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Confidence sparked Panthers' success

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When preparing for his annual season-ending banquet, Todd Fritze realized just how good a season the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team had.

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At the beginning of the season, the Panthers set goals of going undefeated in dual meets, winning the Section 8A True Team title, reclaiming the Mid-State Conference title, repeating as Section 8A champs and qualifying for the state Class A meet in multiple events.

The Panthers fell one win short of accomplishing all those goals.

Park Rapids went 7-1 in dual meets, won the Section 8A True Team title for the first time, claimed the Mid-State title, repeated as Section 8A champs and qualified a school-record eight swimmers for the state meet.

Highlighting the season was a dominant effort at the Section 8A meet where the Panthers compiled 422.50 points to easily defeat runner-up Bemidji's 307.50 points.

Eight Panthers - seniors Taylor Ondracek and Leah Meinert; juniors Mandy Schirmers and Allycia Zinke; sophomores Emily Creager, Katherine Erickson and Hannah Williams; and eighth grader Lauren Rossman - qualified for the state meet in eight events.

Creager (200 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay) and Schirmers (200 medley relay, 200 individual medley, 200 freestyle relay and 100 breaststroke) qualified in four events while Erickson (200 medley relay, 100 backstroke and 400 freestyle relay) qualified in three events. Zinke and Rossman rounded out the 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay teams while Meinert and Williams rounded out the 400 freestyle relay team. Ondracek advanced in the 100 backstroke. Creager broke the school record in the 200 freestyle with a 2:01.44 while Erickson, Meinert, Williams and Creager broke the school record in the 400 freestyle relay with a 3:47.61 at the section meet.

At the state meet, Ondracek finished 10th in the 100 backstroke to account for the Panthers' 7 points. Creager placed 23rd in the 100 freestyle and 27th in the 200 freestyle, Erickson finished 18th in the 100 backstroke, and Schirmers placed 25th in the 200 individual medley and 27th in the 100 breaststroke. The 400 freestyle relay team finished 18th while the 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay teams were disqualified.

Even though the Panthers didn't reach their goal of advancing to the finals in every event at the state meet, the 2010 season couldn't have gone any better.

"We accomplished so many things in 2009. The girls were really excited about coming into this season and doing well," said Fritze, who was named the Section 8A Coach of the Year. "The girls came in with a lot of confidence. They were focused on what they had to do. At the beginning of the season I felt this team had the potential to be one of the top teams to come through here and it was."

After opening the season by winning the Detroit Lakes Pentathlon, the Panthers coasted past Warroad (102-81), Thief River Falls (123-97) and Fosston/Bagley (95-62) in dual meets.

The Panthers finished third at the seven-team Park Rapids Invitational with 410.50 points to trail Melrose (480) and Brainerd (421).

Park Rapids followed with wins over Crookston (99-70) and Perham (96-84) before dropping a 99-87 decision to Bemidji. The Panthers concluded their dual-meet schedule with victories over Staples-Motley (90-58) and Detroit Lakes (100-84).

At the Section 8A True Team meet, the Panthers compiled 1,167 points to edge Bemidji's 1,161 for the title. Park Rapids placed ninth out of 12 teams at the state True Team meet with 1,178.50 points. Monticello won the state title with 2,149 points.

Another solid team effort led the Panthers to the Mid-State Conference title with 465 points. Perham was second with 364 points. Winning conference titles were Erickson, Schirmers, Zinke and Rossman in the 200 medley relay; Zinke, Williams, Meinert and Creager in the 200 freestyle relay; and Erickson in the 100 backstroke. Earning all-conference honorable mention honors by placing either second or third were Creager in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay; Schirmers in the 200 individual medley, 100 breaststroke and 400 freestyle relay; Meinert in the 500 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay; Erickson in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay; Rossman in the 50 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay; Zinke in the 100 butterfly; Ondracek in the 100 backstroke and 400 freestyle relay; senior Melissa Haas in the 400 freestyle relay; sophomore Heather Kniss in the 400 freestyle relay; and freshman Ellen Hoffman in diving;

The Panthers dominated the nine-team Section 8A meet with 422.50 points. The Panthers didn't win any events, but used runner-up finishes by Erickson, Schirmers, Zinke and Rossman in the 200 medley relay; Creager in the 200 freestyle and 100 freestyle; Schirmers in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke; Zinke, Schirmers, Rossman and Creager in the 200 freestyle relay; Erickson in the 100 backstroke; and Erickson, Meinert, Williams and Creager in the 400 freestyle relay to claim the title. Ondracek finished third in the 100 backstroke, but qualified for state with a qualifying time.

