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Head coach Kerry Johnson (from left), Whitney Steffel (alternate), Ellery Overmyer, Maya Johnson (alternate), Megan Olson, Abby Mueller, Tayah Otterness, Madison Steffel, Kendra Coborn and Lydia Kantonen posed with the runner-up trophy after the Park Rapids girls cross-country team finished second behind Perham at last Friday’s Section 8A meet at Bagley.

Confident Panthers earned state trips

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  Despite being underclassmen, the members of the Park Rapids girls cross-country team and Isaac Overmyer entered last Friday’s Section 8A meet at Bagley confident of qualifying for the state Class A meet.

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     The girls team – which featured three sophomores (Megan Olson, Abby Mueller and Tayah Otterness), three freshmen (Lydia Kantonen, Ellery Overmyer and Madison Steffel) and a seventh grader (Kendra Coborn) – was looking at a three-team battle for the two state berths while Overmyer was looking to cap off his junior year with his third consecutive trip to state.

     Those eight runners delivered as the Panthers finished second only 10 points behind Perham in the girls team standings while Overmyer finished second in the boys race to qualify for state, which will be held today (Saturday) at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

Girls take care of business

     Entering the section meet, the Panthers figured Perham would repeat as champs with Roseau the team to beat for the other state berth.

     During the regular season, the Panthers finished first with 62 points while Roseau was second with 76 points at the Bagley Invitational while Perham was third with 106 points, Roseau took fourth with 128 points and Park Rapids was fifth with 139 points at the Perham Invitational.

     In the regular-season finale, Perham was first with 43 points, the Panthers were second with 91 points and Roseau was fourth with 110 points at the Park Rapids Invitational.

     Finishing ahead of Roseau in that final meet gave the Panthers the confidence they needed entering the section meet.

     “We were pretty confident,” said Kantonen. “I knew it would be close between us and Roseau. I thought we could do it if everyone did their best.”

     “We’re a young team, but we all felt pretty confident in ourselves,” said Olson. “We knew we had to go after the Perham and Roseau girls.”

     “I thought our chances were pretty high,” said Overmyer. “I thought it would be really close with Perham and Roseau. Beating Roseau at our meet gave us a lot of confidence.”

     “I thought we had a very good chance,” said Coborn. “I knew we’d make it. It was a big surprise how close we were to Perham.”

     “I felt we had a good chance,” said Steffel. “I knew it was going to be close. We beat Roseau twice and beating them at our home meet gave us confidence."

     “We’re young, but I knew we had a lot of potential. I knew we’d be good, but it kind of surprised me how good we were,” said Mueller. “I knew we had a good chance, but I didn’t think we’d be so close to Perham.”

     “I felt we had a good chance,” said Otterness, who qualified for state as an individual last season but was hampered with a hip injury this fall. “We’re so young, but we work hard. We really wanted to beat Roseau and make it to state.”

     Having the three first-year runners compete like veterans was the key to getting the Panthers to the state meet for the fourth time in the last five years.

     “I wasn’t sure how I’d do in my first year,” said Kantonen. “I thought I would help a little and maybe be our No. 5 runner.”

     “I didn’t know what to expect,” said Overmyer. “When I started, I put on my goal sheet to get under 18 minutes. My first meet I went faster than that and I had to change my goals.”

     “I didn’t know if I was going to run varsity this year,” said Coborn. “I ran JV (junior varsity) my first meet and made varsity my second meet. I just wanted to work hard and help the team meet our goals.”

     Those three newcomers, along with the four veterans, executed the game plan to perfection at the section meet to advance to state.

     Roseau’s Ellie Nelson took first by covering the 4,000-meter course in 15:51. Kantonen finished second in her section debut with a time of 16:02 while Perham’s Lizzie Fudge (in 16:04) and Brynnan Covington (in 16:06) followed.

     Olson finished seventh in 16:11 and Overmyer was 10th in 16:25 in her first section meet. Perham’s Jenna Wegscheid was 12th in 16:29 and Sydney Karels was 13th in 16:34 while Coborn followed in 15th place with a 16:37 in her first section meet.

     Perham claimed the section title with 46 points when Caitlin Covington finished 17th in 16:44. Roseau took the next three spots with Maddie Jerome finishing 20th in 16:59, Kenzie Rugland finishing 24th in 17:07 and Reese Strand taking 25th in 17:09.

     When Steffel finished 26th in 17:10, the Panthers had secured runner-up honors with 56 points. Roseau ended up finishing a distant third with 95 points. Mueller finished 28th in 17:40 while Otterness was 52nd in 18:37 to complete the Panthers’ state-qualifying showing.

