Early on, the chances of the Park Rapids girls tennis team locking up the No. 1 seed for the Section 8A tournament looked bleak.
The Panthers trailed Staples-Motley in five matches in the regular season finale at the Depot Courts on Tuesday, Oct. 5. The winner of this match would earn the top seed for the section tournament.
Park Rapids was able to rally in two of those matches to edge the Cardinals 4-3 and enter postseason play with plenty of momentum.
Staples-Motley had the early momentum by winning the first set in all four singles matches and at No. 2 doubles. The Panthers countered by winning two doubles matches in straight sets as Mickey Clark and Macy Goochey defeated Kenzie Erickson and Georgia Kruchten 6-1, 6-3 at the No. 1 spot while Emmy Goochey and Abby Runyan prevailed 12-10 in a first-set tiebreaker over Maddison Perius and Heidi Zimmerman in a 7-6, 6-2 victory at the No. 3 spot.
The Cardinals cut the gap to 2-1 when Allison Knosalla defeated Rachael Herman 6-3, 6-4 at No. 2 singles.
The other four matches went the distance as the Panthers rallied for the win with victories at No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles.
Morgan Koppelman rebounded for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Ronnie Noska at No. 3 singles while Natalie Harvey and Emily Schulz took control after dropping the first set with a 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 win over Corinne Olson and Amy Rollins at No. 2 doubles.
Staples-Motley prevailed in the other two matches. Lauren Rutten outlasted Abby Morris 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 at No. 1 singles in a battle of two of the state’s top-rated players. Morris entered this match rated No. 9 while Rutten was rated No. 11 in the state Class A poll. Elizabeth DiGiovanni defeated Shailyn Hayes 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 at No. 4 singles.
“All the girls have been working hard all year. Morgan continues to play tough match after match. Natalie and Emily have started to play well as a doubles team and believe in each other out on the court,” said Park Rapids head coach Brianne Morris, whose team set up its bid for the No. 1 seed with a 4-3 win over Crookston on Oct. 2. “(I told the girls to) believe in yourself just like we believe in you and play with confidence and know you can do it. We also just tell them 1 point at a time and forget the last one. They came through for us.”
The win lifted the Panthers to 4-2 in Mid-State Conference matches and 15-4 overall while Staples-Motley fell to 12-5. Park Rapids was rated No. 17 and the Cardinals were rated No. 18 in the state poll.
With the win, the Panthers earned the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye for the Section 8A tournament, which began at the high seeds on Thursday, Oct. 7. No. 2 Crookston hosted No. 7 Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, No. 3 Staples-Motley played No. 6 Parkers Prairie and No. 4 Wadena-Deer Creek met No. 5 Roseau.
The semifinals and championship match will be played at Courts Plus in Fargo on Tuesday, Oct. 12. Park Rapids will play the winner between W-DC and Roseau at 9 a.m. with the other semifinal match following at 10:30 a.m. The championship match will be held at 1 p.m.
Courts Plus will also host the section individual tournament with the first round and quarterfinals being played on Oct. 13 and the semifinals and finals following on Oct. 19. Morris received the No. 2 seed and Herman received the No. 8 seed in singles while Clark and Macy Goochey received the No. 4 seed and Schulz and Koppelman received the No. 9 seed in doubles.
“I think the last two weeks we have had a lot of great tennis matches and the girls have shown up to play every match ready to go to play whomever our opportunity is for the day,” said Morris. “They are excited for sections and ready to play anyone. They are determined to play well and go for a section title.”