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Seniors sparked success for Park Rapids girls tennis team

Before the season started, head coach Brianne Morris knew the Park Rapids girls tennis team had the talent to contend for the Section 8A title, send a singles player and doubles team to state, and produce a winning record in dual meets.

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Natalie Kinkel concluded her senior season with a 27-7 record and second trip to the state Class A tournament. Kinkel, who ended her career with a 118-53 record, was named the Panthers' MVP and earned Mid-State Conference honors. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Before the season started, head coach Brianne Morris knew the Park Rapids girls tennis team had the talent to contend for the Section 8A title, send a singles player and doubles team to state, and produce a winning record in dual meets.

The Panthers just missed fulfilling all of those predictions as the Panthers advanced to the section title match, qualified a singles player and doubles team for the state Class A tournament, and posted a 14-8 record in dual meets.

Highlighting the season was having senior Natalie Kinkel return to state in singles and senior Kendra Coborn and freshman Abby Morris qualify for state in doubles for the first time. That marked only the fourth time in school history that the Panthers have qualified a singles player and a doubles team for the state tournament in the same season. It also marked the 11th year in a row that the Panthers have been represented at the state tournament.

Those three - along with seniors Gracie Eischens, Chloe Johnson and Meagan Powers; junior Jada Renneberg; and freshman Rachael Herman - returned from last year's starting lineup to lead the Panthers to another successful season. Rounding out the starting lineup at the section meet were senior Madison Johnson and eighth grader Mickey Clark. Also seeing some varsity time this fall were seniors Abby Eystad and Kinley Nordin; sophomore Cassidy Bera; and eighth graders Macy Goochey and Morgan Koppelman.

The Panthers opened the season with losses to Minnewaska Area (6-1), Mound-Westonka (6-1) and Pine City (4-3) and by tying for third place at the eight-team Park Rapids Invitational with 16 points. Minnewaska Area took first with 37 points.

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Back-to-back 7-0 wins over Fergus Falls and Yellow Medicine East were followed with a 6-1 loss to Litchfield, a 4-3 win over Sauk Centre and a 5-2 victory over Crookston in a Section 8A match. After dropping a 5-2 decision to Pequot Lakes in the Mid-State Conference opener, the Panthers defeated Detroit Lakes (5-2), Crosby-Ironton (6-1) and Staples-Motley (6-1) in conference duals.

Perham topped the Panthers 4-3 in a battle of section teams and Park Rapids finished third at the Mid-State Conference tournament with 32 points as Pequot Lakes took first with 46 points and Perham was second with 36 points.

Park Rapids ended the season by winning five of the final six matches. The Panthers defeated East Grand Forks (5-2), Parkers Prairie (7-0), Crookston (5-2) and Roseau (5-2) in section duals before dropping a 6-1 decision to Pequot Lakes. A 7-0 win over Wadena-Deer Creek in another section match in the regular-season finale gave the Panthers a 12-7 overall record. Going 7-1 against section teams gave the Panthers the No. 1 seed for the Section 8A tournament.

The Panthers opened section play with a 4-3 win over No. 8 Roseau in the quarterfinals and a 4-3 win over No. 4 Crookston in the semifinals before being denied their first trip to the state Class A tournament with a 5-2 loss to No. 2 East Grand Forks in the championship match.

Kinkel, Coborn and Morris capped off the season by winning section titles and winning their first-round matches at state. The Panthers also received a Gold Academic Award for having a team GPA of at least 3.75.

For the season, the Panthers went 22-6 at No. 1 singles, 21-6 at No. 2 singles, 18-10 at No. 3 singles, 14-13 at No. 4 singles, 9-17 at No. 1 doubles, 15-13 at No. 2 doubles and 13-14 at No. 3 doubles.

"The season was great. The girls worked hard, we had a lot of fun and at the end they came together to try and accomplish their goal of making it to state," said Morris. "I'm not disappointed in how they played (in the section final). I was just sad for them that they didn't make it to state as they really wanted it and they came so close. It was hard to see them so sad when I know they played well. East Grand Forks just played better that day. I was happy to see our individuals forget about team and do well."