     “I was just trying to keep the Roseau girls in sight,” said Kantonen. “I was pretty happy getting second.”

     “I wanted to stay close to the Perham and Roseau girls and pick them off,” said Olson. “I was pretty satisfied finishing seventh.”

     “My strategy was to stick with Madison for the first part and pick it up and go faster at the 10-minute mark,” said Overmyer. “I just wanted to try and catch the Perham and Roseau girls.”

     “My strategy was to see the Roseau girls and try to pass them,” said Coborn.

     “I just wanted to try and stick with Ellery and get a better time,” said Steffel. “I was happy with my time and happy we made it to state.”

     Those seven will be looking to turn in another solid effort at the state meet. Park Rapids finished fifth with 190 points in 2009, 15th with 334 points in 2010 and tied for 11th place with 247 points in 2011. The Panthers had their state streak snapped last season by placing fifth at the section meet.

     Annandale enters the state meet as the No. 1-ranked Class A team while Waseca is No. 2 and Perham is No. 3. Park Rapids was unranked in the last state poll.

     “I’m going to go down there and run my race and enjoy it,” said Kantonen. “I’m hoping for around a 15:50 and I hope we get closer to Perham.”

     “I think we still underestimate how good we are,” said Olson, who was the No. 3 runner by finishing 99th overall in 16:37 as part of the Panthers’ 2011 state team. “I’m just going to go out and run. Hopefully we can beat Perham since we were so close to them at sections.”

     “I think we have a chance to do OK since we were only 10 points behind Perham and they’re ranked third,” said Overmyer. “I hope to get under 16:00 and I hope we finish in the top 10.”

     “I don’t know what to expect, but I hope to do my best,” said Coborn. “I’m hoping to go under 16:15, but I’d like to go under 16:00. I want the team to do their best and beat Perham.”

     “I just want to get my best time and end the season happy,” said Steffel. “I want to place in the top 10 as a team and beat Perham.”

     “I think the team will do really well down there,” said Mueller, who was the Panthers’ No. 7 runner by placing 135th overall in 17:32 at the 2011 state meet. “It’s going to be a fun experience. I’m excited.”

     “It’s been a long season for me, but I’m glad I got this far,” said Otterness, who finished 104th overall in 16:22 in her state debut last season. “I want us to beat Perham. I’m just going to go and have fun and get ready for next year.”

Overmyer coasts to state

     It was no surprise that Isaac Overmyer qualified for state.

     The only question was where among the top 5 would he finish at the section meet.

     During the regular season, Overmyer finished first four times and was the runner-up in three meets. His lowest finish in eight meets was fifth at Perham where he finished behind two Perham runners and two Willmar runners.

     “My season went well. I put in a good amount of miles this summer and it paid off,” said Overmyer. “I was happy with my times. I keep getting faster.”

     Perham’s Keeghan Hurley was the heavy favorite to repeat as the section champ. The state’s No. 1-ranked Class A runner delivered by covering the 5,000-meter course in 15:35. Overmyer, who entered the section meet rated No. 7 in the state, followed in 16:11 while the Perham foursome of Jayden Cullen (16:14), Billy Beseman (16:31), Ben Sullivan (16:47) and Chris Knutson (17:11) followed. Cullen is rated No. 8 and Beseman is rated No. 9 in the state.

     “My main goal was to make it to state. I knew I’d make it if I didn’t do anything dumb,” said Overmyer. “I knew Keeghan would get first and then it was between Jayden, Billy and me for second. I ran how I always do. The Perham guys always go out fast, but I just started out at a moderate pace and picked it up.”

     Overmyer will be seeking another medal and another all-state honor after placing 10th last season in 16:14. Overmyer just missed earning all-state honors as a freshman after placing 26th in 16:56 in 2011.

     Following Hurley in the state poll are Rochester Lourdes senior Ian Torchia, Waseca junior Shane Streich, Hope Academy junior Ephraim Bird, St. Paul Academy junior Mike Destache and Minnehaha Academy senior Ethan Wagner. Redwood Valley senior Ryan Phillips rounds out the top 10.

     “After Keeghan, the next spots are up in the air. There’s going to be a lot of good competition. Looking at the times, I could run a 15:45 and still get 10th,” said Overmyer, who ran a personal-best 16:06 at Milaca this season. “I’m more focused this year. I’d like to break 16 minutes and finish in the top 5. I think both are definitely within reach.”

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