Panthers expecting to improve
Tina Ridlon is looking for the Park Rapids girls basketball team to take another step forward. Last year, the Panthers went 1-9 in Mid-State Conference play and 11-14 overall. A victory over Wadena-Deer Creek snapped a 34-game conference losing s...
Tina Ridlon is looking for the Park Rapids girls basketball team to take another step forward.
Last year, the Panthers went 1-9 in Mid-State Conference play and 11-14 overall. A victory over Wadena-Deer Creek snapped a 34-game conference losing streak while the 11 wins were the most for the Panthers since going 22-5 in 2005-06.
In the Section 8AA tournament, the Panthers received the No. 6 seed and opened with a 70-59 loss to No. 3 Crosby-Ironton.
“One of the things I always heard from other coaches when I first took over the program is that our team just wasn't athletic. This always stymied me because these same girls were making it to state in their other sports. This told me we were definitely athletic enough to compete, yet we were under skilled,” said Ridlon. “My practices the last two years and the work done in the summer have focused on building skills. I am very excited for this season because the girls have worked hard to gain skills and the understanding of the game.”
Returning to lead the Panthers are seniors Megan Grimes, Hope Johnson, Katie Klein and Bria Wolff and junior Gabie Johnson.
Also back with some varsity experience are juniors Megan Olson and Carly Waggoner, sophomores Ellery Overmyer and Madison Steffel, and freshman Jaiden McCollum.
Klein returns at guard after earning all-conference honorable mention honors. Klein was second on the team in scoring at 11.3 points a game, making 103 of 282 shots (36.5 percent, including 26 for 106 on 3-pointers) and 63 of 96 free throws (65.6 percent) in scoring 295 points. Klein led the team with 53 assists and had 63 steals and 39 rebounds in 26 games.
Gabie Johnson also played in all 26 games and finished third on the team in scoring at 9.4 points a night. Johnson shot 48.7 percent from the field (111 for 228) and 55.3 percent at the line (21 for 38) in scoring 244 points. Johnson was third in rebounds with 171 and added 35 assists and 32 steals at forward.
Wolff was fourth in scoring at 7.2 points a game, making 81 of 179 shots (45.3 percent) and 26 of 58 free throws (44.8 percent) in scoring 188 points. Wolff also played in all 26 games and had 110 rebounds, 35 steals and 21 assists at forward.
Grimes was the Panthers’ leading rebounder with 250 and averaged 5.4 points a night. In 25 games, Grimes scored 136 points, making 51 of 143 shots (35.7 percent) and 34 of 85 free throws (40 percent). Grimes also had 54 steals and 50 assists.
Hope Johnson returns at point guard after averaging 4.5 points a night. Johnson shot 29.7 percent from the field (38 for 128, including 20 for 58 on 3-pointers) and 46.5 percent at the line (20 for 43) in scoring 116 points. Johnson also had 40 rebounds, 33 steals and 30 assists in 26 games.
McCollum (11 points in six games), Olson (16 points in 11 games), Overmyer (7 points in six games), Waggoner (3 points in 12 games) and Steffel (six games) will play bigger roles on the varsity this season.
Providing depth on varsity and playing junior varsity will be juniors Madisen Wagner and Kalley Clark and sophomores Megan Jewison and Macky Warne. The C squad will feature freshmen Tori Hilmanowski, Kortne Byer, Lizzie Hensel, Jonah Hensel and Olivia McDonald; and eighth graders Kendra Coborn, Kaisa Coborn, Whitney Steffel and Mercedez Bellanger.
The Panthers have two key spots to fill with the graduation of Charity Ridlon and Justine Rittgers. Ridlon led the Panthers in scoring with 484 points (18.6 a game), 3-pointers (30), steals (74) and blocked shots (16) in 26 games while earning all-conference honors. Rittgers also played in all 26 games and chipped in 65 points and 57 rebounds.
“We definitely have two key spots to fill. I was worried about replacing Charity and Justine, but the team really performed well this summer, which will carry into this season,” said Ridlon. “This year we have four seniors that have seen the varsity floor for at least the last two seasons, along with a junior who has two years of varsity experience. With all this experience, we should perform well and be competitive in all scheduled contests. Last year the team fell short of the .500 mark, but this year I anticipate more wins than losses.”
With a veteran team returning, Ridlon is confident the Panthers can move up in the conference standings, contend for a winning record and be a threat in the Section 8AA playoffs.
“If the girls stay focused and mentally tough, we should see increased conference wins. These seniors had some pretty hard losses their freshmen year in their conference play and last year they were just happy to be competitive with these teams. Now they need to realize they can beat these teams. They just need to forget what happened in the past and step out there and do what they have been trained to do,” said Ridlon, who will be assisted by Joel Steffel, Jeff Overmyer, Larry Kent and Mike Ridlon. “It is always our goal to make it to state. Hard work, dedication and experience may lead us down that path of success. We need to believe we can and work hard to get it. Not only do I have an amazing group of young ladies to work with, I also have a tremendous coaching staff this year. With the combination of wisdom and work, we may just be state bound. At the very least we should be competitive in our section.”