Josh Meader remembers the thrill of warming up at Target Center before a state Class AA quarterfinal game against Minnehaha Academy in 2013.

Meader, who was a reserve junior guard for Perham that season, is hoping he can help as many Park Rapids boys basketball players as possible experience that same feeling.

The 25-year-old is excited to take over as the head coach of the Park Rapids boys basketball program. One of Meader’s main goals is to develop the Panthers into one of the top teams in Section 8AA while contending for a state berth in the near future.

“I have played at a state tournament and there is nothing that compares to that feeling and the bond you create with your teammates from that experience,” said Meader. “I would love to give those experiences to as many players as possible who come through our program.”

Meader served as the Panthers’ assistant coach last season, his first year of being a basketball coach, before replacing Matt Brandt this season. Meader is looking forward to the challenge of instilling his philosophy to the Park Rapids boys basketball program.

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“Last year was my first experience in getting to coach my favorite sport of basketball. I have always wanted to coach the game of basketball and was thrilled to get the opportunity to get to do it last year and now that I get to be a head coach, and so quickly, I could not be more blessed and enthusiastic about it. I would say becoming a head coach for sure ranks towards the top of things I want to accomplish in life,” said Meader. “I am extremely excited. We have awesome people here in Park Rapids, from our players and parents, to our board, administrators, staff and other coaches There are so many good people who are involved with our program that the only thing to be is extremely excited. Our philosophy is to use the game of basketball to help our players become outstanding citizens and people through our five core values: Positivity, Thankfulness, Humbleness, Enthusiasm and being Role Models. These are five things that are very important to me personally and things I can model and teach through basketball this year and for years to come. Long-range goals for us are to create as many young men as possible who have the five core values I mentioned earlier and have them spread those values to the communities they live in when they are older. I want our boys to become those young men that are pillars in the community and become people who are looked up to every day.”

Ten players who saw varsity action return to lead the way as the Panthers look to improve on last year’s 1-9 record in Mid-State Conference games and 3-24 overall record. Park Rapids ended last season by receiving the No. 9 seed in the North for the Section 8AA tournament and opening the playoffs with a 64-45 loss to No. 8 Roseau. Detroit Lakes and Pequot Lakes shared the conference title with 8-2 records while Perham was scheduled to play Fergus Falls for the Section 8AA championship before that game was canceled because of COVID-19.

A year ago, the Panthers averaged 45.9 points while allowing 62.4 points a night. The 45.9 points a game ranked last in the section and was the fourth lowest offensive production out of the 125 Class AA teams in the state. Of the Panthers’ 24 losses, 21 were by double digits with four being by at least 40 points. Park Rapids shot 36.7% from the field (481 for 1,319), 26.4% on 3-pointers (98 for 371) and 46.7% at the free throw line (179 for 383) while averaging 22.5 turnovers a game.

Returning to lead the Panthers this season are seniors James Hartig, Chaise Persons, Isaiah Phillippi and Kaiden Walsh; juniors Parker Harmon, Nick Michaelson and Zach VanBatavia; sophomore Mason Yliniemi; and freshmen Noah Larson and Noah Morris.

Michaelson led the Panthers in scoring (with 342 points), in rebounding (with 210) and in blocked shots (with 88) and was second with 49 steals. In 27 games, Michaelson averaged 12.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.3 blocks a game, shooting 44.7% from the field (152 for 340) and 48.6% at the free throw line (36 for 74). Michaelson also had 23 assists.

Hartig tied for third on the team in scoring at 5.3 points a game. Hartig played in all 27 games, shooting 34.9% from the field (52 for 149) and 51.2% at the line (22 for 43) in scoring 144 points. Hartig made 18 of 61 3-pointers and had 68 rebounds, 43 steals and 26 assists.

Walsh led the team by making 30 of 110 3-pointers while averaging 4.8 points a game. Walsh shot 25.9% from the floor (41 for 158) and 52.0% at the line (13 for 25) in scoring 125 points. Walsh also had 46 rebounds, 28 assists and 23 steals in 26 games.

Morris played in 21 games, averaging 2.8 points a game while shooting 29.0% from the field (20 for 69) and 42.9% at the line (6 for 14) for 58 points. Morris was second in assists with 41 and added 26 steals and 20 rebounds.

Also seeing varsity time last season were Yliniemi (34 points, 31 rebounds, 10 assists in 23 games), Harmon (29 points, 31 rebounds, 12 steals in 20 games), VanBatavia (14 points in 22 games), Persons (12 points in 10 games), Phillippi (13 games) and Larson (six games). Persons will miss the season with a knee injury.

The Panthers have five key spots to fill with the graduation of Shawn Ohm (5.9 points, 3.5 rebounds per game), Jeff Haas (5.3 points a game with 52 assists and 51 steals), Kolby Brandt (3.1 points, 4.7 rebounds a game), Gabe Arola (3.4 points a game) and Hunter Brandt.

Looking to fill those voids are juniors Logan Jackson, Isaiah Olson, Kaleb Stearns and Daryl Thompson-Etter; and sophomores Caleb Arola, Hunter Harrison, Luke Hartung, Blaine Hensel, Cory Johnson, Jeremiah Olson, Quincy Squires and Aidan Yliniemi-Hensel.

Rounding out the Panthers’ roster are freshmen Alex Brewer, Ridglley Clark, Noah Huot, Matt Johanning, Jose Martinez-Nava, Blake Morris, Jack Moses, Noah Phillippi and Owen VanBatavia.

“For the most part, we had seniors playing a majority of the minutes last year. We have a few guys who played minutes last year on the varsity floor, but for the most part we are a new team. We are going to be playing a position-less five out pace and space offense this year, so we are going to try to produce points in transition with layups, stationary threes or free throws,” said Meader, who will be assisted by Jamie Nordick and Noah Bone. “Our goals were set up as standards on what it meant to be ‘All In’ as that is our team mantra. We created these together and based them off of our five core values, so our jobs this year will be to ‘All In’ every day and stay true to the standards and work on those every day. This season is going to be very different and weird, but I am super happy for our guys in the fact that we get to play. We had many work very hard this summer in improving their games and it should be a lot of fun to see them show how much they have improved. I do see us being competitive as I feel we have a lot of guys who want to compete and won’t back down from a challenge.”

SEASON SCHEDULE
Jan. 15 - vs. Aitkin, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19 - at Pequot Lakes, 7:15 p.m. Jan. 21 - at Crosby-Ironton, 7:15 p.m. Jan. 26 - at Detroit Lakes, 7:15 p.m. Jan. 29 - vs. Pequot Lakes, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 2 - at Crookston, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4 - at Staples-Motley, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 - vs. Hawley, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11 - at Aitkin, 7:15 p.m. Feb. 19 - vs. Crosby-Ironton at Century School, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 - vs. Frazee, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 - vs. Detroit Lakes, 7:30 p.m.
March 4 - at Thief River Falls, 7:15 p.m. March 6 - vs. Wadena-Deer Creek, 2 p.m. March 8 - at Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, 7:30 p.m. March 11 - vs. Menahga, 7:30 p.m. March 16 - vs. Staples-Motley, 7:30 p.m.