Also placing for the Panthers at the section meet were Erickson in the 200 freestyle (third); Zinke (third), Meinert (fourth) and Williams (fifth) in the 200 individual medley; Ondracek (fifth) and Rossman (11th) in the 50 freestyle; sophomore Jessica Andersen (eighth), Hoffman (ninth), Kniss (15th) and junior Emily Klingenberg (16th) in diving; Zinke (third), freshman Taylor Graham (ninth) and freshman Christina Mackley (14th) in the 100 butterfly; Rossman (fourth) and Kniss (14th) in the 100 freestyle; Meinert (third) and Haas (seventh) in the 500 freestyle; Andersen (13th) and Hoffman (tied for 14th) in the 100 backstroke; and Williams (fourth), Haas (eighth) and eighth grader Jessie O'Hern (ninth) in the 100 breaststroke.

The state qualifiers earned all-section honors while Meinert, Haas, Ondracek, Zinke, Williams, Erickson, Rossman and Andersen received all-section honorable mention honors for placing in the top eight.

Also competing, but not placing, at the section meet were freshman Seri Erickson (25th) and seventh grader Alyza Edevold (26th) in the 200 freestyle; Mackley (21st) and Graham (28th) in the 50 freestyle; sophomore Elizabeth Nichols (17th) in the 100 butterfly; and Erickson (18th) and Edevold (25th) in the 500 freestyle.

In addition to excelling in the pool, the Panthers excelled in the classroom and were rewarded by being named the Section 8A academic champs.

"Last year was fun because we came out of nowhere (to win the section title). This year was just as fun. Nobody underestimated us. We came in with a big target on our backs," said Fritze. "We came in with a lot of confidence. It's a lot harder to win it the second time. To win it by 100 points was special."

Having talent and depth made the 2010 season special.

Katherine Erickson led the Panthers in scoring with 497 points and moved into the Panthers' top 10 list in the 100 backstroke (second with a 1:01.87), 200 freestyle (third with a 2:02.65) and 500 freestyle (sixth with a 5:46.65). Erickson was named the team's Most Dedicated/Hardest Worker.

Schirmers was second in points with 487.50 and moved into the top 10 in the 100 breaststroke (second with a 1:10.52) and 200 individual medley (fourth with a 2:21.93).

Zinke was third in points with 474 and moved into the No. 5 spot in school history in the 200 individual medley (2:23.21).

Creager earned the team's Most Valuable award after compiling 461 points and breaking the school record in the 200 freestyle. Creager also moved into the top 10 in the 100 freestyle (third with a 55.75).

Rossman finished the season with 365.50 points and claimed the No. 10 spot all-time in the 50 freestyle (26.47).

Williams had 353 points and moved into the top 10 in the 100 breaststroke (fifth with a 1:13.83) and 200 individual medley (eighth with a 2:24.54).

Meinert was seventh with 345 points and climbed into the top 10 in the 500 freestyle (third with 5:38.01) and 200 individual medley (sixth with a 2:23.37). Meinert received the team's Most Spirited Award.

Ondracek tallied 253.50 points and moved into the No. 3 spot in the 100 backstroke (1:01.95) and the No. 7 spot in the 50 freestyle (26.12).

Haas compiled 235.50 points this season.

Andersen finished with 229 points and took over the No. 9 spot in diving (161.85 points).

Kniss had 222.50 points this season.

Graham tallied 183.50 points and climbed into the No. 9 spot in the 100 butterfly (1:07.42).

Hoffman compiled 173.50 points and moved into the No. 10 spot in diving (161.65 points).

Mackley had 130.50 points this season.

Seri Erickson finished with 97.50 points

Nichols had 96.50 points.

O'Hern tallied 76.50 points and received the Panthers' Most Improved honor.

Edevold had 71 points.

Klingenberg compiled 51 points in diving.

Also contributing to the Panthers' success this season were senior Sophie Shogren (6.50 points); eighth graders Emily Eystad (28 points) and Danielle Lockrem (1.50 points); and seventh graders Kayla Andersen (39 points), Tea Nyland (29.50 points), Carly Waggoner (19.50 points), Isabela Simonson (17 points), Paige Fritze (13.50 points), Maya Johnson (9.50 points), Jada Current (3 points), MaKenzie Hensel (1.50 points) and Ana Villoria (.50 points).

"We always preach that the team comes first. The great thing about this team was the girls were very unselfish. They did what was best for the team," said Fritze. "We wanted to go undefeated and do better at state, but that's not going to put a black mark on our season. We had a great season."

Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers graduate three key swimmers in Meinert, Ondracek and Haas. However, the Panthers return a solid nucleus of 28 swimmers and divers who are determined to continue the winning tradition.

"Our goals are always high," said Fritze. "If the girls prepare properly, do the things they need to do and stay focused, next year should be as good as this year."

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