Park Rapids volleyball team looking to compete with top teams
A successful summer has Panthers expecting more success this fall.
COVID had a major impact on the Park Rapids volleyball team last season.
All teams were limited to only 14 matches during the regular season. COVID reduced that total to 10 when the Panthers had to cancel their final four matches. Having her best lineup together for only two matches led to an 0-10 record, including an 0-7 showing against Mid-State Conference teams.
Head coach Christine Sauer is counting on a vastly improved season from her team this fall.
The Panthers had a successful summer, going 3-0 to win the title at Pequot Lakes, finishing second at Alexandria with a 2-1 record, winning the consolation title at Moorhead with a 2-1 record, and going 1-2 at Perham in four Breakdown tournaments while placing fifth at the 12-team Park Rapids summer league with an 8-3 record.
“This summer was incredibly valuable in the growth of our up-and-coming varsity and the program as a whole. It was fun to watch them all grow and show up this first week already in a good spot. Our varsity squad had a theme all summer of just simply working hard. This is a great group of girls that are not afraid of hard work. They quickly learned this summer that they are going to have to put in the time and effort to be successful this season,” said Sauer. “Over the course of the summer and the first week of practice, it is very evident that these girls want to experience success and are putting in the effort. The girls learned that they can compete with these schools with great programs and can win those games.”
Being counted on to build on their success from this summer are the returning varsity players: seniors Kate Aukes, Marriyam Ejaz, Quinn Hunter and Keely Peterson; juniors Riley Pike and Chloe Tretbar; and sophomore Abby Felts. Aukes, Ejaz and Peterson will serve as captains.
Aukes had 18 service points, 38 kills and 56 digs in seven matches as an outside hitter. Ejaz tallied 66 set assists with 16 digs, eight service points and eight kills in six matches as a setter. Hunter had 26 kills, 11 digs and seven assisted blocks in 10 matches as a middle hitter. Peterson led the team with 97 digs and 51 service points while tallying eight ace serves in 10 matches as a libero. Pike led the Panthers with 84 set assists and had 25 service points with eight aces, 40 kills, 41 digs and eight blocks in eight matches as a setter. Tretbar chipped in six kills, nine digs and five service points in four matches as a middle hitter. Felts had seven kills, six service points and 14 digs in four matches at middle hitter.
Also seeing some varsity time last fall were seniors Rachel Robbins (defensive specialist) and Simone Wolff (middle hitter); junior Alison Scholz (outside hitter); and sophomore Macey Lund (outside hitter). Rounding out the varsity squad are senior Tatiyana Smith (defensive specialist) and sophomore Kasen Girtz (outside hitter).
Those players will be looking to fill the voids left by the graduation of Lexi Burlingame (an all-conference outside hitter who had eight service aces, 35 points, 47 kills and 64 digs) Sydney Lange (who had 14 kills, nine digs and nine assisted blocks as a middle hitter), Abby Kirlin (who served seven aces and 30 points and had 45 digs as a defensive specialist) and Kendra Scholz who chipped in 15 service points, 26 kills and 17 digs as an outside hitter).
Starting the season on junior varsity will be juniors Tera Edwards (defensive specialist) and Tori Hanson (defensive specialist); sophomores Kilea Persons (outside hitter) and Olivia Lange (middle hitter); and freshmen Anna Yliniemi (middle hitter), Halle Eischens (setter) and Erika Sellin (setter).
The C squad will feature junior Haley Kerr; sophomores Nora Huber, Cece Chase, Lexi Usher, Fallyn Ratio, Madelyn Evink and Grace Ackermann; and freshmen Olivia Miller, Zoey Felts, Jena Meier, Rhianna Greenlee and Gabie DeBlieck while junior McKenzie Hagen, sophomores Ariana Keezer, Josie Nelmark, Tayshia Nauber, Kaleigh Rivers and Lauryn Eischens; and freshmen Jordyn Ostlund, Brooke Kritzeck and Kadence Ennen will form the C squad.
Joining Park Rapids in the 14-team Section 8AA bracket will be Barnesville, Crookston, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, East Grand Forks, Fergus Falls, Frazee, Hawley, Menahga, Pelican Rapids, Perham, Roseau, Thief River Falls and Warroad.
“I think our girls are really going to surprise some of our opponents,” said Sauer, who will be assisted by Molly Aukes, Ellie Riihiluoma and Katelyn Seehafer. “You don’t want to dwell too much on past seasons, but last year was a difficult season for our program. We have grown immensely in all aspects of our game over the summer and into this fall. If the girls keep up with the ‘can do’ attitude and the ‘hard work beats talent’ attitude, they will have some great matches this season.”