Girls Basketball: Park Rapids had deceptive 11-16 record, finished season on a high note
Seniors led the way for the Panthers all season, including an upset win over Barnesville to open the Section 8AA playoffs.
Upsetting Barnesville to open the Section 8AA tournament proved how dangerous the Park Rapids girls basketball team could be this season.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, failing to close out close games during the regular season prevented a chance to win the Mid-State Conference title and earn a higher seed for the section playoffs.
Park Rapids went 4-6 to finish fourth in the conference standings behind the 8-2 records of Crosby-Ironton, Detroit Lakes and Pequot Lakes. Aitkin and Staples-Motley went 1-9. In section play, the Panthers posted a 2-7 record during the regular season to earn the No. 13 seed for the 8AA playoffs. Park Rapids ended the season with an 11-16 overall record.
To open the season, the Panthers alternated wins and losses before a pair of victories led to a 7-5 start. Park Rapids defeated Nevis (58-28), lost to Pelican Rapids (56-54 in a section game), defeated Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (65-44), lost to Sauk Centre (59-33), topped Menahga (62-52 in a section game), lost to Wadena-Deer Creek (53-38 in a section game), edged Frazee (55-49 in a section game), lost to Crookston (52-47 in a section game), defeated Staples-Motley (62-38 in a conference game), lost to Norwood-Young America (60-39) and prevailed over Bagley (59-22) and Aitkin (62-30 in a conference game).
A six-game losing streak followed as the Panthers lost conference games to Crosby-Ironton (69-56), Detroit Lakes (52-36) and Pequot Lakes (62-48) and section games to Hawley (62-58), Barnesville (67-58) and Thief River Falls (58-43).
Conference wins over Staples-Motley (55-44) and Aitkin (83-38) were followed with a conference loss to Crosby-Ironton (86-64) and a win over Pine River-Backus (61-39). The Panthers ended the regular season with conference losses to Detroit Lakes (52-39) and Pequot Lakes (63-22) and a section loss to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (55-46).
In the section tournament, the Panthers avenged the loss to No. 4-seeded Barnesville with a 71-54 win on the road before seeing their season end with a 64-40 loss to No. 5 D-G-F on the road.
For the season, the Panthers averaged 52.7 points a game while allowing 52.9 points a night. The Panthers shot 34.3% from the field (493 for 1,439, including going 175 for 582 on 3-pointers) and 60.6% at the free throw line (263 for 434). Park Rapids averaged 18.8 turnovers a game while forcing 19.3 turnovers a game.
“Overall, I was happy with our season and what the girls were able to accomplish. We knew coming in that we had a really difficult schedule. There are pros and cons to that, but the main positive we talked about was that we would get plenty of chances to measure ourselves against high quality competition. Our record wasn’t what we wanted it to be, but we found ourselves in a number of close ball games with some very good teams. I thought we were able to gather some good data from those games about where we needed to improve moving forward,” said Park Rapids head coach Nic Lembcke. “I’m proud of the girls for continuing to fight and work hard through some difficult portions of the season. Ultimately, those growing pains would help set the table for a great playoff upset against Barnesville. In that game, every time Barnesville would make a run and look like they were gaining some momentum, our team had an answer. That growth in mental toughness just needed some time to develop over the course of the season, but I also believe that it doesn’t happen without high character kids that are committed to being the best team they can be. Our ultimate goal is always to be playing our best to finish the season. We were able to achieve that goal and, in the process, show that we were a better team than our record may have indicated.”
Leading the Panthers was the starting lineup of seniors Mickey Clark, Olivia Davis, Julia Harmon and Tori Weaver and junior Gabi Shepersky. The top reserves off the bench were senior Avery Cederstrom; juniors Macy Lund, Kilea Persons and Amelia Bagstad; and sophomores Halle Eischens and Anna Yliniemi.
Weaver, Shepersky and Davis earned all-conference honors while Harmon and Yliniemi were all-conference honorable mention selections. Weaver and Shepersky shared the team MVP award. Other team awards went to Cederstrom (Most Improved), Clark (Team Spirit) and Davis (Ms. Defense).
Shepersky led the Panthers by averaging 11.7 points a game, including making 86 3-pointers. Shepersky scored 317 points, grabbed 78 rebounds, made 42 steals and had 24 assists in 27 games.
Weaver led the Panthers with 69 assists and was second on the team with 49 3-pointers and in scoring average at 10.4 points a game. Weaver scored 270 points to surpass 1,000 in her career and also had 77 rebounds and 44 steals in 26 games.
Davis had a team high 54 steals and was third in scoring at 7.7 points a game and in rebounds with 118. In 27 games, Davis scored 207 points and had 47 assists.
Yliniemi averaged 5.9 points a game and was second on the team with 138 rebounds. Yliniemi scored 153 points while contributing 26 steals, 16 assists and 13 blocked shots in 26 games.
Harmon was the leader in rebounding with 173 and blocked shots with 16. Harmon scored 127 points in averaging 4.7 a game while adding 26 steals and 20 assists in 27 games.
Eischens played in 26 games and averaged 4.1 points a game, finishing second on the team with 53 assists and third with 15 3-pointers. Eischens scored 106 points and had 23 steals.
Clark scored 96 points for a 3.7 average while chipping in 81 rebounds, 44 assists and 29 steals in 26 games.
