Volleyball: Park Rapids had a successful season under new coach
The Panthers finished with a 9-20 overall record, hosted Section 8AA tournament match.
For first-year head coach Ellie Riihiluoma, the Park Rapids volleyball season was a success.
Despite finishing fifth in the Mid-State Conference standings with a 1-4 record, the Panthers ended the season by earning a home playoff match and posting a 9-20 overall record. That was a vast improvement over last season’s 3-18 showing.
“My first season as a head coach was extremely rewarding. As a varsity (team) we were able to significantly increase our wins from last season and secured a home playoff game in the first round,” said Riihiluoma. “As a program we saw improvement from every player on every team. Besides winning games, one of our main goals was to become more of a family, and I think we did that. The girls should be proud of the effort they put in over the course of the season. The success we saw is directly related to their dedication and hard work. Each level has built a strong foundation for the years to come.”
After opening the season with a loss to Nevis (25-19, 24-26, 25-12, 25-16), the Panthers defeated Roseau (19-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-22) in a Section 8AA match. A four-match losing streak followed as Park Rapids fell to Bemidji (25-21, 25-15, 25-18), Detroit Lakes (25-17, 25-22, 25-19) in the Mid-State Conference opener, Sebeka (25-22, 25-20, 25-20) and Pequot Lakes (25-12, 25-11, 25-6) in a conference match. Pequot Lakes was rated No. 1 in the state Class AA poll at that time.
At the 14-team Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Invitational, the Panthers posted a 3-2 record with wins over Blackduck (25-15, 25-14) and Bertha-Hewitt (25-21, 27-25), a loss to South Ridge (19-25, 25-18, 15-9), a win over Royalton (27-25, 25-21) and a loss to Staples-Motley (12-25, 25-20, 15-13).
The loss to Staples-Motley started a five-match losing streak as the Panthers dropped matches to Perham (25-13, 25-18, 25-17) in a section match, Staples-Motley (25-20, 25-21, 16-25, 25-14) in a conference match, Thief River Falls (25-19, 25-13, 25-23) in a section match and Aitkin (17-25, 25-18, 25-21, 17-25, 15-11) in a conference match.
Park Rapids closed out the conference schedule with a win over Crosby-Ironton (25-15, 25-19, 25-21) before splitting four matches at the 16-team Perham Invitational with a loss to Henning (25-8, 25-14), wins over Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (25-21, 19-25, 16-14) and Staples-Motley (25-22, 13-25, 15-12), and a loss to Melrose (18-25, 25-19, 15-10) to finish 10th.
After a loss to Wadena-Deer Creek (23-25, 25-12, 25-21, 25-13), the Panthers dropped section matches to Barnesville (25-9, 25-15, 25-21) and East Grand Forks (25-21, 25-16, 19-25, 25-16). Park Rapids ended the regular season by going 1-3 at the 12-team Fergus Falls Blocktoberfest Invitational with losses to Lake of the Woods (25-20, 25-19), Fergus Falls Hillcrest (25-16, 22-25, 15-13) and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (26-24, 21-25, 15-11) and a win over Win-E-Mac (25-16, 25-18) to place 11th.
Pequot Lakes, which ended the season ranked No. 3 in the state Class AA poll and won the Section 6AA title to advance to state, won the Mid-State Conference title with a 5-0 record. Detroit Lakes, which won the Section 8AAA title to qualify for the state tournament for the first time in school history, went 4-1 while Staples-Motley (3-2), Aitkin (2-3) and Crosby-Ironton (0-5) rounded out the conference standings.
For the Section 8AA tournament, Park Rapids received the No. 4 seed in the North and opened by defeating No. 5 Warroad (25-22, 25-23, 24-26, 25-12) at home before being eliminated by No. 1 Roseau (21-25, 23-25, 25-20, 25-15, 15-10) in the North semifinals.
Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Riley Pike, Erika Sellin, Chloe Tretbar, Natalie Viloria, Alison Scholz, Tori Hanson and Haley Kerr; juniors Abby Felts, Kilea Persons and Kasen Girtz; and sophomores Halle Eischens and Anna Yliniemi. Pike and Tretbar received all-conference honors.
Pike led the team in most statistical categories, including 389 set assists, 171 kills and 67 ace serves while finishing second with 216 digs and third with 34 total blocks in 29 matches.
Tretbar also played in all 29 matches and led the Panthers with 52 total blocks and was second on the team with 157 kills and 42 ace serves while finishing fourth with 194 digs.
Felts was third with 134 kills and 214 digs, fourth with 32 total blocks and fifth with 24 ace serves in 27 matches.
Yliniemi led Park Rapids with 253 digs while finishing third with 33 ace serves and fourth with 100 kills in 29 matches.
Viloria played in 26 matches and was second with 39 total blocks and fifth with 98 kills.
Sellin was second on the team with 250 set assists while contributing 100 digs and serving 31 aces in 28 matches.
Hanson played in 12 matches, Scholz had 36 digs and 13 kills in five matches, and Kerr played in one match.
Persons finished with 149 digs, 50 kills and 14 ace serves in 19 matches while Eischens had 92 digs, 43 kills and seven ace serves in 14 matches. Girtz played in nine matches and had 13 digs, four kills and two ace serves.
For the season, the Panthers had 194 service aces with 191 service errors, 786 kills with 612 hitting errors, and 175 errors on serve receive.
“They made huge improvements over the course of the season and achieved many of the goals we set for ourselves back in Week 1. They gave great effort day in and day out and set the tone for seasons to come. They walked away from the season with a new family who will support them in all their endeavors beyond the volleyball court,” said Riihiluoma, who was assisted by Katelyn Kannegiesser and Cody Wolfe. “We want our girls to play volleyball because they love the sport and walk away with so much more. The lessons they learned through volleyball will continue to serve them well in life. I feel honored to have been able to work with such an amazing group of girls this season.”
Even though the Panthers graduate eight seniors, Riihiluoma is counting on the returning players to produce another successful season next fall.
“We had eight seniors this year who all contributed significantly to our program. Besides leading us in every statistical category, they truly set the tone day in and day out. They have left a legacy that will live on,” said Riihiluoma. “Although we will miss our seniors next year, we do have a number of players returning who saw significant court time, as well as a number of players who are hoping to earn varsity minutes for the first time next season. They are a competitive group, and I am expecting them to push each other to become better as they compete for playing time. It will be exciting to see what kind of energy they bring next fall, and we are hoping to build on the successes we had this season.”