Kinkel and Morris received all-conference honors while Coborn, Madison Johnson and Powers received all-conference honorable mention honors. Team awards went to Kinkel (MVP), Coborn (Hardest Worker), Clark (Rookie of the Year), Madison Johnson (Most Improved) and Chloe Johnson (Team Spirit). Earning all-state academic honors were Coborn, Eystad, Madison Johnson, Kinkel, Nordin and Powers. Junior varsity awards went to Goochey, Hannah Morgan and Emma Fertin (Most Improved); Fertin and Morgan (Rookies of the Year); Nordin (Team Spirit); and Goochey (Hardest Worker).

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Kinkel capped off her senior season by earning her second trip to state in singles. Kinkel compiled a 27-7 overall record this season, including a 26-6 mark in singles. Kinkel was the conference champion at No. 1 singles and ended her high school career with a 118-53 record.

Morris played No. 2 singles most of the season, going 19-1 at that position and placing third at the conference meet. Morris finished the season with a 28-6 overall record, including a 1-1 record at No. 1 singles and an 8-4 record in doubles.

Coborn posted a 16-4 record at No. 3 singles, a 1-1 record at No. 2 singles and an 8-5 record in doubles this season. Coborn was the Mid-State runner-up at No. 3 singles.

Chloe Johnson, Eischens, Renneberg and Herman competed at No. 1 doubles and No. 2 doubles positions most of the season. Johnson went 5-12 at No. 1 doubles while going 1-3 at No. 2 singles, 0-1 at No. 3 singles and 5-2 at No. 4 singles for an 11-18 overall record. Renneberg had a 7-18 record at No. 1 doubles, an 0-2 record at No. 2 doubles and an 0-3 record at No. 3 singles for a 7-23 overall mark. Herman went 15-15 overall, going 0-1 at No. 2 singles, 3-5 at No. 1 doubles and 12-9 at No. 2 doubles. Eischens posted a 14-15 overall record, going 0-1 at No. 3 singles, 0-1 at No. 4 singles, 0-1 at No. 1 doubles and 14-12 at No. 2 doubles. Johnson and Renneberg finished fifth at No. 1 doubles while Eischens and Herman placed third at No. 2 doubles at the conference tournament.

Madison Johnson and Powers teamed up to play No. 3 doubles most of the season, going 10-10 as doubles partners. That duo placed fifth at the conference tournament. Johnson had a 13-13 overall record at No. 3 doubles while Powers went 2-2 at No. 4 singles and 12-11 at No. 3 doubles for a 14-13 overall record.

Clark played four different positions, posting a 13-14 overall record. Clark placed fifth at No. 5 singles at the conference tournament while going 7-8 at that position. Clark also went 2-1 at No. 3 singles, 4-4 at No. 2 doubles and 0-1 at No. 3 doubles.

Also seeing some varsity time this season were Eystad (1-1 at No. 3 doubles), Nordin (1-1 at No. 3 doubles), Koppelman (2-2 at No. 3 doubles), Bera (3-1 at No. 3 doubles) and Goochey (1-0 and No. 3 doubles).

The Panthers have a challenging task of replacing six starters and two other seniors next season. However, Morris is confident the Panthers will put another competitive team on the court next fall.

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"It is so hard to replace any seniors, but replacing eight and six starters is going to be so hard. They were such great leaders on and off the court and that will be even harder to replace. I hope that the younger athletes learned from them about the importance of practicing hard, good sportsmanship and treating everyone they meet with respect," said Morris. "I think we have some younger girls ready to step up and some great talent returning to the lineup But we have to have a lot of girls step up. They are going to have to work hard if they want to make it to the section championship gain. We are the only team in the section and conference that loses so many girls, so we are going to have to work hard to be competitive. I have a lot of confidence in our younger girls. Hopefully the younger athletes work hard in the off season so we are competitive again in the section."

Related Topics: TENNIS
1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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