Avery Cederstrom contributed 19 points and 15 steals in 22 games; Lund had 10 points and 17 rebounds in 22 games; Persons scored 19 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in 17 games; and Bagstad scored 19 points in 14 games.
Also seeing varsity time in multiple games this season were sophomores Nora Cederstrom (11 points, 11 rebounds, five steals in 12 games) and Allie Rowland (6 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals in 10 games) and freshman Vivian Shepersky (8 points, six rebounds in five games). Sophomores Macey Jalbert and Olivia Miller and freshman Allie Michaelson each played in one game.
The Panthers will have to replace four starters and the leadership of the five seniors. However, Lembcke believes a productive offseason will enable Park Rapids to once again put a competitive team on the floor next season.
“We will graduate five seniors who all played very important roles in our success this season. The program has only graduated one senior in each of the last two seasons, so this group has also had to help shoulder the leadership responsibilities for a few years now. I have really enjoyed coaching this group and watching them grow as basketball players and as individuals throughout their careers. They have helped to set a good foundation for our culture moving forward and now it’s up to the remaining girls to keep developing and adding to that culture and what it means to be a part of this program,” said Lembcke. “The departure of this senior class is going to leave a considerable amount of minutes up for grabs going into next season. We will still have a great deal of talent in the gym, so it will be fun to see who steps up and grabs this opportunity. The main thing we will lack next year is just simply experience. This summer will be key to getting girls acclimated to the size, strength and speed difference at the varsity level. I have a ton of confidence in the talent and character of our returning players and anticipate putting another highly competitive team on the court next season.”
Park Rapids statistics
Scoring average: G. Shepersky 11.7, Weaver 10.4, Davis 7.7, Yliniemi 5.9, Harmon 4.7, Eischens 4.1, Clark 3.7, Maninga 3.1, V. Shepersky 1.6, Bagstad 1.4, Persons 1.1, Michaelson 1.0, A. Cederstrom 0.9, N. Cederstrom 0.9, Rowland 0.6, Lund 0.5, Miller 0.0, Jalbert 0.0.
Points: G. Shepersky 317, Weaver 270, Davis 207, Yliniemi 153, Harmon 127, Eischens 106, Clark 96, Maninga 55, A. Cederstrom 19, Persons 19, Bagstad 19, N. Cederstrom 11, Lund 10, V. Shepersky 8, Rowland 6, Michaelson 1.
Field goals: G. Shepersky 106-286, Weaver 83-260, Davis 73-189, Yliniemi 64-166, Harmon 43-111, Eischens 37-123, Clark 31-116, Maninga 23-70, Bagstad 8-11, A. Cederstrom 8-34, Persons 6-24, N. Cederstrom 4-19, Rowland 3-8, V. Shepersky 2-8, Lund 2-11, Miller 0-1.
Three-pointers: G. Shepersky 86-232, Weaver 49-165, Eischens 15-67, Clark 9-47, Yliniemi 8-23, Davis 4-19, Bagstad 2-4, Harmon 1-4, A. Cederstrom 1-15, Rowland 0-1, N. Cederstrom 0-2, Persons 0-3.
Free throws: Davis 57-91, Weaver 55-74, Harmon 40-78, Clark 25-48, G. Shepersky 19-28, Eischens 17-22, Yliniemi 17-29, Maninga 9-20, Persons 7-12, Lund 6-7, V. Shepersky 4-7, N. Cederstrom 3-7, A. Cederstrom 2-7, Rowland 1-2, Michaelson 1-2.
Rebounds: Harmon 173, Yliniemi 138, Davis 118, Clark 81, G. Shepersky 78, Weaver 77, Eischens 74, Maninga 53, Lund 17, Persons 16, N. Cederstrom 11, Rowland 7, A. Cederstrom 6, V. Shepersky 6, Bagstad 5, Michaelson 1.
Assists: Weaver 69, Eischens 53, Davis 47, Clark 44, G. Shepersky 24, Harmon 20, Yliniemi 16, Maninga 15, Lund 7, A. Cederstrom 6, Persons 6, Rowland 4, Bagstad 1, N. Cederstrom 1.
Steals: Davis 54, Weaver 44, G. Shepersky 42, Clark 29, Harmon 26, Yliniemi 26, Eischens 23, A. Cederstrom 15, Maninga 9, Persons 6, N. Cederstrom 5, Rowland 3, Lund 2, Bagstad 2, V. Shepersky 2, Miller 1.
Blocked shots: Harmon 16, Weaver 13, Yliniemi 13, Davis 10, G. Shepersky 3, A. Cederstrom 2, Persons 2, Eischens 1.
Fouls: Harmon 81, Weaver 61, G. Shepersky 57, Davis 51, Clark 49, Eischens 31, Yliniemi 28, Maninga 28, Lund 19, A. Cederstrom 16, Persons 9, N. Cederstrom 3, Rowland 3.
Turnovers: Eischens 88, Clark 77, Weaver 63, Davis 51, Harmon 50, Davis 48, Yliniemi 46, Maninga 24, N. Cederstrom 12, Bagstad 11, Rowland 10, Persons 6, V. Shepersky 1.
Minutes: Davis 732, G. Shepersky 704, Weaver 648, Clark 550, Harmon 512, Yliniemi 497, Eischens 484, Maninga 247, Lund 136, A. Cederstrom 130, Persons 90, Bagstad 44, N. Cederstrom 41, Rowland 39, V. Shepersky 16, Miller 3, Michaelson 3, Jalbert 3.