin's 109 completed the team score while Schultz carded a 113 and Ulvin added a 116. Crookston took first in this eight-team tournament with a 388 while Roseau followed with a 396.
During the first day of the Section 8AA tournament at the Bemidji Town & Country Club, the Panthers finished sixth with a 396 before moving up to fifth place with a season-best 374 during the second day for a two-day total of 770. The Panthers finished fourth at last year's section meet with rounds of 375 and 386 for a 761. Detroit Lakes won the section championship for the 10th consecutive season as a pair of 313s led to a 626. Perham (717), Fergus Falls (735) and Crookston (757) followed while Roseau finished sixth with a 789. Detroit Lakes went on to place third at the state Class AA tournament.
Leading the Panthers on Day 1 were Chloe Johnson's 90, Madison Johnson's 96, Maninga's 100, and a pair of 110s by Ulvin and Schultz. Nordin added a 115. Three Panthers carded their best rounds of the season on Day 2 as Madison Johnson led the way with an 88 to tie for 15th place overall with a two-day total of 184. Chloe Johnson followed with a 91 to place 12th overall at 181. Maninga's 97 led to a share of 24th place with a 197. Nordin broke 100 for the first time in her career with a 98 to tie for 42nd place at 213. Schultz also finished at 213 after carding a 103 on Day 2. Ulvin's 105 on Day 2 led to a share of 45th place at 215.
"We had our best round of the season on the last day of sections," said Harrison, whose team carded a 406.5 average for the season, but had a 390.5 average in the final six 18-hole tournaments. "We ended on a high note."
In those tournaments, Chloe Johnson led the Panthers with a 97.1 average in seven rounds (including a 92.0 average in the final six meets), Madison Johnson had a 96.0 average in six rounds, Maninga posted a 100.3 average in eight rounds, Nordin had a 109.6 average in eight rounds, Ulvin posted a 112.6 average in seven rounds, Schultz had a 113.8 average in eight rounds and Usher had a 117.5 average in two rounds. Last season, Chloe Johnson had a 96.7 average, Madison Johnson had a 98.0 average, Nordin had a 110.3 average and Ulvin had a 107.6 average. Park Rapids posted a 394.1 average last season with a low of 375.
The Panthers also ended Northern Pines Conference play on a positive note by repeating as conference champs. Park Rapids won the first four nine-hole conference meets before tying for second in the fifth meet.
In the season-opener at Blueberry Pines, Nordin earned medalist honors with a 43 while Chloe Johnson's 47 and Ulvin's 54 led to a three-golfer score of 144.
Chloe Johnson was the medalist with a 41 at the second NPC meet at Cass Lake while Madison Johnson's 46 and Schultz's 49 led Park Rapids to a 136.
Park Rapids took first at Deer River with a 148 behind Chloe Johnson's medalist round of 46, Madison Johnson's 50 and a pair of 52s by Ulvin and Maninga.
Chloe Johnson and Madison Johnson shared medalist honors during the front side at Castle Highlands with 43s while Ulvin's 52 rounded out a 138 team score. Pine River-Backus led the field on the back side with a 141 while the Panthers tied for second at 150. Maninga's 47, Ulvin's 51 and Chloe Johnson's 52 led the way on the back side.
Chloe Johnson repeated as the overall medalist in NPC play and finished with a 45.8 average in the five meets to top the First Team while Madison Johnson earned First Team honors with a 48.3 average in four meets. Both were First Team golfers last season. Maninga had a 52.2 average in five meets to earn a spot on the Second Team along with Ulvin, who had a 52.4 average in five meets to repeat as a member of the Second Team. Nordin had a 53.3 average in four meets and Schultz had a 57.8 average in five meets.
Chloe Johnson and Madison Johnson shared the team's MVP award while Nordin and Schultz shared the team's Most Improved honor. Chloe Johnson was named Most Dedicated while junior Kora Just was named Rookie of the Year.
While the Panthers will graduate their four senior leaders, Harrison is feeling good about how he is leaving the Park Rapids girls golf program.
"Before the season, I was a little hesitant about stepping down because I thought the cupboard would be bare because we would be graduating four seniors who have been consistent golfers for us and with the program for a long time. But we had three younger girls who played well in varsity meets and that experience should carry over to next year," said Harrison. "I'm going to miss the interaction with the kids and other coaches. There is nothing better than seeing the girls be successful and come off the course with smiles on their faces. Next year's team has the potential to be successful. Mady, Emily and Lexi will be the three leaders. They just need to find a fourth girl. They have the potential to be competitive again. It all depends on how much they play this summer and if they can find that fourth score."